Students on a deadline turn to self-medication

June 29, 2007

Katy Palmer, an undergraduate English literature student at Leeds University, says drugs to boost performance are commonly used by undergraduates.

"I don't know how many students are taking smart drugs at Leeds. But the most hardcore behaviour is to have an 'all-nighter' where a student will say up all night, the night before an essay deadline, to get the work done.

"Most people I know will just drink loads of Red Bull or take over-the-counter ProPlus, which is highly concentrated caffeine. Some people do get stressed and take beta-blockers or sleeping pills, but they're generally the sort who are stressed all year.

"I don't feel that I'm in a highly competitive environment, but my brother's just graduated in architecture at University College London, where they worked like dogs. He was on a diet of coffee, codeine pills and a couple of hours' sleep for about three weeks, and that was perfectly normal.

"His friend was on Adderall, an amphetamine used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy, for the week before the deadline. My brother says he wouldn't resort to artificial stimulants because they mess with his work ethic, and I suppose it's better to stick to good old-fashioned effort, but if his friend can cope without them I don't see a huge difference.

"I know people at Central St Martins College of Art and Design who were on Ritalin - or 'vitamin R' - a month before their final projects, and lots of medical students take it, mainly before exams. Nobody seems to talk much about the side-effects; most people assume they're not serious.

"There is a big household of students I know at Oxford University who took cocaine all year and then switched to Ritalin just before their finals.

They could get hold of it from a dealer on campus in ten minutes. You can get anything at Oxford - Ritalin, Adderall, Provigil.

"When you're under pressure during finals you can't blame students for being tempted. There is this 'work hard, play hard' mentality. At the School of African and Oriental Studies there's a craze for Sudafed, the decongestant for colds. If you take loads you get really restless, something to do with the active ingredient.

"But on the whole I think most students are sensible."

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