Study drugs - the lowdown

Tempted to try study drugs? Read this first

There's no denying revision and exam season are stressful times. Most students spend hours meticulously writing revision notes and trying to cram as much as possible into their brains, and it can feel pretty overwhelming as the big exams approach.

For some, the pressure gets too much and the idea of taking 'study-enhancing' drugs can seem like a tempting solution, but it's certainly not a safe fix. 

Whether you're here because you're tempted to try study drugs, or you just want to know more, read on to find out about the risks, side-effects and legality of these substances. 

What are study drugs?

The most common study drugs are Modafinil, Dextroamphetamine (Adderall), Methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta) and Dexamphetamine Sulphate (Dexedrine). All of these are either classified as prescription-only medicines (POMs, for short) or Schedule 2 controlled drugs - that's the same classification as cocaine. 

These drugs are collectively licensed for use in the treatment and control of conditions such as narcolepsy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), so they can help improve concentration and wakefulness.

Because of this, students can be tempted to buy them illegally in order to power through exam season. However, this is very risky, and none of these drugs should used without a valid prescription from a registered GP or specialist.

POMs, controlled drugs and the law

It's illegal to supply or be sold medication under the POM classification to anyone without a valid prescription from a registered practitioner (e.g. a doctor, dentist or specialist). It's also illegal to be in possession, use or supply medication under the controlled drug schedule 2 or 3 classification without a valid prescription from a registered practitioner.

This means if you get caught selling or buying these drugs you're at risk from getting a criminal record, as well as potentially sacrificing your exams, health and well-being. 

Side effects and risks

Apart from the legalities around the use of POM drugs, using medication that hasn't been prescribed to you is very dangerous.

Here's some of the biggest risks involved in using unprescribed study drugs:

  • Records of quality control and ingredients are rarely given, meaning you have no idea what's actually in the drugs you're taking.
  • Studies have shown that medications obtained without a prescription can contain many dangerous chemicals, even including rat poison. 
  • Unprescribed drugs can also contain ingredients you're allergic to, which can be life threatening in some cases.
  • These drugs may also interact with other medication you're taking, or with known or underlying medical conditions.
  • There is no certainty of the dosage, so it's very easy to take a fatal overdose.

As well as these risks, below are the most common side effects, as listed by the British National Formulary.

Modafinil: Widening of blood vessels, heart palpitations, anxiety, sleep disturbances, high/low blood pressure, constipation, nausea, diarrhoea, toxic epidermal necrolysis (the upper layer of skin comes away from the lower layer).

Methylphenidate: Extreme weight loss, heart palpitations, insomnia, depression (including suicidal thoughts), abdominal pain, vomiting, nausea.

Dexamphetamine Sulphate: Insomnia, vomiting, nausea, night terrors, anxiety, depression, increased blood pressure, psychosis (hallucinations and delusional beliefs).

Discussing study drugs on TSR

At The Student Room we want to provide a safe space for you to discuss sensitive topics that are important to you, rather than drive those conversations underground. Here, you can ask your questions in a supportive place, and understand the risks involved in taking things like study drugs.

For this reason, discussions about study drugs are not prohibited on The Student Room, but they are monitored closely.  Any posts encouraging the use of study drugs or providing information about where to obtain them will be subject to our moderation policies, meaning the posts will be removed and the user warned appropriately (using our card system).

TSR is a big place, so we rely on our community to let us know when they see any post they think isn’t within our community guidelines. All posts, threads and PMs can be reported, and our fully trained moderation team work hard every day of the year to keep TSR a safe and supportive place.  If you have any questions about this, just pop into the Ask the Community Team forum and ask!

What the community has to say:

"I haven't taken such things… I know some people who used to and they've said it was a terrible idea and caused havoc for them in the long run." - Paracosm

"I've used Modafinil twice and it had no effect. I ended up taking a nap a few hours later..." - hezzlington 

"I've only taken Adderall before and I will never do it again. Was going through a bit of a rough period and ended up falling behind on assignments, so I was having to pull late nights to catch up. What followed was terrible. I ended up getting slightly addicted, and for two weeks I was taking 50mg twice a day. I was sleeping about 3 hours on average and feeling like crap. I decided it was sleeping that was making me feel like crap, so I tried to do all nighters until I'd caught up. I ended up going 6 days without sleep. I caught up all my assignments but I was a zombie. I was tired but couldn't shut down, and ended up hallucinating by the third day. Will never do that again and I'll ask for extensions if necessary instead of putting myself through that again." - Malevolent

So what's the alternative?

"Rather than some fancy pills promising more focus and memory retention, make nutrition a top priority. Lots of fresh, healthy food, plenty of water and lay off the booze!" - Beckywecky

"My recommendations would be to take up meditation, drink some tea and make sure you get plenty of Omega 3 in your diet from things like fish or nuts. Remember to have some downtime each day just to chill and relax too." - JaseyB

"I got my grades through hard work and sensible revising!" - CoolCavy

Study drugs may seem like an easy short-term fix to your revision or exam stresses, but they are not the solution.

There are many natural ways to improve exam and revision performance, including eating healthy wholesome food, regular exercise and good-quality sleep. Check out some other articles on TSR to find out more.

Related on TSR: 
How to naturally improve your performance 
How to manage stress levels