How smart are ‘smart drugs’?

Smart drugs

According to reports released recently, UK universities are likely to see an increase in the use of ‘smart drugs’ by students to increase their cognitive function and enhance academic performance. Whilst most of the drug use in the UK is currently anecdotal, 1 in 4 students in America are thought to be using these ‘smart drugs’ in order to boost exam performance, and many academics genuinely believe this will filter through to our Universities.

‘Smart drugs’ are ordinarily used to treat conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). One report has claimed that there are 27 major agents currently available in the UK that can be taken to boost brain power; including 10 dietary supplements. But, it’s drugs such as Ritalin and Modafinil that are apparently the most popular for students trying to improve their academic Performance. Modafinil, which is normally used to treat Narcolepsy, is said to have incredibly stimulating effects. In small doses, it can improve your memory and increase your focus; great for those last minute cramming sessions before exams. The drug is also said to prevent you falling asleep. Scientist believe Modafinil could keep its user up for 48 hours, and amazingly suggest that users won’t even have sleep ‘debt’ so one 8 hour sleep session will make up for no sleep the previous night!

In a study at Cambridge, researchers found that a single dose of the drug helped male university students remember long chains of digits, complete puzzles and perform in mental planning tests. Modafinil has also been tested by US and British forces to allow soldiers to complete operations throughout the night. Therefore, ‘smart drugs’ clearly offer it’s users an advantage, and it’s obvious why academics fear that more students will seek the benefit come stressful exam times.

However, it has been stressed that there are some serious side-effects that come with abuse of these kinds of drugs. Insomnia, anxiety, and heart problems as well psychotic episodes have all been associated with the intake of these substances. Dr Ken Checinski, a specialist in addictive behaviour at St George’s, University of London, has been confronted with some of the more extreme realities of taking these performance enhancing drugs. He says “they [the user] might have a mood disorder not quite as bad as the crash from coming off cocaine but a near crash. They might feel suicidal.” He warns that the drugs are advertised as making people smarter and braver, but the reality is often quite opposite.

Impact spoke to one student at The University of Nottingham, who had taken these ‘smart drugs’ before to find out if they really do work. Joe Bloggs, whose name has been changed for obvious reasons, told Impact “The ones I took is Adderall, I only took it once and it worked pretty well.” The drug in question, Adderall, is an amphetamine which is usually used to treat Narcolepsy and ADHD. Taken in appropriate doses, the drug is said to increase energy and awareness whilst heightening concentration levels. It is also said to give users a compulsion to complete tasks. On, one user has even put Adderall: The only way to finish homework. Joe explained that “I just felt like I could concentrate a lot and wanted to get stuff done. I ended up doing a 10 page essay, loads of e-mails and then tidied my room.” So, it would seem that reports on these types of drugs are fairly accurate, and with more and more students filtering to and from the US, where these drugs are fairly common, it’s hardly surprising more and more UK students are starting to discover the benefits. When asked if Joe would use these drugs again he replied “I would use it again, especially if I could get hold of it in Nottingham.”

These ‘smart drugs’ are currently only legally available in the UK by prescription, and most GPs will not prescribe these drugs to anybody who doesn’t have one of the conditions the pills are designed for. However, with the few clicks of a computer mouse, you can find a whole host of drugs available for purchase online, which means that every student, worryingly, has easy access to them. It goes without saying though, that you don’t always get what you pay for on the net, and when it comes to something as serious as drugs, people need to be careful. With drugs easily available then, and the supposed effects speaking for themselves, some Academic’s worries that these drugs will soon, if they haven’t already, infiltrate the UK University system are quite relevant.

The use of drugs to enhance academic performance has started quite the debate. The advantages of taking these ‘smart drugs’ are apparent, and with side effects only showing in extreme cases of overuse, more students will undoubtedly be tempted by these pills to give them an edge over their peers come examination period. But, is the taking of these drugs classed as cheating? Will it be giving some students an unfair advantage? Experts in the UK are divided on the issue. Some believe that the health and social dangers of the use of these drugs are too great to allow students to take them freely whilst others feel that, with the right supervision, these drugs could be a legitimate way to boost performance.

Amongst those that are in favour of the use of these performance enhancing drugs is John Harris, Professor of Bioethics at Manchester University, who has openly said “My position on enhancement generally and on ‘smart drugs’ in particular is that enhancement is definitely a good thing. If they do improve function in a way that is safe enough I think people should make their own choices about whether to access them.” Harris, therefore argues that it should be left up to each student as to whether they decide to use the drugs or not, but clearly feels that enhancement is only a good thing.

It would of course, also, be very difficult to stop students using the drug if it is so easily available. Vince Cakic of Sydney University, whose work has been published in the Journal of Medical Ethics explains that “any attempt to prohibit the use of [smart drugs] will probably be difficult or inordinately expensive to police effectively.” So, one would be forgiven for thinking that some academics have already given up on the idea of trying to patrol the usage of these stimulants.

There are of course some academics that are still concerned with the welfare of the students that may be tempted by the quick fix these drugs seem to advertise. Dr Paul Howard Jones, senior lecture at Bristol University says “These drugs will multiply in number, range and power. I can see there are potential huge benefits but they challenge many of the values we have in education and society.” And that is a crucial area that needs to be discussed by those in charge, when it comes to deciding the fate of these ‘smart drugs’ as they do promote some cheating aspect as well as encouraging people use supplements in order to improve, rather than merely working hard to achieve their goals.

Dr Paul Howard Jones conducted a survey among teachers where he found that many thought these drugs would increase the education poverty gap, as those who could afford the drugs would be given an unfair advantage. It was also discovered that most teachers would demand drug testing if they became prevalent, and that they wouldn’t grade students who were taking the drugs as highly as those that were taking the exam sober. Obviously, this is a hot topic with a lot of social, political and health implications and it is hardly surprising that the teaching profession are worried about the repercussions if ‘smart drugs’ make a nationwide appearance.

It seems then, that these drugs may offer desirable effects, and that will interest an alarmingly large amount of students. With more and more students finding ways to access these stimulants, no doubt they will be making more of appearance across the country come exam period in May. And with the professionals arguing among themselves, it is difficult to predict what the future hold for these drugs. The monitoring or prevention of the use of these drugs is always going to prove difficult, and short of making each student give a urine sample before they enter the exam room, the University can’t do much to prevent students trialling these ‘smart drugs.’

Sex before small talk

It’s somewhat odd, I find, that not only are we now a generation where sex is the norm, but we’re a generation where sex is expected. We students are quite happy bed hopping our way through University, networking our way through the bed sheets, without any real care for love or romance. Between the hours of 2 and 3 am on a Saturday morning, as Ocean draws to an end, you inevitably see the pairing off of the remaining singletons on the dance floor, seeking out their mate, their bed warmer for the night. But when exactly did sex become oh so casual? When did sex become something as common place as conversation?

No doubt I sound some what prudish, out of date, but when did people give up on finding something deep and meaningful in sex? It seems to me that this idea of casual sex is not only worrying, given the rapid rise in people contracting sexually transmitted diseases, but is somewhat upsetting- I didn’t realise that romance was realistically dead. The old school taunts of being ‘frigid’ make me hesitant in portraying what many may be perceived as a naïve point of view, but I genuinely don’t understand what people have to gain from being able to contest how many people they’ve slept with, how many notches they’ve got on their bedpost.

And what’s even more depressing, is the fact that this craze is no longer purely an attribute of laddish behaviour but is now just as relevant to the female race. Girls are just as likely to cop off with a guy, whose name is irrelevant, just an hour after meeting him in Cr-isis. In the words of my mother, how do you ever expect a guy to respect you, if you don’t respect yourself? The irony of it all though, is that the same girls then spend their days moaning about how guys never take girls on dates anymore- that some traditional notion of gentlemanliness has somehow been lost. But realistically, what guy is going to spend money taking a girl out if he’s already seen and enjoyed the goods?

Now, don’t get me wrong, this by no means an anti-sex campaign… far from it. But I guess I just reminisce about the time where we talked about sex using sport metaphors; when 4th base was a big deal.

Gordon Brown has sent you a friend request


FacebookImagine that? You log on to Facebook for a harmless gander at what your friends are up to, because you definitely haven’t checked for at least 10 minutes, and there in blue and white is a friend request from Gordon Brown…

Okay, so that will probably never happen. Unless of course you just so happen to have an unfortunate friend who shares the same name. But there is talk of more Government involvement in our online dealings, which could mean that they would know what we are all up to on our beloved social networking sites. I wonder if I could be pulled up on stalking charges for following Brad Pitt’s tweets all too closely.

In a proposal last year, The Home Office requested to have access to people’s social networking information (both the information they post and any movements they make within the site) as part of an Intercept Modernisation Programme, which also included monitoring people’s telephone calls and e-mails. With approximately 17 million British people using Facebook, and a further 10 million people choosing Bebo, the government would have copious amounts of information on us mere mortals.

In a recent survey conducted by the BBC, the public were asked whether they felt the government should be monitoring our internet usage. 55% of people in the UK believed that there was a case for some government regulation. So it seems that half the population feel that there may be some positives in having the government monitoring our internet, and with the continual rise in internet related crime, it’s hardly surprising people feel that something needs to be done.

The Government are looking to introduce the Digital Economy Bill which would see the Government implement a ‘three strikes’ rule for users on the internet. This would obviously mean more monitoring on internet usage and would definitely crack down on crimes like illegal file sharing, and will also monitor the amount of explicit content that can be found on the net. Somewhat more importantly, it will surely make the internet safer for the rest of us- with previous offenders not being able to use chat rooms and networking sites to find new targets. So perhaps it’s not too bad an idea having Alan Johnson trawling the internet to see who has ‘poked’ who…

Furthermore, the Digital Economy Bill would see the whole of the UK decked out with Broadband by 2012, meaning that everybody would have access to the internet. This comes as the BBC poll concluded that 79% of people believed that access to the internet is fundamental human right. The United Nations are looking to get proper legislation to protect internet access as a human right implemented on a global scale.

We are a generation who have become somewhat dependant on the internet, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The internet has made information more accessible on a larger scale and has meant that communication is quicker than ever. We shop on the internet, whether it’s for clothing or even food shopping. We e-mail everybody; be it tutors, prospective employers or family. We even use it for our academic study- what would we do without Wikipedia or Spark notes? If our access to the internet was ever revoked we would feel like we had been catapulted back to the dark ages, and I for one, would feel a little bit lost. I already find myself getting angered when I find myself in some obscure location without a wi-fi connection, as if some divine being is trying to taunt me.

So it would seem the implications of legislation deeming internet access as a human right are quite impressive, it would mean that everybody’s online access is protected. It boils down then to this. Perhaps, just maybe, the Government have got something right here. We may moan that Brown, or his successor, could see that we have visited the cute guy from our seminars page a stalkerish amount of times but realistically, if we have done nothing wrong, then we should have nothing to fear. And quite frankly, if it means the internet being a safer place to surf then I might just have to accept that friend request.

Masculinity, Monster Munch and ‘Man Points’

The era of the ‘lad’ is upon us. What seemed like harmless banter in school has become a competitive race to see which ‘man’ is the most macho. Between Beer Pong and the daily Frapes, the fresh fellas seem to find time to set themselves a series of challenges to earn the esteem of their fellow competitors and the crown of masculinity; the prize they crave the most… the ever allusive ‘Man Points.’

I have come to understand that where ‘Man Points’ are concerned no challenge is too absurd, no task too outrageous and no duel too disgusting. What starts as a relatively normal student evening (drinking, dancing, Dino’s), can be transformed into a barrage of ‘Man Challenges’ where every food substance on your shelves qualifies as the next testament of manliness and every female becomes the next prank prey. From Monster Munch to Wheetabix, from whole Satsumas to Hot Chilli sauce, the boys leave no stone unturned in their quest for ‘Man Status’.

Second home to the boys the JCR, plays host to the pranks and brawls of this laddish generation. A testosterone filled environment of over-competitive table football and devastating games of ‘tell her’. These lads can often be seen roaming in packs, like hyena’s looking for their next prey, scanning the environment for the next man to keg, tackle or shout some from of ridiculous banter at.

And we, as fresh females, seem to have the front seats for these outrageous acts of ‘masculinity’. The boys thrive on entertaining the female population with their childish stunts, performing for our pleasure as much as to impress their fellow competitors. A night in halls is never ordinary: what starts as a simple night in front of the television can turn into a mass game of Tig around the 3 floors of Florence Boot or a competition to see if anybody can swig the ‘100% Pain’ chilli sauce and not cry or throw up.

Now there are things that we women will just never understand about men and this bizarre display of masculinity is certainly one of them. But quite frankly, it doesn’t matter. When I’m watching the latest lads doing their best chunder-monkey impression after their failed attempt at shotting French mustard, I don’t care why they’re doing it- its bloody funny.

Flaming Tongues

In 2006, the first case of a “web rage” attack was heard in British courts. One internet user had tracked down a man he had been having a heated argument online with and, armed with a knife, attacked him in his own home. Police at the time claimed that the incident ‘demonstrates how easily other users can put two and two together’ and prompted the nationwide campaign to stress the importance of protecting your identity on the net. But now more than ever, it seems like people are using the internet to vent their frustrations, with the mask of usernames and pseudonyms merely meaning people can be as rude and aggressive as they like without fearing the repercussions.

A new trend called ‘flaming’ seems to have swept across the internet; in chat rooms, social networking sights and blogs. Flaming refers to an intentionally hostile or insulting communication between one or more internet users and with the amount of individuals, businesses and media outlets now creating pages on the internet, this type of interaction is becoming all too frequent.

The website YouTube allows people to upload their own videos and make them available to anyone with an internet connection. Granted, listening to kids sing about acne or ranting about celebrities is neither amusing or overly interesting, but if their creators want to go to the trouble of making these videos then there is little anybody can say to stop them. Why, though, people feel the need to insult these people they don’t even know, is beyond me. One post on the website, in response to ‘A song about love’ reads ‘I genuinely wish terminal brain cancer on this odious little human being.’ At what point does it become acceptable to post such an abusive comment online? Why do people feel that they can be as rude or as hostile as they like purely because their identities are a secret?

The Mail Online posts their articles on the internet with a comment section to promote readers to feedback on the articles published, a facility which should be praised for encouraging more participation in the media. However, it seems some readers have been using the feature to attack the author personally. Charlotte Metcalf wrote an article titled ‘Waiting for the perfect man? Mr Second Best is better than Mr Nobody… and I should know!’ which was met by responses such as ‘Utter nonsense. But then again, you’d expect this rubbish by someone who says: “Ever since I was little I’ve dreamed of a happy marriage and a family”.’ Surely, it is one thing to dislike the article, whether it is for the content or the way it has been written, but another thing all together to attack the author personally?

And all the time, these hostile attacks go unpunished because their identity is a secret. This bullying goes unnoticed and uncharged purely because these bullies will never have to meet the individual they are insulting. When does it become necessary to address the balance between protecting and completely hiding your identity? Websites already monitor the majority of their content, and offering web users the opportunity to partake in discussion forums is a natural development in internet culture. But the minority who choose to abuse the system for safe browsing in order to insult the innocent are making it more and more likely that restrictions will have to be put in place. Now, whether these restrictions mean websites will take more details from users in order to locate the source of these attacks or whether it means that forums will need to be shut down, it certainly seems like a step backwards in our quest for social and technological progress.