“Smart pills” such as Adderall and Ritalin have gained popularity among college students as a study aid over the years, but how safe are they and do they actually work?

Students take Adderall during mid terms and finals to study for long periods of time. (Joe Adajar/Courier)
Students take Adderall during mid terms and finals to study for long periods of time. (Joe Adajar/Courier)

Students without prescriptions are using these “smart pills” as a way to improve their focus at school or to keep them awake and alert for an all-night cram session.

Adderall and Ritalin are two of the most commonly prescribed medications to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), according to PCC staff psychologist Dr. Gail Ellis. These medications are central nervous system stimulants and make focusing on day-to-day activities like school or work easier for those with ADHD and even for those not diagnosed. But like any medication, it should only ever be used when prescribed.

“You either take them and they work or you don’t take and they don’t work,” Ellis said. “There is no real downside to these medications, which is why I believe they have become so popular.”

“Adderall is non-habit forming and although you cannot overdose on the pills you can get very ill which is why you should only take them if they have been prescribed to you,” Ellis added.

About one in ten children in the United States meet the diagnostic criteria for ADHD, which will follow them into adulthood, according to a study conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

With an increasing number of people diagnosed with ADHD these “smart pills” are one of the more accessible drugs. A growing demand for these medications used to treat ADHD even led to a shortage in 2012 as reported by the Food and Drug Administration.

“I am diagnosed with ADHD and some of my friends often ask me for some pills but I don’t give them out because I don’t know how it will affect them,” Michael Yu, sociology, said.

“People who need it do really need it and should use it but it should not be used by people without a diagnoses or prescription,” Ellis added.

Even though students without prescriptions can easily access these medications they might not work and may other health problems.

“None of these medications work for everybody, you can go buy some from a friend but you don’t know what it will do to you it may work, it may not work, or it might interfere with something else that’s going on in your body that your doctor would know about but you wouldn’t.”

Not all students resort to these medications for a quick boost some still opt for an energy drink instead.

“I’ve heard of many students taking Adderall but I have never tried it,” Sarah Henderson, psychology, said. “I just stick to drinking energy drinks which are not all that healthy but a lot safer than taking someone else medication.”

Although these “smart pills” may be seen as a relatively safe drug, the safer alternative is a simple cup of coffee.

“Students who feel like they want to increase their focus and concentration just for a test should just pick up a cup or even an energy drink,” Ellis said.

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