News of these new brain boosting substances first hit Oxford about a year ago, but all has remained mysteriously quiet since. However, in the aftermath of the recent Nature debate which brought to light that 16% of American college students were regularly using cognitive enhancers, universities across the UK will soon have to get serious on the smart-pills debate.

‘The substances facilitate a pinched, unromantic, grindingly efficient form of productivity’

Students are turning to these substances in preference to the traditional stimulants of coffee and cigarettes to help them work harder, meet deadlines, and concentrate in exams. They don’t inspire new, original ideas. Rather, they facilitate a pinched, unromantic, grindingly efficient form of productivity. But what are the offending articles?

Most notorious is Ritalin, a stimulant drug introduced in 1956 for the treatment of attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Ritalin’s less infamous accomplices are Modafinil (a drug used to treat the sleep disorder narcolepsy), Donepezil (used to treat dementia) and Amphetamines. The most attractive aspect of drugs like Ritalin and Modafinil is that they seem to have no addictive potential.

‘Oxford students are already devouring instant-coffee granules off tea spoons in order to bypass the time-wasting water boiling stage’

If this study aid was endorsed by universities, it would probably spread like wildfire, particularly in an environment like Oxford where students are already devouring instant-coffee granules off tea spoons in order to bypass the time-wasting water boiling stage.

So why not just stock up on these pills? Well, coercion might be one argument against; if a significant number of Oxford students start ‘using’, then the rest might be simply coerced into popping pills in order to stay on top. There’s also the linked question of disparity in society and the fact that only wealthy people would be able to regularly afford the drugs. Also, what’s the difference between this and sport, where the use of performance enhancing drugs is considered grossly unfair in such a competitive environment? Mental activities are clearly competitive too.

Ethical considerations aside, I would prefer to wait and see how the long-term effects really pan out for the student guinea pigs. I also quite like the taste of Kenco medium roast, and feel that water certainly improves it.