Disturbing rumours are buzzing around that students are now so anxious about their future they’re using drugs designed to treat  ADHD and Alzheimer’s disease to give them the edge at exam time.

The latest reports suggests a quarter of students are reportedly using ‘smart drugs’ in American universities – and anecdotal evidence suggests pre-exam pill-popping is on the rise in the UK too.

Expert Vince Cakic, from the department of Psychology at Sydney University – writing in the Journal of Medical Ethics – blames the growing pressure on students to achieve stellar grades if they’re going to have any chance on the increasingly competitive jobs market.

Our education institutions are turning into hot-houses, he says –

“High school and university are the primary competitive spheres of many people’s lives, and ones that have significant bearing upon their lives, in terms of both career opportunities and future earning capacity.

“The pressure to succeed academically is very real, and in a climate in which high-stakes public examinations have increased demand for private tuition, it is likely that all avenues for performance enhancement will be exhausted.”

Academic institutions should be very worried indeed, Cakic warns. Randomised trials would be problematic as these drugs are legal. Worse still, although the current drugs only boost brain power by a small amount, the next generation of these pills are likely to be far more powerful – and attractive to students.

“It appears likely that more effective compounds will be developed in the future”, he says. These will significantly “enhance memory, alertness, attention, motivation, executive function, creativity or the need for sleep,” making them tempting to stressed-out, last-minute crammers the world over…

What do you think – are high-flying students using these pills to get the best marks possible, to further their careers? Or will they appeal more to slacker students who haven’t bothered to go to lectures? Is it cheating – and if so, what’s the solution?

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