So-called ‘study drugs’: safe stimulants or sinister substances?

Drugs for enhancing performance have been in use for years, but has recently this has become more widespread. Many students and professionals are using and relying on so called ‘study drugs’ to help improve their mental ability and performance. They are used both in study settings and sports, especially among young people. There are obviously many ethical issues surrounding this, not to mention the health and safety risks and legality.

However, in a society where your performance at school or university has such a huge impact on your future it is not hard to see why people use these sorts of chemicals to enhance brain function and get ahead.

The main reason many people use performance enhancing drugs is to do better at their discipline, whether that be a sport or studying. Drugs such as Ritalin and Modafinil have been shown in chess players to improve cognitive ability and thought processes, resulting in more wins. They allow people to think deeper and slower, meaning more time is spent on decision making. In the context of studying, this could have the benefit of helping students to slow thinking and consider questions more, meaning answers could be more thorough. Whilst this seems like it would be cheating in an exam, the drugs do not increase knowledge but simply improve mental ability, so could be considered to just help students use deeper thoughts and apply their knowledge in a better way.

In terms of the downsides to using performance enhancing drugs, the main one is the serious health risks that come with these drugs. Many are known to cause heart diseases and strokes, and some can even cause sudden death in rare cases. Also, there is the mental impact of using drugs such as these, including increased risk of depression and aggressive behaviour. In amateur sports, studies show that drug use is more common among young people, and many use it to improve their physique. With young people being generally more impressionable than older people, using drugs to change their bodies can be damaging to mental health and introduce a lasting unhealthy dependency. Many of these drugs are addictive, so the problems and risks associated with them only increase as time goes on.

Currently, using many of these drugs to study is not illegal, so it could be argued that those who use them are just taking advantage of the improvements in cognitive ability that these drugs produce, and that the practice is therefore not cheating, but simply using their brain to its full capacity. For example, caffeine can be considered a performance enhancing drug when used in high doses, and it is easily accessible to everyone.

On the other hand, these drugs create an unfair playing field because they allow some people to unnaturally enhance their mental ability. Whilst users are not cheating by increasing their knowledge, it can still be considered cheating in some aspects as it allows people to get ahead in a way that is not natural. Also, there is evidence to suggest that using cognitive function enhancing drugs for study purposes can act as a gateway to more serious drug use, and as it is most prevalent among young people putting them at higher risk for drug addiction and problems later on in life.

Overall there are positive aspects and negative aspects on both sides of the issue whether using study/performance enhancing drugs or not, but on balance these substances tend to create an unfair playing field in competitive situations, and they put young people at a higher risk for more serious drug problems as they mature. Whilst the drugs have been proven to help with brain function and ability, the health risks and the long term impact of drug addiction certainly need to be taken into full consideration.


Image: Pixnio

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