An increasing number of Oxford students are putting themselves at risk by using dangerous drugs to aid their revision.
A government-commissioned report, co-authored by an Oxford don, has warned students of the potential psychological disorders arising from the continued use of drugs for revision.
However, students continue to ignore such warnings, putting themselves at risk.
A finalist, who wished to remain anonymous, said he has been taking “study drugs” on-and-off throughout university, with the dosage and frequency of his drug taking rising dramatically in his final year.
He said, “I’ve used drugs to do my work through every stage of my degree and that includes both submitted work and final examinations.”
He said he started with taking ephedrine, a nasal decongestant, in a cocktail mix with caffeine and aspirin – commonly known as ‘ECA stacks’, a component found in weight loss pills, that work to speed up the metabolism and cause food energy to burn faster.
It is a popular supplement also taken by body builders before workouts due to the increased amount of energy and alertness.
He said “I, too, started taking it for gym work but then saw the alertness effects. I thought, ‘This is interesting,’ and started doing research on such drugs.”
The student claimed that he was aware of the risks of the drugs he was taking as he researched them both online and in the drugs section of the Radcliffe Science Library.
The finalist said that it was here that he learned of another drug, modafinil, which he was able to purchase online.
He said, “a single box or thirty tablets of modafinil cost $125. The order was made online, processed at a very old office in London, money was sent to an account in Panama, and the drug came from Turkey.”
The student admitted that he was worried that ephedrine, while legal in the UK, is banned in the US, having been blamed for a number of deaths. He said preferred modafinil over ephedrine because it was more effective, saying he was able to stay awake for five days in a row.
He added “the come down is so bad so I couldn’t do this more than once, but modafinil really is that effective. But your body aches all over and I needed to sleep for 17 hours straight afterwards.”
The finalist says he was “forced to” rely on “study drugs” to do work because he “hated the degree so much.”
“I hate the subject, I hate the tutorial system, and I felt my work just was never good enough. When your motivation for work collapses then you end up using these substances.”
A report in the Academy of Medical Sciences, which was commissioned by the government in 2006, identified a new group of psychoactive drugs that act on the brain called ‘cognition enhancers’.
The report defines ‘cognition enhancers’ as drugs used to treat attention, perception, learning, memory, language, planning and decision-making disorders, which also have the potential to enhance cognitive performance in healthy people as well as those with neurological or cognitive disorders.
Sir Gabriel Horn, chair of the report, said, “Cognition enhancers can potentially enhance brain performance in a variety of ways, for instance to improve short-term memory or speed of thought.”
The report called for an assessment of the long and short-term effects of using cognition enhancers and recommends ongoing monitoring of their use in non-medical contexts.
The report lists six categories of drugs available on prescription, such as modafinil, which is used to treat narcolepsy, ritalin and related amphetamines for attention deficit disorder, and donepazil for Alzheimer’s disease.
The student, who has now finished his finals, said he took these drugs while “actually sitting exams.” However, he denies that he had an advantage over those students who did not take drugs.
“The drugs don’t help you write stuff. It motivates you to do exams and I needed them because I felt so shit I wouldn’t write anything without them,” he explained.
A spokesperson for the University said, “we would strongly advise students against the practice of taking drugs that have not been specifically prescribed to them as this is dangerous and can be illegal.”
The spokesperson added that students “who are struggling to cope personally or academically, or who have any kind of drug problem“ should contact one of the many support or counselling services in Oxford.
However, the finalist disagreed with this advice. He said, “it takes three to four weeks to schedule a counseling session. Tutors are not easy to talk to and the peer support program – why would you want to tell your problems to people who are in the same college as you?”
He added, “before coming to Oxford, I always thought of myself as someone who wouldn’t have to rely on these drugs. But, you do kind of feel helpless sometimes.
“I regret that I had to rely on these drugs but I don’t regret having taken them.”