A new editorial from Canadian medical experts urges universities and colleges to do more to protect young adults from the dangers of illicit stimulant use.
College students use stimulants to enhance their alertness, theoretically improving study sessions and improving academic performance. But the perceived benefits are questionable.
The editorial is found in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ).
“The vast majority of the evidence shows no cognitive improvements with the use of stimulants when compared with placebo in healthy individuals.
“In short, students who think simply popping a pill will improve their grades or give them newfound academic abilities are sorely mistaken,” said Dr. Daniel Rosenfield, CMAJ Editor-in-Chief.
“Abuse of prescription medications such as methylphenidate (Ritalin) and atomoxetine (Strattera) has been estimated at an alarming rate ranging from 5 percent to 35 percent. Without action, some of our best and brightest minds are at risk,” said the authors.
A major problem is that most students are unaware of the potential side effects and harms associated with stimulants.
Further, stimulants are often taken inappropriately (i.e., snorting or injecting) to obtain a “buzz” or a quick high.
When stimulants are used without medical supervision, adverse clinical effects — such as irregular heartbeat, overdose, depression, addiction and even death — are possible.
As universities and colleges are common venues for abuse of stimulants, given the perception that they boost grades, students need to recognize the seriousness of the issues. In the editorial, universities are tasked to engage students in focused health education campaigns that debunk myths and expose risks, and identify and address the root cause of stimulant use.
The authors concluded: “Like doping in sports, abuse of stimulants by our best and brightest students should be denormalized by being viewed as cheating or substance abuse, pure and simple.”