Study Buddies

By Medical Discovery News

Sept. 29, 2012

Study Buddies

The go-to stimulant to fuel all night study sessions or write a big paper was always caffeine. But now students are tempted by a prescription drug said to be so effective at enhancing mental performance it’s called a cognitive steroid. A recent study revealed 20 percent of college students report having taken Adderall to improve studying and test-taking skills. Some students smoke, snort, or inject the drug for instantaneous focus. But like most easy fixes, it comes with a price: addiction.

Adderall is a combination of dextroamphetamine and amphetamine routinely prescribed to control the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. There are two forms of Adderall: a rapid release pill that lasts four to six hours and the slow release pill that extends the effects for up to 12 hours. It works, in part, by elevating the amount of dopamine in the brain. For those with ADHD, this neurotransmitter is deficient in the frontal cortex where executive functions such as reasoning, planning, focusing, and problem solving take place. Users report first feeling a mild euphoria, which then gives way to a calming sensation and eventually grogginess as it wears off.

In people without ADHD, drugs like Adderall and a similar drug, Ritalin, are appealing because they can enhance mental performance and lower fatigue. Adderall may also increase alertness, concentration, and mental processing speed. When sitting down to a task like writing, users find they are intensely focused and work for long hours, although some say at the cost of creativity. Hence it has become the drug of choice for overachievers. Despite what some believe, these neuroenhancers are not benign.

Many side effects of Adderall aren’t serious, but more severe side effects include aggression, depression, suicidal thoughts, hallucinations, fainting, and seizures. Someone who stops taking the drug after using it regularly for more than a few weeks or in high doses will suffer withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, depression, fatigue, hypersomnia, insomnia, paranoia, hyperactivity, irritability, or personality changes. Severe cases of withdrawal can cause psychosis long after Adderall is stopped. Surveys show most college students who abuse Adderall also abuse alcohol and are three times more likely to use marijuana, five times more likely to abuse pain relievers, and eight times more likely to use cocaine or abuse tranquilizers.

Many people may be shocked to learn Adderall is a controlled substance grouped with other highly addictive drugs like cocaine. Addiction treatment centers across the country have programs for Adderall abuse. Possessing it without a prescription is illegal and prosecuted as a felony charge in many states.

Despite the downsides of neuroenhancers, they may have a place in improving human health. As the population ages, cognitive enhancers can improve quality of life and compensate for mental decline. But the long-term effects of these drugs are still unknown and need to be studied so that individuals can make responsible decisions about their use.

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