Exam time is here. And according to the US Department of Health and Human Services, roughly six of every 100 collegian brains are illegally swimming in amphetamines.
That is to say, in FDA-approved, but illegally procured amphetamines, the kind that are bummed or bought without benefit of a prescription. You may know the most common one by its brand name: Adderall®.
Adderall and Ritalin®, are two drugs commonly prescribed by doctors in the burgeoning war against attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The war is in no way confined to children, by the way: 1 in 12.35 Americans have been diagnosed with ADHD. When it comes to illicit use of these drugs, a study by the Northeastern University School of Pharmacy found amphetamine-based drugs like Adderall were three times more likely to be used than stimulants like Ritalin.
Some students popped pills to help them get into college in the first place. A 2006 study by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America estimated that one in 10 students in grades 7 to 12 used drugs like Adderall to help their school performance. Now that many are in college, the proportion of students turning to Adderall is even higher. They share it, buy it from one another, or fake ADHD to obtain it. After all, how difficult could it be to pretend to have difficulty concentrating? Says Slate writer Joshua Foer, “it is supposed to be one of the easiest disorders to fake,” and he would know—as an experiment, Foer spent a week on Adderall, and reported he was so productive it was as though he had been “bitten by a radioactive spider.”
Synthesized amphetamines have a long and storied history in the United States. Before there was Adderall, America had Obetrol, a prescription weight-loss pill whose heyday was in the 1950s and ’60s. And before that, there was Benzedrine, which is still given to Air Force pilots during long combat missions to keep them alert. Benzedrine was first synthesized in 1928, and shortly thereafter, it began amping up some very important cortexes. Jack Kerouac famously wrote On the Road on “bennies” and didn’t sleep for two weeks straight. Sylvia Plath, Graham Greene, Philip Dick, Paul Erdös, and many more: they produced mountains of work on large and often dangerous doses of Benzedrine.
What, then, is the problem with popping an Adderall? For all of his new-found energy and focus, Foer found he felt less like himself, echoing an oft-voiced concern that use of the drug increases concentration but blunts creativity.
And, depending on your underlying health—or how many pills you are taking and over what period of time—there can be some very significant health risks.
Adderall is an amphetamine. Actually, it is a mixture of four, intended to facilitate a gradual onset and subsidence, which is one of the reasons it is FDA-approved and reasonably safe when taken as prescribed/directed by a physician. It is not “speed,” but is a related amphetamine, and researchers have yet to fully understand how it counteracts ADHD. Any misuse of the drug, classified by the FDA as Schedule II (along with opium and cocaine), increases the risk of dependence and addiction.
Amphetamine misuse can have serious consequences. Amphetamines increase blood pressure, the risk of heart attack or stroke, the likelihood of seizures in the seizure-prone, and one’s risk of drug-dependence. 1 in 625 adults has an amphetamine use disorder. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, Adderall misuse among college students also makes them five times likelier to use non-medical prescription painkillers and eight times likelier to use cocaine or tranquilizers.
Amphetamines are easy to misuse.Very easy. Even one pill carries the inherent risks of heart palpitations, gradual weight loss, headaches, stroke, seizure, heart attack, or sudden death. Taking more than one pill at a time carries a risk of overdose or stimulant psychosis, side effects even likelier if the pills are crushed and snorted. If you’ve taken several at once, Adderall’s manufacturer, Shire Pharmaceuticals, recommends calling poison control immediately.
If its concentration you’re after, there’s always the old-fashioned way: coffee, soda, sugar, vigorously slapping one’s cheeks, and, like mom says, not waiting until the night before to start studying