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Keeping study drugs a secret only breeds dangerous behavior

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | MAY 15, 2009 7:26 AM

In the wake of final exams, papers, portfolios and the reading, studying, and memorizing sessions crammed in between them, many students at the UI are collapsing with exhaustion. But, quite commonly, the strain of the semester’s end comes not from the all-nighters’ worth of work; there are stronger things than coffee out there. Known in passing mention as “study aids,” a wide market of mental and physical stimulants exist readily at hand, burning much brighter than your average midnight oil. To quote Dr. Eldon Tyrell, “The light that burns twice as bright burns for half as long,” and substances in the amphetamine family have a way of dimming remarkably fast and bring with them even darker nights in the forms of depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, and addiction, among others. But extremes and downsides come with anything, really; it’s all about moderation and (much, much more importantly) education.

The popular opinion about drugs more advanced than organic substances, such as cannabis and Psilocybe mexicana mushrooms, is that they are all dangerously addictive, life-inhibiting, and morally wrong. Some say the same about alcohol, but to a far lesser degree. And the problem here is that even in most educated circles, even medical doctors, information on a drug’s indications, side effects, and relative dangers is largely limited to scaring people from using them. The American Cancer Society has published reams of brochures, conducted hundreds of surveys, and funded numerous studies on the health effects of smoking tobacco, and while most of that data point in legitimate directions, they are still fundamentally influenced by the agenda of their collators. Drugs such as Adderall are a little different, given that there are many more positive results in using them than tobacco, but they still suffer the stigma of “drug,” which in public discourse and legal policy equates to “something that will drive you to addiction, depravity, and death” and in the medical world to “something to be afraid of.” Which is exceedingly strange, given that cigarettes and alcohol are legal and available in a way no other mood-altering substance is, besides, of course, coffee. See? The more you examine one’s options of mental alteration, the wider the scope gets. Coffee in high, consistent quantities can cause most of the side effects of amphetamine salts, including the symptoms of withdrawal. Plus there are the ulcers. But it’s legal, and why? It’s not mind-altering enough. The cantankerous powers that be have drawn a — rather arbitrary — line across which substances are no longer within the public’s rights to learn about or have access to. Our “morality,” our sense of living life in as good enough a way as we see fit, is being structured for us. No thought given to personal responsibility, that maybe, as with everything, some will indulge to extremes, make questionable decisions, and suffer consequences, and some will not.

Serious study time, midterms, and finals see students getting ahold of stimulants such as Adderall, a popular brand name for a combination of amphetamine salts immediately indicated for attention deficit (hyperactivity) disorder, with ease and in quantity. After all, how many of us have numerous friends and acquaintances prescribed the substance? Doctors throw it left and right. Of course, there’s a careful screening process, involving numerous signatures, Adderall being a Class II Substance — the same class that includes cocaine and morphine, drugs that have “a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States or a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions” — but the diagnosis is the important part, and ADHD cases are everywhere. Again, based on the classifications and categories fabricated for us, the drug is dangerous until someone says it isn’t. And that’s the central problem: Students who use stimulants such as these to focus during exam time and stay up late to prepare for it aren’t getting the information they need to use it properly and responsibly. It is addictive, like alcohol, like cigarettes, so be prepared for what you’re getting yourself into. And that preparedness can only come when we loosen ourselves from stigmas and start to explore the applications, whatever they may be, and to trust ourselves and our peers a little more.


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