How would your daily life change if you could actually concentrate? What if you weren’t spacing out in every class? Imagine: a school day without distractions. As midterms are approaching, the idea of this sounds especially enticing. But what if you didn’t have to study for those finals because you somehow managed to absorb every piece of information that your teacher relayed to you in class.
At high schools and colleges everywhere over 30 percent of students are using some sort of “brain-enhancing” drug in an attempt to achieve this standard. In an environment where the workload appears endless and stress levels are at an all-time high, Prescription ADHD medications like Adderall, Ritalin, and Vyvanse have become increasingly popular.
Though it may seem like these drugs could be the end-all-be-all of bad studying habits, each of them have their drawbacks. First off, notorious for its ability to increase mental focus and alertness, Adderall has been linked to increased paranoia, anxiety and severe depression with extended use. Similarly, Ritalin, which is used to treat those with ADHD and narcolepsy, is highly addictive and carries the risk of psychological dependence. Then there is Vyvanse, which has been known to cause nausea, insomnia and loss of appetite. Ultimately, these pitfalls tend to ruin the desirable appearance of these drugs.
However, there is one drug that seems to outrank the rest: the “Limitless pill,” Modafinil is the only product clinically proven to improve cognition. Not only does it actually work, but studies show that there appears to be very limited side effects. Though its effects are not nearly as astounding as Bradley Cooper’s ability to use 100 percent of his brain in the movie “Limitless,” the drug does in fact help with thinking skills, planning, decision making, learning, memory and creativity.
So what’s the problem? Now that we know that it works, the ethical question is whether or not we should let it. Modafinil was originally synthesized in France during the ‘70s for the treatments of sleep disorders, particularly narcolepsy. Though it functions similarly to amphetamines and cocaine, it lacks the detrimental side effects of withdrawal that come with the use of other drugs. However, because it alters the brain’s levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, this means that with long-term studies, it could ultimately be linked to addiction. In addition to its potential negative health effects, its use is controversial because of the discrepancies it causes in intellectual edge. Similar to the use of performance enhancing drugs in professional sports, “smart drugs” like Modafinil can create an unfair advantage in exam situations, which is why its use has been banned from popular game shows like “Jeopardy!”.