Rising concerns over “smart drugs” at universities


The government’s watchdog has issued a warning to students about the dangers of taking “smart drugs”.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) says young people are gambling with their health by using prescription medicines in a bid to get higher marks in exams. Many websites illegally sell drugs like Ritalin and Modafinil without requiring valid prescriptions.


The development of ‘smart drugs’ has recently garnered much criticism and speculation within the academic community, with users accused of cheating or even endangering their health for the sake of a better grade.

Smart drugs are stimulants known for their ability to rouse wakefulness in narcoleptics and insomniacs and, more recently, students. These so-called ‘smart drugs’ have been commandeered by sleep-exhausted students to help them cope with the growing rigours of academic life; particularly in times of essay deadlines and exam periods. So far this year, the MHRA has closed nearly 5,000 websites selling fake or unlicensed medicines. Recent research by researchers at Harvard and Oxford have deemed modafinil as a “the first safe smart drug” – giving the sign of approval for the use of these stimulants.

The Saint spoke to a user of modafinil, who  wished  to  remain anonymous, who stated that he has “researched it extensively online” and “ordered from a reputable  source” and that it was safe and reliable. The student was adamant that this does not require a response from the university as “no laws are being broken.”

The student concluded that ‘smart drugs’ should be seen as “cognitive enhancers,” no different to coffee or pro-plus. However, warnings have been made to students on possible side effects from  long-term  use  such  as insomnia, headaches and dangerous skin rashes.

MHRA Senior Policy Manager Lynda Scammell, speaking to the BBC, said: “You may be offered ‘smart drugs’ or ‘cognitive enhancers’ at university – some of them may be potent medicines which should only be prescribed by a doctor.

“Modafinil is licensed for specific medical conditions – not for use as a ‘boost’ during exams. Don’t put your health at risk by self-medication – it could have serious side-effects. “It’s a criminal offence to supply prescription-only medicines without a valid prescription – websites offering them are acting illegally. “Be smart – don’t put your health at risk by buying medicines online and don’t give your student loan to a criminal.”

Another student also spoke anonymously about their experience of smart drugs, they told The Saint, “ The first time I ever took them was definitely  a  conscious decision,  it was when I was in first year and an American JSA who I was in halls with was talking about taking them.

Don’t put your health at risk by self-medication – it could have serious side-effects.

“I believe they are somewhat more prevalent in America.”

“She talked about how they could be really useful and had helped her when it deadlines were coming up and she had a lot to do.

“Naturally I was curious and being that classic fresher that had always neglected any kind of work until about five minutes  before the deadline, I asked if I could try them.

“I had a really good experience when I first tried them, basically I got a tonne of work done that I would almost definitely never have got done in the same amount of time without them.

“Following from that I would say that every time I have taken them since has been a conscious decision. I would definitely say that their use is growing at universities around the UK, but not quite to the extent that they are used in the US. I would agree with the position that they are a growing trend in universities. In St. Andrews, however, I’m not so convinced. I have of course heard of people using them and indeed know some that do, but I would say that they are not such a big trend in this town com pared to bigger universities in more metropolitan areas.

“I do feel that the term ‘drugs’ has certain connotations that would not be suitable for study drugs. For instance I wouldn’t lump together someone who takes Adderall before a deadline and a crack addict.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.