I am, apparently, not quite as smart as I once thought. But wait … there’s a pill for that! In fact, I have often joked, upon doing something dumb like putting my coffee cup in the clothes washing machine, that “I must have forgotten to take my smart pill today!” But who knew there really was such a thing? Now, I knew, of course, about performance-enhancing drugs in the sports world. There has been much controversy over athletes who use anabolic steroids to build up muscle, and other drugs that may decrease both reaction time and fatigue. And I certainly knew, having a daughter who is a urological nurse, that there are certain drugs that improve … functionality in certain areas of men’s lives. But I never knew that there were drugs to make you smarter!
They are called nootropics, cognitive enhancement drugs, or ‘smart drugs’. They came onto my radar just this evening via a headline in the Guardian:
Universities must do more to tackle use of smart drugs, say experts
Academics call on institutions to consider measures such as drug testing to stem UK rise of drugs used to cope with exam stress
According to the article:
“As hundreds of thousands of students across the UK prepare to sit their summer exams in coming weeks, Thomas Lancaster, an associate dean at Staffordshire University, said we were entering a “dangerous world” where students have access to the “study drugs”.
“Universities need to seriously consider how to react to the influx of smart drugs on campus. Educating students about smart drugs and seeing if they view this as cheating is important here. If the trend continues, universities may need to think about drug testing to ensure the integrity of the examination process,” Lancaster said.
Smart drugs, also known as nootropics, are a group of prescription drugs used to improve concentration, memory and mental stamina during periods of study. The most commonly used ones are Modafinil, Ritalin and Adderall. These substances are normally used to treat disorders such as narcolepsy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
In May 2016 the Oxford student newspaper, the Cherwell, published a survey that showed 15.6% of students knowingly took Modafinil or another such drug without prescription.
A recent European study co-authored by Robert Dempsey, a lecturer in psychology at Staffordshire University, found that the majority of university students believe it is normal to use such drugs to enhance academic performance.”
Looking back on my college days, during exam time my drugs of choice were caffeine and tobacco … still are, for that matter. Sure, exam time was stressful, but … so what? Life is sometimes stressful … stressing over exams is just a small bit of preparation for the real world, for life!
My fellow blogger and friend Hugh Curtler has been saying for some time that our education system is not holding students fully accountable, and that many are being spoon-fed, passed year after year without gaining the knowledge they need. In his post titled “Academic Freedom” from December 2016, Hugh says:
” … the increasing tendency to ask little of spoiled students who complain when asked to do what they really would rather not do, will reduce our academies of higher learning to country clubs and mental health clinics where students can feel safe and protected from the realities of the world “out there.” In a word, universities are rapidly becoming more concerned about the “well-being” of the students than about their intellectual growth.”
I know this to be true, but this latest, the fact that they think a pill can make them smarter … just floors me. Not only are they being mollycoddled, but now they need drugs to make them smart enough to pass their exams? Whatever happened to good old-fashioned studying, paying attention, reading, then studying some more? No need – just buy a set of Cliff Notes, take a pill, and BOOM … exam passed!
In another Guardian article from February 2017, students talk about their use of these ‘smart drugs’:
- “Everybody’s feeling it. The pressure. There’s just so much pressure. Everything. I shouldn’t even be here. I didn’t even want to go to university but everyone said I should. And the work! It’s just… there’s so much of it! I feel like I wouldn’t even have a chance if it wasn’t for modafinil.”
- “My ex-girlfriend used to say that to me … She was like, ‘I don’t agree with it. It’s unfair.’ And then when the pressure was on, she was like, ‘Can you give me some?’”
- “It’s not that it makes you more intelligent. It’s just that it helps you work. You can study for longer. You don’t get distracted. You’re actually happy to go to the library and you don’t even want to stop for lunch. And then it’s like 7pm, and you’re still, ‘Actually, you know what? I could do another hour.’”
- “It gives you this amazing concentration but you have to make sure you’re actually in front of your books. I spent five hours in my room rearranging my iTunes library on it once.”
- “I didn’t know anything about it in my first year. It’s all coming from the international students. It was the American students that we discovered it from. They’re all medicated and they’ve got prescriptions and they sell them on.”
I am torn between feeling rage that these young students have no better sense, that they think these pills are a substitute for hard work, and feeling sadness that they will be so woefully unprepared for the careers they choose, for coping with life’s pressures. Shame on the drug companies that manufacture the drugs, though some were developed for legitimate purposes. Shame on parents who haven’t taught their kids that life doesn’t come to you on a silver platter, that you must earn it with hard work and responsibility.
So, maybe I am not as smart as some, but one thing is for sure – I am smart enough to know that I cannot gain knowledge from a pill bottle. Knowledge comes only from reading, studying, thinking, listening to people, opening your mind, and experiencing life. It is a sad statement of our education system today, but worse, it is a sad statement of the next generation to whom we will ultimately turn over stewardship of our world, for they will not be up to the challenge.
This brings to mind a song from my youth …
And one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you
Don’t do anything at all
Go ask Alice
When she’s ten feet tall
And if you go chasing rabbits
And you know you’re going to fall
Tell ’em a hookah-smoking caterpillar
Has given you the call
When she was just small
When the men on the chessboard
Get up and tell you where to go
And you’ve just had some kind of mushroom
And your mind is moving low
Go ask Alice
I think she’ll know
When logic and proportion
Have fallen sloppy dead
And the White Knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queen’s off with her head
Remember what the dormouse said
Feed your head
Feed your head