A new study shows that one in seven Swiss university students have tried to enhance cognitive performance with prescription medications or drugs.
Conducted by researchers at the Universities of Zurich and Basel, the study reveals that students have tried psychostimulants, such as Ritalin, sedatives, alcohol or marijuana.
The researchers report that the drugs are “mostly” taken only during exam periods. They also found that only a “narrow majority” of the students reported the desired effects.
The Swiss study comes on the heels of similar studies in America and Europe that showed that students use prescription medication or drugs to enhance their cognitive performance. This led the Swiss scientists to survey 6,725 students at the two universities and ETH Zurich to see if they have also experimented with neuroenhancement.
The researchers report that about 94 percent of the students surveyed had already heard of neuroenhancement. Just 13.8 percent of these students had tried to improve their cognitive performance with prescription medication or legal or illegal drugs at least once during their college years.
The substance most used was alcohol (5.6 percent), followed by methylphenidate, such as Ritalin (4.1 percent), sedatives and soporifics (2.7 percent), marijuana (2.5 percent), beta-blockers (1.2 percent), amphetamines (0.4 percent), and cocaine (0.2 percent).
The students reported that they primarily took these substances while preparing for exams and rarely took stimulating substances in the exam or for general stress during their studies.
While daily neuroenhancement was rare — just 1.8 percent of the students — the majority of the students consumed “soft enhancers,” such as caffeinated products, non-prescription vitamin products, or herbal sedatives before their last big exam. About one-third of the students consumed these soft enhancers every day, according to the researchers.
As a rule, advanced students who also had a job while at university and reported higher stress levels consumed performance-enhancing substances more frequently, the researchers found.
Digging deeper, they even found differences in substance use depending on the course of study. For example, students of architecture (19.6 percent), journalism (18.2 percent), chemistry (17.6 percent), economics (17.1 percent), medicine (16.2 percent), or pharmaceutics (16.1 percent) had more experience of neuroenhancement than mathematicians (8.6 percent) or sports students (7 percent).
According to the survey, the intended effect was only achieved in a narrow majority of the students, which is why only around half would actually take these substances again in an effort to boost brain power.
“The development of neuroenhancement at Swiss universities should be monitored as students constitute a high-risk group that is exposed to increased stress and performance pressure during their degrees,” said Michael Schaub, Ph.D., the study leader and head of the Swiss Research Institute for Public Health and Addiction.
“However, there is no need to intervene as yet.”
Source: University of Zurich