Pop Culture
Mar 28, 2008, 07:24AM

Nerd Steroids

Focus drugs like Adderall bring the campus goody two-shoes into the world of illicit pills, and they don't mind at all. From The Ubyssey.

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Rosemary Ellis

The first time I took Adderall, I knew very little about the drug. I was just desperate to finish a term paper that was already a few days late. Arts students do not often take focus drugs, especially not to write essays, but I figured that if smoking marijuana or drinking whiskey didn’t help me concentrate, I might as well try something new.

Adderall contains a low amount of amphetamine that helps people suffering from ADHD (attention deficit with hyperactivity disorder) concentrate. It is a schedule II drug, which means that there is an established medical value, but there is also a high potential for abuse.

The drug is emerging as the stimulant of choice for students who are attracted to the idea of being able to study intensely for eight hours straight without the distractions of wanting to sleep, eat, or browse Facebook. Adderall is popular especially amongst undergraduate students in the “harder” disciplines. Use of other drugs prescribed for ADD and ADHD, such as Ritalin, is not nearly as common.

I got the Adderall from my friend, a math major, who does not have ADHD. She had purchased a small stash to help her cram for finals and offered me half a capsule. In my kitchen, she emptied out the little blue dots on a wet square of tissue paper, rolled it up in a bundle, and told me to swallow.

Although Adderall is supposed to take around half an hour to take full effect, it seemed like almost instantly I had abandoned the pile of books on my desk and was plucking the strings of my Chinese instrument, realizing that music was the only really wonderful thing, and that all the essay crap I had cared so much about was a waste of time.

Eerily calm, I decided to drop out of school. It made me feel so relieved. I looked forward to travelling, reading books I love, and obtaining a real education free of stress, useless evaluations, and exhausting all-nighters stuck at my desk.

That morning, as soon as Brock Hall opened, I booked an appointment at the counselling office. I was hoping to obtain a psychologist’s note so I could get out of my campus residence contract. I felt crazy enough to earn a legitimate excuse. I went to my friend’s place, couldn’t stop crying in front of him, and then took a Bible from his room and stole away.

I zombie-walked into a restaurant at the Village, but Adderall had eliminated my appetite. I bought a bottle of water and could not even drink that. Instead, I flipped open the Bible right to a section with the heading, “Wisdom is Meaningless.” I borrowed a pencil from a girl busily studying biology at a table next to mine and underlined the verses, “What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labours under the sun? All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless.”

I have never been Christian, but as I was coming down from Adderall, I wanted to read the Bible from cover to cover.

Symptoms of psychosis are a less common side-effect of taking Adderall. These symptoms can occur among people with no previous history of bipolar disorder or depression, but Adderall can also exacerbate pre-existing behaviour disturbances or thought disorders. Even at recommended doses, other possible effects to the central nervous system include hallucination, delusional thinking, seizures, insomnia, depression, tremor, panic states, and the uncontrolled movements and bursts of speech associated with Tourette’s syndrome.

Adderall has also led to sudden death from stroke and heart attack. Although people who have ADHD are not immune to undesirable symptoms when they take Adderall under prescription, people who take Adderall for non-medical reasons have a higher risk of experiencing fatal side-effects.

Rola Khalil-Priatel, pharmacist at Medication Info UBC, emphasizes that “a heart attack is hardly worth a modest increase in concentration, which may give you a per cent or two extra on a test.”

Despite the serious risks of taking Adderall, student usage of the “miracle study drug” or “nerd steroids” is on the rise in Canada and the States. One estimate from the Drug Free America Foundation claims that anywhere from four per cent to 36 per cent of students take Adderall without a prescription.

While some people take Adderall recreationally to party longer, and some abuse Adderall to go on crash diets, most students who take Adderall use it to study for and/or write exams.

It is difficult for universities to track the usage of Adderall. Professors might be able to notice when students come to class high or drunk, but most students who take Adderall without prescriptions have little difficulty hiding their use from others.

At UBC, according to the University council, UBC Academic Affairs and UBC External, Legal Affairs, there is currently no policy that explicitly prohibits or outlines consequences for the use of focus drugs in academic settings.

While Council for Drug Free America’s statistic may or may not be applicable to UBC, I was surprised to find that quite a few people I talked to had tried Adderall at least once. Some knew friends with ADHD who had offered them Adderall for free. Others were able to purchase Adderall from friends with ADHD.

Rola Khalil-Priatel is a registered pharmacist and director of Medication Info UBC, a medication information program for the public.

“Students with ADHD should know that what is safe for them may not be safe for people without their condition and should a side effect occur they could be found liable in civil court,” she said.

Unfortunately, I think that the average student worries more about getting good grades than about the side effects of taking a drug that can make them very productive. Many students who take Adderall illegally are also not concerned about the ramifications of “getting caught.”

However, even if you are willing to take the risks of using Adderall, and have the means to support the expenses of regular use, you may still find it very difficult to acquire a regular supply.

Adderall is not a recreational drug like marijuana or ecstasy— “black laboratories” do not manufacture Adderall. If you do not have connections with people with ADHD who are willing to share their medication, it is very difficult to get a hold of the drugs. There are some sites on the Internet that offer Adderall without prescription, but that is really sketchy because you do not know what you are actually getting.

I talked to an engineering student who uses Adderall from time to time, but has to purchase from unreliable sources (people who know people who know people who know a certain dealer with only a certain quantity). He pays seven to ten dollars for one pill, knowing that the dealer wants to make a 100 per cent profit, and that the middlemen make a lot of money as well. Furthermore, because his access is erratic, he never knows if he will have the pills for scheduled exams or projects.

This student decided to take Adderall primarily to deal with his stress and to stay sharp during exams even without sleep. He compares the alertness he got from Adderall to the equivalent of having a big caffeine buzz that lasts much longer.

“I took Adderall to write an exam, and I was able to think purely about the questions. Of course, that slowed me down too, but the stress just went away. Sometimes, when you open an exam, you can be so stressed you cannot focus, and Adderall diminishes that,” he said.

When I asked him if he considers taking Adderall cheating, he said no. After thinking about it for a bit, he explained his rationale: “With focus drugs, it’s not cheating, because it does not enhance your ability to think. The drug does not make you learn the material. You’re just trying to cope with the stress. I want to be an engineer in physics, and with all the stress and homework, I think I have the right to find methods to help me focus.”

In order to get another perspective from a student who also takes Adderall to study, I interviewed a third-year student at UBC who is working on her prerequisites to switch from the Arts faculty to Engineering.

“I have never studied this much in my life,” she said.

The first time she tried Adderall, she became so fascinated with her math questions that she told me she did not want to get up to pee.

Usually, the side effects that she experiences from taking Adderall are lack of appetite, insomnia, and fatigue when the drug wears off. Sometimes, she experiences a sense of euphoria, which she describes as a “calm, general loving feeling.” Other times, however, she notices that her heart rate would increase while on the drug.

“Once, my heart started beating really rapidly. I was so freaked out, but there wasn’t much I could do. I just kept working and waited for it to stop,” she said.

Neither student takes Adderall every day. “Even if I had easier access to Adderall, I would not want to take it regularly,” said the Arts student. “There’s always the fear of becoming psychologically dependent. If people take Adderall during an exam, and get a good mark, then they might become afraid of going into another exam without taking Adderall. They might start doubting their abilities without Adderall.”

When I asked her if she considers taking focus drugs, even just for studying, as a form of cheating, she said, “Cheating is a strong word, but I do think that people who can take Adderall do have an unfair advantage above those who don’t.”

Besides, Adderall does not work for everyone, and the drug’s efficacy diminishes after prolonged use. Adderall can also actually make your marks go down if you experience emotional side effects, or if you find that Adderall hinders your creativity.

I am still shocked at how crazy I got from taking Adderall under stress the first time, and I would not choose to take Adderall when I am desperate about schoolwork again. But while I think that it would be irresponsible to use Adderall without knowing about its side effects, and would be scared to see it as a ubiquitous part of first year welcome packages, at this point it certainly seems to be a permanent part of the university environment.

Adderall Timeline, Take 2

Since I do not know anyone with ADHD, and because Adderall is expensive and such a hassle to buy illegally, I figured that I would never get a chance to try Adderall again. I admit, though, that after talking to students with personal experiences on Adderall, I felt curious about whether the focus drug could affect me in a similar way.

For the past few months, I have been trying to teach myself Mandarin as a personal project, but I have been making disappointedly slow progress. When my friend offered to sell me an Adderall pill last week for five bucks, I paid her on the spot.
Before taking the little blue pill, I tidied up my room, laid out my Mandarin books on my desk, and brought in a lamp to create optimal lighting. I ended up working on memorizing Mandarin vocabulary non-stop for seven hours. I kept a notebook next to me while I was working, and it went a little like this:

4:47 am
Waiting for it to kick in. Starting to read the phonics section.

5: 25 am
Making an English-Chinese dictionary starting with the A’s. But I need a ruler to make the chart neat! Don’t have one, so I’m using the clear packaging from my new dildo.

5:52 am
Happy thought: If I weren’t so hard on myself, I could feel as good and have as much pleasure in learning without using focus drugs as I am right now. I wasn’t trying hard or taking the time to learn Mandarin before because I was afraid that even if I try, I still might not be able to do it. If I get rid of the stress and anxiety though, I can at least try and have fun. I procrastinate all the time because of fear, insecurity and perfectionism, but I can learn how to cope with stress and take care of myself so I can focus better naturally! I am going to sleep more!

6: 25 am
Grouping words into categories. This is better than sex.
7: 41 am

Hear stomach growling, but dislike the thought of eating. Chew gum instead.

10: 52 am
Still at it!

11: 31 am
Fingers hurt, but I still want to keep going. Doing adjectives.

12: 09 pm
Jumping on bed. Don’t feel like reading anymore. Hyper.

Apparently, my second time taking Adderall was much more positive than my first time, but because of my “happy thought,” I am planning to work on dealing with my stress in healthy ways, rather than look for a job to support my drug dependency. I figure that if I do not learn how to cope with pressure I will burn out eventually.

A few warnings

If you are still thinking of taking Adderall, or will continue to use Adderall, here are some things you need to keep in mind:
1. Mixing Adderall with alcohol, antidepressants, or sleeping pills can lead to serious side effects.
2. Do not drive or operate machinery while on Adderall—not that you would want to tear yourself away from your textbook anyway.
3. “Stacking” Adderall pills to get a speed high, or snorting Adderall increases your risk of dangerous side effects.
4. Do not take Adderall if you have pre-existing psychological disorders, or feel very anxious, tense or agitated before taking the drug (Trust me on this one).
5. Do not take Adderall if you have heart problems, glaucoma, or have moderate to high blood pressure.


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