There are claims that Oxford undergraduates are part of the increasing trend amongst UK university students to turn to cognitive enhancing drugs to stay on top of academic work.
Drugs such as Ritalin (methylphenidate), Adderall and Modafinil are prescription stimulants usually used to treat neurological conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Narcolepsy.
However, there is a growing demand amongst students for these drugs to help them get through exam revision, or weekly essays.
Earlier this month, Professor John Harris, of the Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation at the University of Manchester has called for these “smart drugs” to be available over the counter to students.
A study by Cambridge academics has identified that it is now more common for students, and even tutors, to turn to drugs aiding memory, concentration and planning for non-medical purposes.
One student from Lincoln College explained that they would never normally consider taking illegal substances but stated that she could “definitely understand why students would look for something more than Red Bull to keep them going when they’re in the library at four am.”
Cambridge’s study speculated that the drugs, readily available on the internet, could come to replace caffeine as a means of raising energy levels.
However, it also noted that the effects of “long-term use has not been monitored in healthy individuals”.
A spokesperson for Oxford University stated that the University would “strongly advise students against” taking drugs that have not been specifically prescribed to them, calling it “dangerous” and “illegal”. They also urged students to report to the police anyone trying to sell drugs.
Professor Philip Cowen of the Psychopharmacology Research Unit at the University of Oxford stated that use of the drug raised the “ethical question” as to whether everyone would be starting off on a “level playing field”.
However, some Oxford students have dismissed this question. One student commented, “I don’t feel it’s cheating because if some people get extra time, why can’t I take performance-enhancing drugs?”
A spokesperson for Oxford University stated that students who are struggling with stress and are tempted to turn to drugs should instead use the “range of support” offered by the University’s welfare systems.
He said, “They should talk to their tutors, their college welfare officers, OUSU, their GP, or the University Counselling Service.”