The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Studying for finals becomes risky business

Students cramming for finals should beware of common “study drugs”

Matt Newcomer first took Adderall during his senior year of high school. He had free access to the prescribed drug from a friend who had been diagnosed with Attention-Deficit Disorder. He took one pill the night before an exam in his Advanced Placement biology class.

“[I] heard about the rumored ‘glorious things’ that Adderall could do,” Newcomer said.

Newcomer almost always made As on his biology exams when using this strategy. Now a sophomore at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., the 20-year-old chemistry major said he rarely takes these pills to help him study for his college exams.

“Now I know how to study – three or four days before a test,” he said, though he did admit to occasionally taking one Adderall pill the first day to help him focus.

“I’m not dependent on it, but it does help a lot,” Newcomer said.

But some college students do frequently use prescribed drugs to help them study. Over the past few years, studies have shown that “study drugs” like Adderall and Ritalin have caught on at many campuses. Experts say, however, that the alleged immediate effects may not be as beneficial for acing tests as students think.

In addition, popping these pills regularly may have several dangerous long-term and short-term side effects. Some researchers say that stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall could theoretically become the next “gateway drug,” opening doors to more dangerous drugs for students.

“There are problems with abuse because these are … stimulant drugs,” said Dr. Juan Salinas, an expert in psychology and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder at the University of Texas at Austin. “There’s a danger that [Adderall or Ritalin] may … sensitize some people who are prone to addiction.”

These prescribed drugs are stimulants used by patients who are diagnosed with either ADD or ADHD. People with the disorder lack dopamine, a neurotransmitter vital to the nervous system. Taking mild doses of these drugs enable them to have better focus and attention. It also increases alertness, allowing the drug to treat narcolepsy.

Adderall, Ritalin and similar compounds like Concerta and Vyvanse are amphetamines, classified in the same family as speed and cocaine. Their immediate side effects are similar to these illegal drugs – increased heart rate and blood pressure, mild insomnia and loss of appetite. Some students have used Adderall as a diet pill, and some use it recreationally. The pill’s contents can also be snorted like cocaine, affecting the brain more quickly.

But most students just use it when they need to boost their academics. The International Narcotics Control Board reported in 2005 that one in 10 teens in the United States has used Ritalin or Adderall without a doctor’s prescription.

“College Students and Study Drugs,” a survey conducted between April 18 and April 24 on, was sent to students from several universities through Facebook. Twenty-five of the 77 anonymous students who responded to the survey admitted to taking Adderall, Ritalin or a similar compound for studying; of those 25, 70 percent were not prescribed the drug.

Michigan State University student Melinda Maddock, 19, took Adderall twice, and hated it. She experienced side effects that made her feel depressed and even suicidal.

“I’m never taking it again,” the sophomore speech therapy major said. “It was horrible.”

Other students swear by Adderall.

“I take it every time I have a test or paper,” said Southern Methodist University student Thomas. He said he experiences some side effects, like moodiness and loss of appetite.

The 21-year-old CCPA major is prescribed Adderall and usually gives it to friends free of charge, though he said people sell it from $5 to $10 per pill depending on the strength.

According to the survey, more than half of those who have taken a “study drug” said they did not pay for it. Students speculate that it may be the rise of prescriptions, not necessarily a rise in ADD patients. Thomas said he knew people in high school who lied about having the disorder to a random physician and received a prescription. Newcomer has heard of similar incidences at JMU.

“A lot of people fake [ADD] so they can sell [Adderall],” Newcomer said.

Salinas was not sure if there was an increase in ADD/ADHD patients or prescriptions, but he was positive that students at the University of Texas use it frequently.

“It’s got to be coming from somewhere,” he said. “Everybody seems to know at least one person who … can get it.”

Newcomer agrees. “If you want it, you can get it anywhere,” he said.

But hasty students eager to get a leg up on finals should note that the side effects may outweigh the benefits in the long run. Though a study has shown that some adolescents without ADD have benefited behaviorally from taking Ritalin, Salinas said that college students use the drug incorrectly, thinking it is some type of “magic” pill. Yes, Salinas said, Adderall will make a student concentrate, stay alert and study longer. But when students use the pill to cram for a test or pull an “all-nighter,” they lose the sleep that is essential in order to remember the material.

“What they don’t realize is that they need REM sleep, or dream sleep,” Salinas said.

Depriving the body of REM sleep makes the brain unable to cement memories, and may consequently cancel out the drug altogether.

The other serious side effect is that the legal upper is highly addictive. The Adderall XR capsule prescribing information states in all capital letters that “amphetamines have a high potential of abuse” and that extended use may lead to “drug dependence.” Salinas said that using Adderall over a long period of time could lead to mild psychosis, though its occurrence is rare.

But the most dangerous side effect of frequent usage may be the potential for these uppers to replace marijuana as the “gateway drug.” Adults who took legal stimulants for ADHD when they were younger are more prone to addiction to other amphetamines such as cocaine or methamphetamine. The earlier dosage of stimulants “primes the system” to facilitate the transition into illegal drugs, Salinas said.

Although there is a lack of documented results, researchers have done studies on rats that show how rats learn to self-administer amphetamines into their system after being primed by small doses at an earlier age. Researchers are not sure if the experiment transfers to humans but say that the study shows a theoretical concern.

“You may see a rise in cocaine or speed abuse like there was in the ’70s,” Salinas said.

He attributed this cultural effect to so many kids using Adderall because they have a valid prescription or because they are taking it recreationally, either for weight loss or as a means of staying up all night to party. And students do not deny Salinas’ theory.

“It’s not hard to be addicted to [Adderall],” said 20-year-old Sterling. “It’s pretty much the legal form of speed.”

Sterling, a student from Houston, sells his Adderall for about $3 for a 30 mg dosage. He did not know whether the demand for his medication would provoke students to try other amphetamines. He did say, however, that finals week would have a major effect on sales. He does not raise the prices during busier academic periods, but he said people will pay much more than they should because they think they need it.

“People don’t have to have it,” Sterling said. “But it does make studying a lot easier.”

Salinas also said that students are probably capable of doing well without it. Adderall may have a “placebo effect” for some students who take the drug but do not have the disorder. Because of the pill’s alleged miracle-producing effects, students take it with the faith that Adderall will get them the grade. This confidence lessens students’ anxiety and stress, increasing the brain’s ability to retrieve information.

But students waiting until the last minute to study will probably continue to use the drug, regardless of its side effects. Maddock said that the majority of her friends use it the night before a test, insisting it works wonders. Instead of risking addiction and other dangerous side effects, Salinas recommends a solution that will most likely be just as effective as Adderall or Ritalin: “studying earlier and going to sleep earlier.”

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