With an ever-increasing pressure to achieve top grades, it’s no wonder that students are looking for methods of procuring a competitive edge. Move over caffeine, there is a new drug on campus and it’s called Adderall; longer-lasting while providing intense focus, Adderall is making its mark among current students.
The drug was first introduced to the public as Obetrol from Rexar, and it was meant to be taken for diet control. In 1994, Richwood Pharmaceuticals bought out Rexar and repacked Obetrol – changing its name to Adderall and promoting it as a treatment for attention deficit disorder (ADD). This switch occurred when sales of Obetrol were on a decline and manufacturers noted a paediatrician in Utah prescribing it to children with ADD. But due to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) violations, it took some time for the transition to take place. However, in 1996, the FDA permitted revisions to the Obetrol label, including the official name change to Adderall, and its status as an approved drug was restored. Now, Adderall is produced as either an immediate (IR) or extended release (XR) formulation with ten different companies producing generic forms of Adderall IR.
Amphetamine, a CNS stimulant, is the active ingredient in Adderall which, in addition to ADD, is also now used to treat ADHD and certain sleep disorders. Although it seems counter-intuitive to use a stimulant to treat attention and sleep disorders, amphetamine increases the levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine, which have important roles in thinking and attention. It also boosts levels of epinephrine and serotonin, which are involved in the regulation of mood and sleep. Due to these biological effects, Adderall is subject to misuse, whether it be for athletic performance or cognitive enhancement.
A 2014 review found that low doses of amphetamines improve consolidation of memories, which in turn leads to improved information recall. This was further supported by numerous clinical trials in 2015 that concluded, at therapeutic doses, amphetamine causes modest but explicit improvements in the cognition of adults. In addition, Adderall can improve task motivation and increase arousal, promoting goal-directed behaviour and improving performance on difficult tasks – a perfect recipe for the ultimate learning aid.
As such, it didn’t take long for Adderall to catch the attention of students. Adderall is now commonplace on campuses across North America where students use, and abuse it, to retain focus and improve cognition. No prescription? No problem. Though illegal, Adderall can be purchased without a prescription either online or in-person for an average of $3-10/pill, but high demands around exam periods can raise prices to $15. US studies estimate that 30% of college students are abusing Adderall while Canadian data indicate that 11% of students have used, or would consider using the drug. This phenomenon is not limited to North America, as students in countries such as Australia and the UK have self-reported Adderall misuse for academic purposes as well.
The risk of severe side effects and addiction is low when Adderall is used at a low daily dose, as prescribed. However, when taken at larger recreational doses, it poses a much greater threat to the health of students with adverse effects including cardiovascular complications, seizures, paranoia, and even death. Withdrawal symptoms are also observed, with 88% of high-dose users experiencing mood changes and sleep irregularities. The concept of “if some is good, more is better” doesn’t pertain to Adderall. Drug tolerance develops fast in amphetamine abuse. Thus, with extended use, increasingly larger doses of the drug are needed to maintain the desired effect, leading to potential addiction.
For those with medical conditions, Adderall is used to lead a normal life, but for those who use it for performance enhancement, it is a choice. Given the severe health effects and potential for addiction, it is important to ask the question: are good grades worth the risk?
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