Study drugs: magic or medicine?

Derek Remsburg/Senior Staff

We’ve all heard of the so-called epidemic of “study drug” abuse. A black market of these pharmaceuticals, used illegally by individuals chasing higher test scores (or just a recreational high), has made its way into educational and professional institutions alike. Journalists are particularly quick to warn of addiction, trips to the emergency room and recess drug-pushing.

I’ll cut to the chase — I take Adderall every day. My family and I jokingly refer to it as “Rachel’s meth.” But off-color humor aside, I cannot stress how much it has improved my perspective and my life as a whole. Experience as both patient and college student has given me a unique perspective on both firsthand experience of the drug as well as some sobering insight into an ongoing social debate.

Misrepresentation of these drugs is very common. Some romanticize the drugs as bestowing superhuman effects where users find themselves hyperfocused, elated, even suddenly losing pounds. But let’s step back — if this were universally true, there would have to be a good reason, right? After all, Adderall isn’t being doled out to everyone who’s ever lived through a bad day or a B average.

For instance, one flipside: the “crash.” Not all experience common symptoms like depression or nausesa after peak effects wear off — but many do. Users describe the feeling as anywhere from mildly annoying to like a migraine. Study marathoners often forget essentials like adequate sleep, dismissable on drugs but necessary for memory formation. (Sorry, Adderall won’t turn you into a reptile.)

Another factor overlooked is individual biology. Like many medications, physical response is variable, meaning the same 30-milligram dose that has only a mild effect on yourself could send a friend into a panic attack. I’ve observed a bit of this firsthand sitting in Main Stacks last year, when I found myself next to a disturbed fellow student — she shook. She threw things frantically around her desk. She scribbled fiercely for hours, as if already in the last 60 seconds of her English final. And as she remained banging around her cubicle for four hours, watching someone wrecked on drugs was far from comforting for me. Adderall’s Schedule II classification under the United States Controlled Substance Act is for a reason — it’s not aspirin.

But besides a two-hour parade of shrieking infants I brave at a monthly refill trip to Kaiser, my experience as a consumer is rather unglamorous. I don’t sneak off to snort amphetamines between lectures or hoard pills under my floorboards. I’m no Dr. House, as many Internet sensationalists imply, a stereotype complicating accurate medical diagnosis for patients like myself. Previously, I was given conflicting opinions from professionals that ranged from “anyone who gets into Cal wouldn’t have ADD” to a prescription for the very thing. And many students taking Adderall on occasion say they experience no adverse effects like addiction or adverse reaction. Some students often admit that, in such a competitive environment, Adderall is a relief to a demanding array of daily tasks — test prep, extracurriculars, classes, errands, a job — and wish the occasional help weren’t paid for in a potential drug charge.

Dangerous misuse of these drugs is undeniable, as is overreaction. For one, stereotypes of users as either overnight geniuses or Jekyll-Hyde-type junkies — transformations somehow contained in a single capsule — avoid individual response variations and other consequences that accompany the use of any substance. In reality, Adderall is a class of mixed amphetamines designed for a particular purpose but whose users have discovered alternative uses — neither an encapsulated “A+” nor a new crack-cocaine. “With great power comes great responsibility” — use your head!

Contact Rachel Sutton at [email protected] or RachelXSutton on Twitter.