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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The Case Against Propofol

By Medical Discovery News

May 12, 2012

Until the death of pop king Michael Jackson, few people had ever heard of the drug Propofol.  The doctor who injected him with the general anesthetic has since been convicted of being reckless with a drug that’s potent and potentially lethal. Propofol is not classified as a controlled substance, but since Jackson’s death, several scientific papers have begun to urge the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to regulate the drug.

I Own Myself... Don't I?

For that to happen, health officials would need to establish that Propofol is being abused recreationally. To date, it’s still largely found in hospital operating rooms and intensive care units where patients are highly monitored. Propofol works within seconds of injection, acting on the central nervous system to sedate a patient. A mistake can cause a drop in blood pressure, obstructed airways, and respiratory failure.

A study of trauma patients who possibly died from Propofol side effects show their EKG readings fluctuated before going into cardiac arrest. This suggests that in some patients, Propofol may be toxic to the heart.  It can also cause pancreatitis, an inflammation or bleeding of the pancreas, which can be fatal.

Though the side effects are risky, recent scientific papers document cases of medical personnel abusing the drug. Several involve anesthesiologists. One in particular self injected 10 to 15 times daily, and another was found dead of an overdose at the hospital where she worked.

One study in the 1980s tried to establish Propofol’s potential for abuse.  The subjects given Propofol described a broad range of feelings, from euphoria and sexual disinhibition to a general sense of well being.  The study’s authors concluded Propofol may be addictive.

Propofol

However, the qualities for abuse extend further to include withdrawal symptoms and tolerance for the drug. In past studies, people showed a range of behaviors when taken off Propofol. Some described intense food cravings, hallucinations, and anxiety. A few studies, limited to patients in the intensive care unit, suggest they grew tolerant to the drug. But there’s not enough data to prove either withdrawal or tolerance for Propofol exists.

Over the years, Propofol use has increased mostly because it is not controlled, works quickly, and doesn’t last long. These properties make hiding Propofol abuse very easy, especially for medical personnel with access to the drug. Between 1992 and 2009, at least 45 documented cases of Propofol abuse were published in medical findings, including Michael Jackson’s recent death.  

The scientists who support regulation believe Propofol should be secured and not openly available to medical personnel, which is the case in many hospitals today. Making Propofol a controlled substance would require hospitals to regulate its use and deter an increasing interest as highlighted by Michael Jackson’s death.

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