Almost one in five Oxford students use study drugs, survey reveals

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A survey conducted by The Oxford Student has revealed 18 percent of respondents have used study drugs without prescription in order to complete work or prepare for exams.

62 percent of students who admitted to having previously taken study drugs claimed to do so “regularly”, at least twice a term, with 27 percent of study drug users reporting that “they could not succeed academically without them”. In addition, 26 percent of students surveyed reported using recreational drugs.

The survey was based on 207 student responses, and was conducted last weekend.

Among the most popular study drugs for student use are Modafinil, Adderall and Ritalin, all of which increase concentration and wakefulness. Although not considered addictive, some students admitted to growing dependent on the drugs in order to complete work.

Studies have shown that Modafinil, which is used to treat narcolepsy, appears to increase dopamine levels in the brain’s reward centre, a response which is sometimes correlated to addiction.

One student surveyed described how “I stopped using them because I felt like it would be bad to be dependent on them – I could imagine finding it hard to do a day’s work without them.”

Students were just last week warned of the potential dangers of using study drugs, with Phil Cowen, a Professor of Psychopharmacology at the University’s Medical Sciences Division, stating that they are “not as safe as people think”, particularly in the case of Modafinil, which can be harmful to those with underlying heart conditions. However, the lack of research into the long-term effects of study drugs has prevented any major government or university policy from taking fruition.

The survey also suggests the students at Oxford are more likely to use study drugs than many at other universities, with more than 5 percent of students in our survey reported having tried Ritalin, in comparison to 1.8 percent of the national population according to drugabuse.gov. Last year, Oxford University came out top in a survey by The Tab on the use of study drugs across the UK.

Students also reported “frightening” experiences while using study drugs. A first-year English student wrote: “Took slow release Adderall and worked overnight for about 16 hours… I found the experience rather frightening as my heart was beating very irregularly and I was convinced I was having a heart attack after my heart started to hurt.”

70 percent of respondents described the use of study drugs as either a “bad” or “very bad” thing, while 60 percent said that the University should take measures to decrease their use, although exactly what sort of measures are available for the University is unclear.

One student, referencing their Modafinil prescription, commented: “When [the drugs are] prescribed by a doctor they are intended to ensure that students with illnesses that limit their ability to study, do not fall behind their peers – It’s meant to level the playing-field. When perfectly well, but slightly lazy students have access to these drugs, then the effect for those who need them due to illness is negated.”

Another student, stated that the problem lay in Oxford’s academic environment, saying: “I think that the prevalence of study drug usage says something about the unrealistic workload set by the university and about the nature of exams here. I don’t necessarily think the drugs are the actual problem but just a symptom of a larger problem in the university.”

Many students have reported that these drugs are becoming more prevalent, and increasingly easy to obtain, with 35 percent saying that they could get hold of some in less than a week. Most students who responded ordered from anonymous online black markets, although there are also cases of students selling Modafinil for less than £2 a pill.

In an earlier comment regarding the use of study drugs, an Oxford University spokesperson said: “If ‘cognitive enhancement’ drugs are a particular problem at Oxford we have yet to see any substantive evidence for it. We would strongly advise students against taking any drugs that have not been prescribed to them as this could involve putting their health at risk.”

The University went on to urge students are struggling academically or personally to contact a college, OUSU, or University a welfare officer. The survey indicates both the popularity of mind-enhancing drugs at Oxford and widely divergent attitudes over their dangers and merits. Some students see the drugs as a form of cheating, while others reported positive attitudes towards their academic benefits. In the meantime, little about their effects, and the possibilities for changing future regulations is known.