Over the last several years, the use of unprescribed “study drugs”—stimulants such as Ritalin, Adderall, and Vyvanse—has been steadily rising on university campuses across North America. These drugs are intended to treat individuals with disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). For those students without a prescription, however, these drugs produce hyperactivity, which can be experienced as intense focus and productivity. The misuse of these drugs as performance-enhancers in this way is understandably appealing; in a time of ever-increasing academic pressure, they seem to offer improved focus and stave off fatigue, to the point where some students can’t imagine finals season without them. Their unprescribed use on campus has become fairly normalized, but as the visibility of study drug use rises, the days of unrestricted, unquestioned access may be numbered.
The Oxford University’s Student Union (OUSU) recently unveiled student workshops on study drug use. As an email sent to students explained, “OUSU are rolling out workshops based on student experience and knowledge, exploring the reasons why people might start using smart drugs, and suggesting safe and sustainable solutions.” Oxford’s workshop is just one example of how organizations at universities are becoming more aware of the growing use of study drugs by their students. If students without diagnosable disorders develop a reliance on these drugs in university, they risk becoming dependent on them to handle stressful situations later in life, or could find themselves in legal trouble.
University puts students through such a crucible of pressure that they come out ready to handle whatever the workforce throws at them, for at least the next few years. Students who habitually use these drugs without a prescription do not only risk trouble with the law—they are setting themselves up for a hurdle in future stressful work situations, once they have to adapt to the lack of access outside of the campus bubble. Students who become dependent on study drugs as performance-enhancers are creating serious problems for themselves in the long-run, as they will eventually have to break the habit.
The unprescribed use of these drugs isn’t just problematic because they obfuscate a student’s natural abilities. Adderall is a Schedule I drug in Canada, meaning it can form a chemical dependence and its possession with a prescription is illegal. The McGill campus bubble has a way of normalizing fairly bad behaviour, particularly when it comes to substance use—one need only look to McGill’s binge drinking culture for evidence of this. While it may seem innocuous in the campus context, the misuse and sale of study drugs amounts to prescription drug abuse and trafficking. The law doesn’t know what a “study drug” is. The law only knows what an illegal stimulant is.
Workshops, like the one organized by the OUSU, can be helpful opportunities to remind students of the potential harms of study drug use. If McGill wants to be proactive in addressing the misuse of these stimulants as study aids for any student—rather than their intended use for students with attention disorders—it should consider following Oxford’s example of harm reduction initiatives specific to study drugs.
SSMU would be well served by joining the ranks of Oxford and shedding light on the misuse of these drugs. A non-judgmental, educational environment—that makes the laws as well as potential consequences of unprescribed study drug, use clear—would be a valuable resource for the McGill student body.