by Daniel Hallen
It’s eight hours of solid concentration in one little, easy-to-swallow capsule. It’s behind the achievements of students at elite-level universities across Canada, the United States, and elsewhere. It’s a class of drug that everyone is using, and almost no one is talking about. Until now.
Canada is the number one importer in the world of the stimulants methylphenidate and dexamphetamine (Canada imported 53% of the global supply of dexamphetamine and 16% of the supply of methylphenidate in 2010).*
These drugs, usually prescribed to treat attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, are used off-label by healthy students. According to students interviewed, up to 70% of of their peers are using these drugs on a regular basis to boost academic performance.
For months, usually under cover of darkness, I met with students to discuss a topic they felt needed to be discussed: “Cognitive enhancement” drugs or study drugs.
This is a story examining why students decide to use (or not use) these drugs.
It’s a story examining why a student with ADHD deals his prescription away.
It’s a story about what institutions like McGill are doing (and not doing) to level the academic playing field for everyone.
The stories below feature personal accounts of current students or recent graduates from McGill University. They are not meant to represent the views of all students.
As a big fish in a sea of big fish, the crunch to compete puts students in tight spots.
Sudden death, addiction, insomnia, and dry mouth, are some potential side-effects in a drug where the benefit for healthy people may be “all in the mind.”
If steroid use tore apart professional baseball, what’s acceptable in professional studying? How far is too far?
Pop a pill, get in the zone, the work almost does itself. But, then who really did the work?
THE SUPPLY CHAIN
The decision to give away your drugs can be as complicated as the pressures to take them. A student with ADHD shares his story.
Combatting cheating and plagiarism? All in a day’s work for administrators at institutions of higher learning. Regulating performance enhancing study drugs? A minefield with no clear path out.
What do you get when you stick two computer programmers in a room with a bioethics doctoral student and no beer? Hopefully, a social media platform to inform cramming students about the risks of study drugs!
The following students all appeared under condition of anonymity. Each has been given a pseudonym.
This thesis project fulfills part of the requirements for the Masters of Journalism from the University of British Columbia. My accompanying literature review can be found here.