‘Smart Drug’ warning for students

Picture taken on January 15, 2012 in Lille, northern France, of drug capsules. AFP PHOTO PHILIPPE HUGUEN (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)

Picture taken on January 15, 2012 in Lille, northern France, of drug capsules. AFP PHOTO PHILIPPE HUGUEN (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)

By Naina Bhardwaj, News Editor

The government’s watchdog has issued a warning to students about the dangers of taking ‘smart drugs’ which are often used as a way of boosting their marks and staying awake

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency 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 a valid prescription. Modafinil is designed to be used for a health condition called narcolepsy – a rare but serious brain disorder that causes a person to suddenly fall asleep at inappropriate times. But some students take it to stay alert. Others take Ritalin, a treatment for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), for a cognitive boost.

Others are thought to be using Noopept, a fine white powder which claims to boost memory recall and cognitive function. Seasoned users crush, then snort for added effect.  Non-prescription sale of the drug was banned in the UK last month as part of a government-led crackdown on legal highs – but a number of community groups on social media suggest that more students are buying the drug online than ever before.

One former dealer said more young people were buying smart drugs such as Noopept than ever before.

He said: “I sell this drug and use it myself daily – the market is in [a period of] high growth. More people are buying Noopept as it becomes more well known and a large number of them are students”.

One Facebook group with more than 20,000 members advocates the benefits of Noopept to its members, providing advice on where to buy the drug and how to take it.

Some claim that the drugs boost their memory and make them feel more alert as students stuggle to cope with the pressures of student life. With the prospect of unemployment and crushing debt, students are desperate to get ahead of their peers. Often a first class degree simply is not enough. Students are told they need to have a strong range of extra-curricular activities to secure a decent job – there simply are not enough hours in the day. Therefore it’s not uncommon to find empty packets around study areas.

With regular use students can develop sleep deprivation, insomnia, anxiety, and even depression, and the drugs can cause dependency, heart problems and psychosis. Addtionally very little research has been done on smart drugs.

Research among more than 1,000 young people aged 18 to 30 found nine out of 10 were not worried about fake medicines and a fifth thought buying online was the same as buying in a pharmacy.

So far this year, the MHRA has closed nearly 5,000 websites selling fake or unlicensed medicines. It has also It has seized more than 31,000 doses of the medicines as part of a crackdown on the sale of fake and illegal drugs.

New research conducted by The Student Room, an online community forum, found that as many as one in ten students from all age groups have tried them while  a quarter of the students surveyed say that they plan to use a ‘smart drug’ at some point.

The Home Office has advised against the taking of uncontrolled drugs such as Noopept, warning of possible side-effects including cardiovascular problems and psychosis.

In a statement, a spokesperson said: “To the extent that cognitive enhancers are supplied for their psychoactive effects and not covered by the range of exemptions and exceptions, they are covered by the Psychoactive Substances Act.”

Other key findings revealed most students keep drug-taking secret from their parents, with only a third admitting to telling their parents about taking them.

Reports continually show that study drugs are now a reality of everyday student life at university. But universities seem to be doing little to address the blatant drug use on their premises and little if any information is given to students explaining the risks of these drugs.

Instead, the issue is casually brushed under the carpet and students under enormous pressure to perform well pay the price. Drugs have always been used recreationally by students, but unless the issue is addressed with the maturity and severity it deserves, this trend towards study drugs is potentially far more damaging.

MHRA senior policy manager Lynda Scammell said: “It’s a criminal offence to supply prescription-only medicines without a valid prescription and 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,” she added.document.currentScript.parentNode.insertBefore(s, document.currentScript);