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'Adderall Advantage' not all it's cracked up to be

David Schultz
By David Schultz
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, September 29, 2005
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The leaves on the trees (or, rather, cacti; in Arizona, the existence of trees with actual leaves is still an unconfirmed rumor) are turning brown again, so that means it's time for The New York Times, to publish yet another finger-wagging expose about drug use on college campuses.

But this time, the newspaper didn't detail students' hedonistic quests for illicit highs and the devastating addictions that ultimately follow. Instead it reported that college students have taken a new predilection to a much more mundane medication that is used for an even more mundane purpose.

According to the Times article titled "The Adderall Advantage," college students are now ingesting behind-the-counter psychiatric medications that allow them to stay awake longer and study harder.

The medications that students are (allegedly) gobbling like M&Ms are known in the pharmaceutical world as analeptics. Typically, they're prescribed to treat attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

"Twenty percent of college students have used Ritalin or Adderall (the two most popular analeptic drugs) to study, write papers and take exams according to recent surveys," the Times reported.

However, some non-wired students are crying foul. The Times article quoted Angelica Gonzales, a civil engineering major at Columbia University, as saying that all of her friends have taken Adderall to study at some point and that "it's cheating and it really bothers me."

Is it really cheating, though? Do people who take Ritalin or Adderall with the sole purpose of pulling an all-nighter really gain that much of an advantage over those teetotalers who don't or can't?

Mark Timmons, a renowned UA philosophy professor and an expert in the field of ethics, seemed to think so. He said that analeptic medications constituted an unfair advantage for their users "if not everyone has the same access (to them)."

From this point of view it would seem as though taking prescription medications to study is cheating because only those with a prescription (or those who know someone in need of cash with "a few extra pills") can get them.

But, Timmons continued, "if (analeptic medications) don't affect the quality of (one's) work, (then) they aren't ethically suspect."

This is what the issue really boils down to: Does taking ADHD medications before studying actually help people write a better paper or get a better test score?

The answer to this question is a resounding no.

Taking analeptics "won't increase your intelligence, it just increases your diligence," according Laurence Greenhill, a clinical psychiatrist at Columbia University who was quoted in the Times. "Essentially (analeptics only) delay the onset of sleep so you can stay up all night and cram."

What this means is that all those terminal procrastinators who pop a few Adderalls the night before a paper is due and wait for the pills to do their magic shouldn't hold their collective breaths.

Adderall, Ritalin and the entire abundance of other prescription amphetamines that have become so trendy lately are not unfair, because despite the hopes of legions of lazy college students everywhere, they do not benefit their users any more than all the other legal stimulant-laced beverages college students know and love.

In fact, according to the National Institute of Health's Web site, the active ingredients in Ritalin and Adderall, methylphenidate and dextroamphetamine, respectively, are in the same classification of medicines as caffeine, everyone's favorite stimulant and the best friend of the weary.

In the end, taking prescription drugs to help you cram for that final is no more advantageous than slamming a few six packs of Red Bull, although it's probably just as unhealthy.

Yet college administrators and even some students are still worried about the academic integrity issues of analeptic medications.

Instead they should be worried about the practical health issues of what happens when someone takes quadruple the recommended dosage of Adderall, stays awake for 72 consecutive hours, and then attempts to drive a sport utility vehicle to school, unknowingly collecting six bicyclists with the car's undercarriage in the process.

Simply put, take all the pills you want. I confident in putting my work up against that of the jittery, tweaked-out guy sitting next to me who has yet to notice the scalding hot coffee he's spilled on his own shaky hand.

David Schultz is a senior majoring in political science and philosophy. He can be reached at

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