Students are Taking Drugs to Get High(er Grades)

David Whiting
Jun 23, 2019 · 8 min read

Students are always under a lot of pressure, but these days they have something else to take the edge off; “smart drugs” such as Modafinil. Originally used to prevent excessive sleepiness as a prescription medication, students purchase Modafinil online to get through exams and coursework, and just the general stress of student life.

The question is though; isn’t using a smart drug like the academic version of doping? If everyone is doing it (and everyone is) then doesn’t it present a disadvantage to the few who aren’t?

Still, students — and everyone else — should be careful when using Modafinil. It gives you a great dose of concentration, but you should make sure you’ve got something to use it on ready to go. Don’t take it until you’ve taken out your books or you’ll be organizing your music collection instead of working on something productive.

Students Have Never Been Under More Pressure

Student life has changed a lot. Not just from the past generation, but even from the past five years. This is where smart drugs come in. These smart drugs are all used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) but for neurotypical people they can increase concentration and output.

Image for post

Things are rough for students. They are the first generation to take on such crippling student debt. The average student in the UK will owe £44,000 by the time they leave university. When you consider all of the exploited unpaid interns and the graduate unemployment that fills the world they face, it’s no wonder that they are turning to every advantage they can get. If you were in this situation and you had the chance to take a white pill that boosted your productivity and focus and gave you the chance to get a better degree, you’d take it, wouldn’t you?

Of course, things are rarely this simple. Different people have their own unique brain chemistry and they respond differently to drugs. There’s no medical checks involved with buying Modafinil online, and there’s no telling what’s really in the package. For all the students who manage to get everything done despite the odds, there’s that one person who just gets anxious and depressed.

Drugs are hardly anything new of course. Each generation has their drug of choice. LSD got a lot of people through the 60s, while ecstasy brought us the rave culture of the 80s. What is new, at least in Britain, is using drugs to get an advantage and work harder.

The Ethical Side of Things

Many papers have been published on the ethics of smart drugs, including papers by Anjan Chatterjee, a professor of Neurology with the University of Pennsylvania. Chatterjee has witnessed a rise in the number of American students taking drugs that they feel will give them the edge they need. These drugs are even popping up in high schools, affectionately referred to as “study aids” by students who don’t even consider them drugs. It’s estimated around a third of all students have prescriptions for psychoactive medications such as antidepressants, anxiety medication, and ADHD medication. A grey market has formed around these students, who sell them across campus.

Chatterjee believes that cognitive enhancement is going to be considered as normal in time, much like cosmetic surgery has become “normal”. If products such as Modafinil are available, then people are going to buy them. It’s as simple as that. Smart drugs aren’t the cause of the sense of competition, rather they are a phenomenon of it. They are part of a broader cultural shift. There has been a relentless pursuit of productivity, in particular material productivity, that has driven this need for Modafinil and other smart drugs.

These drugs aren’t all fun and games though. One student described the experience as being awful. They felt like they were going to faint. They were able to remember entire paragraphs of study material word for word, but it could hardly be considered worth it. This is why some students only take it during crunch periods when it’s either put up or shut up.

Another student — who takes them intermittently — praised the drugs. They said they were able to take them first thing in the morning to work hard all day without getting much of an appetite. Modafinil allowed them to work all day at college before hitting the gym and working hard there to lose weight and ace their exams.

If something sounds too good to be true though, then it probably is. There are side effects to consider. Some students have even become dependent on them. They were taking them just because, even though they didn’t need them for work anymore. They felt that they needed them to perform to their base level.

Modafinil History and Side Effects

Modafinil, which is prescribed under the name Provigil in the UK and US, was created in the 1970s by a French laboratory. It was licensed for use as a narcolepsy medication in the UK in 2002. In the US, it is also licensed as a treatment for daytime sleepiness and shift work sleep disorder. Modafinil online offers some of the same effects as stimulants like amphetamines but without the side-effects of jitters and anxiety. It isn’t considered addictive, but some studies show that it could increase dopamine levels, which is connected to addictive behaviour.

While the Modafinil side effects are considered minor — mostly headaches and upset stomachs — one of the biggest issues with it is that it has yet to be fully tested in a long-term study.

There are several ways that Modafinil is useful, and it could even be more useful if given the chance. As well as making things easier for students, it has been shown to improve the performance of surgeons. It also helps reduce impulsivity for sleep-deprived people and improve problem-solving skills. If it really helps to reduce accidents in the workplace and stop drivers from falling asleep at the wheel, then that would make it a good thing.

The Facts About Modafinil

Given that there are no real hard facts about Modafinil, we have to rely on stories and anecdotes from people taking it. People such as Kate Miller, a student who shared her story with the New York Times. Katie discovered Adderall in her final year at university and continued to use the drug as she started working a 60-hour week. She continued taking it until she realised that she had become dependent on it and quit. Withdrawal was not easy on her. Her appetite went out of control and she was more emotionally sensitive thanks to the chemical imbalance left behind by the drug.

Surveys have been conducted in the United States that show smart drugs are primarily used by students at the elite universities of the north-east; places where academic pressure reaches its peaks. These are the places where students are their most competitive and where intelligence — and everything related to it — are most highly desired and valued.

Informal surveys have been held in Britain on the subject, including surveys carried out by student website the Tab. These surveys suggest that, much like in the US, Modafinil aka Modalert is primarily used by students in the most prominent universities, such as Oxford and Cambridge. Students that have to deal with the biggest workloads are also among the main users. Even the editor of the Tab, Rivlin, has admitted to taking Modafinil. They said that they were facing a lot of pressure and they had heard from other students about how Modafinil helped them focus and concentrate. Rivlin says that the drug helped them to take notes and stay on top of their work.

What do Universities Think?

While it’s true that many universities have students using Modafinil, you’ll have trouble getting those universities to admit to it. Part of it is because they are worried that they might encourage others to use them, and part of it is because of the lack of studies into how many students are taking modafinil. There are some indicators though, such as the fact that in October a record number of smart drugs was seized by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority. There’s also the fact that official figures show a massive discrepancy between the amount of people diagnosed with narcolepsy and the amount of anti-narcoleptic drugs being sold.

Image for post

The whole thing is also a massive can of worms that universities don’t want to have to deal with. Duke University in North Carolina recently amended their academic honesty policy to include unauthorised use of prescription medication. The dean of students at the university, Sue Wasiolek, suggests that students themselves wanted this. They wanted it to be noted that using drugs that enhanced academic performance was a form of cheating.

For the UK, the official policy of most universities when it comes to modafinil use is to pretend that it’s just not happening. It is a difficult topic after all, so they can hardly be blamed for that. There are no easy answers with this one. Even if it was banned in exams, students will still take it to revise. Then there are all the cognitive enhancers, such as caffeine and nicotine, that have been used for centuries without being considered cheating.

These are all ethical questions that must be considered one day, because these smart drugs aren’t going anywhere. There are some people who stand to benefit from this though, including those suffering from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

The Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University was set up with the intent of looking at the biggest threats faced by humanity and the opportunities and emergent technologies that can help humans overcome these threats. They consider cognitive enhancement, whether through drugs or brain training, to be a part of humanity’s future. The problem is getting research done into this, as ethics communities get nervous about it. People are particularly nervous around the word “pills”. There wouldn’t be as much stigma if we called them memory-enhancing herbs.

Smart Drugs Say More About Society Than Students

Drugs aren’t the problem. In a way, people are the problem. We’ve medicated ourselves against what was once considered a problem of everyday life; anxiety, overwork, and sadness. Perhaps we need to take a step back and look at society as a whole. Why are we all so stressed? Why is everyone becoming reliant on little white pills like painkillers, antidepressants, and smart drugs?

Unfortunately, it’s young people who are getting caught up in it all. We’re raising a generation of people who are leaving university with massive debts, and the increase in use of prescription drugs and the demand for enhancement drugs has mirrored this perfectly.

There was a time in the 60s when tranquilizers were called “mother’s little helper” because they put kids to sleep. These days, smart drugs have become “capitalism’s little helper”. They are just one more symptom of the massive gap in equality where we are all competing for resources and looking for any edge we can get.

In a way students are fine. They don’t need to take these drugs as much as they think they do. It’s not their brain chemistry that needs to change, it’s the world as a whole. We’ve created a world where people need to mess with their heads just to function properly. That’s a sad indictment of the world we are leaving behind for the next generation.

Where do I get Modafinil for study purposes?

I do get asked a lot where to find a good online store for Modafinil. I tend to use which is a store that has never let me down. Give this a go if your interested. Hope this article has been interesting and your exams go well!

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch

Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore

Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store