The Study Drug
What was once a drug meant to be a short-term solution for sufferers of ADD (attention deficit disorder), ADHD (attention deficit hyperactive disorder), and narcolepsy, has now become a medication abused by the masses for ‘educational’ and ‘brain-enhancing’ purposes. Being that these prescription drugs for studying have carved their own place within our society (most commonly among college students), it is important that we, as a community, understand the different types of study drugs, how they interact with the brain, and whatdangerous side effects study drugsmay have.
The Different Types Of Study Drugs
While we will certainly have a better understanding of how prevalent study drugs are in work and academic culture in the future, certain studies—like the 2014 study done in the US—conclude that some 20% of college students admit to using a study drug at least once in their academic careers.
Now, when you remove the word study and replace it with ‘brain-enhancing,’ study drug usage spills out into work culture, where coders, interns, aspiring lawyers, and anyone who needs to stay focused and process large swaths of information will take these ‘helpers’ to be the most they can intellectually.
In which case, what kind of stimulant drugs are they taking and what should you know about them?
Adderall is the combination of amphetamines and dextroamphetamine and is, by far, the most popular study drug around. Originally intended and approved by the FDA as a short-term solution for those with ADHD, then eventually a band-aid for ADD and narcolepsy, this medication is now used by the masses forbrain-enhancementand recreational purposes.
Being that most types of these drugs are stimulants, it is important to understand that prolonged use can form astudy drug addictionand the side effects mirror other dangerous stimulants; depression, anxiety, loss of appetite, weight loss, psychosis, heart attack, and more.
It comes in both extended and instant release forms and is prescribed often—enough so that pharmacies often experience shortages of Adderall due to high demand.
Also known as methylphenidate, Ritalin is the drug you could effectively consider the trend-setter of study drug medication. Introduced in the early 1990s, Ritalin is an FDA approved drug that is meant exclusively for people suffering from ADHD. It is the most researched ‘brain-enhancing’ drug, with certain studies pointing towards it improving cognitive function and memory when taken in low dosages.
With that being said, other studies show that long-term use of Ritalin can actually reduce the brain’s functionality and memory performance. As with any other stimulant, it can cause sweating, higher blood pressure and heart rate, weight loss, and a reduced appetite, nausea, and blurred vision.
Vyvanse is another amphetamine and it hit the market exactly a decade ago, in 2008, when it was introduced as a new FDA-approved medication to treat ADD and ADHD. Interestingly, it was developed as an alternative to Ritalin and Adderall—once the healthcare industry began to expose certain truths that highlighted the previous ‘study drug standards’ negative effects. Engineered to be a less intense, powerful, and euphoria-inducing stimulant, it is quite popular in the US.
Being that it’s amphetamine-based and a stimulant by trade, both addiction and dependency can occur. Long-term use can impair the brain’s functionality, reduce memory performance, induce abnormal sleep patterns, alter moods, and deplete energy. With that being said, it is activated via digestion, so it cannot be snorted, taken intravenously, or inhaled like Adderall or Ritalin, eliminating the possibility for avid drug users to abuse the substance like a narcotic.
Modafinil, also known as Provigil, is an FDA approved medication meant to treat narcolepsy. However, people use it for a heightened sense of awareness, improved cognitive function, improved memory, quicker reaction times, and even weight loss. Studies have been done on isolated groups (one such being chess players) which showed that a low dosage proved the drug’s efficacy. Outside of the US, it is thought to be the most popular study drug—due in part because it’s widely available online.
While not having as large of a range of long-term effects that other prescription drugs do, Modafinil can reduce brain plasticity and hinder memory development in growing brains (youth). But it is commonly agreed that it is not ‘as’ harmful as other study drugs.
Concerta can go by the name of methylphenidate hydrochloride and it’s a stimulant approved for treating ADHD. Studies have proved that Concerta can improve cognitive function and sharpen the working memory, as well as heighten focus and reduce fatigue. Typically thought to be a ‘lesser’ form of the aforementioned study drugs, Concerta has yet to reach the same level of popularity.
The FDA warns us of addiction and dependency risks regarding Concerta. A stimulant by nature, the prolonged use can cause addiction and the typical withdrawal symptoms will ensue; abnormal sleep patterns, depression, anxiety, cold and hot sweats, etc.
This drug is a member of the ‘racetam’ class and is used to curb anxiety and boost creativity. Studies have proved that it can improve cognitive function and help with focus, forgetfulness, and low energy levels.
Bacopa Monnieri is a supplement meant to improve thought processes, memory retention, and reading comprehension. It has been proven to improve cognition and focus—although it is not, by any means, a popular supplement. Few studies have been executed on Bacopa Monnieri.
Also known as Aricept, Donepezil is an FDA approved medication used to treat patients with Alzheimer’s. A group of pilots took the pill in a controlled study which concluded that it improved memory function. All pilots were healthy prior to ingesting the pill.
How Do Study Drugs Affect The Brain?
Every study drug is going to interact with the brain in its own way. Typically, amphetamine-based stimulants (the generality for stimulant drugs) stimulate the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. As these neurotransmitter levels raise, the effects are a heightened sense of focus, higher energy, extended calmness, and bliss (the euphoria is due to the stimulation in the brain’s reward center).
These neurotransmitters live in the prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain responsible for executive functioning, which is why these increases in cognitive performance ensue. Essentially, these study drugs not only activate the parts of your brain responsible for your ‘intellectual effectiveness but they also work to nourish the reward center, which can produce happiness and even aid the mentally ill in their struggles with depression.
Lastly, this ‘hyper-drive’ gear it shifts the brain into then advertently affects the body. The heart rate increases, driving blood pressure upwards. The metabolism activates, breathing shortens, and your body begins to act as if it is experiencing a non-intensive form of exercise. Sweat can be a sign of this—as stimulants raise body temperature.
This is why, when taking a stimulant, a patient must be vetted to ensure they have no heart condition (or any condition) that could pose a threat to their health when using a stimulant.
How Do They Affect It Negatively?
The word amphetamine—found in most of the common ‘study-drugs,’ should be enough to raise an alarm. What the healthcare industry is selling here is a stimulant by definition and can interact with the brain in the same way as meth. This means, at their very worst, study-drugs can be triggers for psychosis (investigate links between schizophrenia and study drugs). Meaning those predisposed to this condition can take only one pill and trigger a mental illness otherwise dormant.
Beyond that, in a larger sense, study-drugs pose serious dependency problems. Not engineered for long-term use, the prolonged use of these medications alter brain chemistry. A brain ill-equipped to generate its own supply of dopamine will begin to rely on these medications as a crutch, treating the pill as the neurotransmitter itself, thus working less to generate its own supply. When the drug is removed, the patient can have a greater imbalance than before.
The medication then becomes a necessity for ‘normality’ rather than an aid to help a condition, as the patient reels beneath the pressure of extreme fatigue, depression, anxiety, a lack of appetite, and reduced cognitive function and awareness. It is in this threshold, this limbo between ‘need’ and ‘want’ that the demon of addiction can make its entrance.
Are Study Drugs Addictive?
There is a massive amount of work yet to be done regarding these performance-enhancing drugs and addiction. For one, Adderall and study drug addiction is not nearly addressed as say, opioids for instance. Rarely does it make its way into a headline—or if it does—it lurks in the shadow of the article which speaks on the string of overdose deaths related to painkillers.
Despite, studies prove that the effects of amphetamine-based medication and methylphenidate functions similarly to amphetamines (known as d-amphetamine) and cocaine. These smart drugs create tolerance and then showcase characteristic withdrawal symptoms like exhaustion, depression, altered moods, psychomotor retardation, irritability, disturbed sleep patterns, increased appetite, and so forth. If you ask science: any stimulant can produce addiction via its very nature.
Its effects on dopaminergic transmission lead to the same consequences. Thing is, being that it is taken orally, the administration poses less of a threat for addiction as say, cocaine. The road to addiction with street drugs can be a short and rapid one, while performance-enhancing drugs for studying may take years to have the same influence.
Still, over 100,000 patients entered rehab in 2016 for Adderall or Adderall-related addiction. Overdoses have occurred. And the drug can react to other substances and cause dangerous health effects.
As these prescription stimulants become evermore popular, the risk of their abuse increases. Being that Ritalin, the anchor medicine, was only introduced into American society in the 1990s, we cannot fully understand the long-term effects these ‘study drugs’ pose for users. What we know is this: by their nature, these smart drugs are stimulants and stimulants pose risks of overdose and addiction.
The more we continue down this road, the more common these drugs are going to become. It’s hard to say whether they are an evil waiting patiently to draw its blade or a miracle drug that will need better governing. Regardless, staying educated on the most common types of study drugs is more important now than ever before.
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