In what could be a game changer for students pulling all-nighters before exams, studies have revealed that a controversial “smart drug” being taken by university students to improve performance actually does boost brain power.
Colleges which have banned ‘modafinil are now being asked by scientists to consider whether it should continue to be prohibited after they determined it could be the world’s first safe smart drug.
The narcolepsy medication is available on the NHS, but it has been reported that around one in five university students use it to enhance performance for revision and exams as it improves concentration and cognition.
Oxford University and Harvard Medical School looked at 24 studies into modafinil and found that the drug really does improve thinking skills, particularly in long complex tasks. It was also found to help with planning, decision making, flexibility, creativity, learning and memory, while causing very few side effects in the short term.
The results, published in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology, suggest modafinil is the first smart drug found to actually work, and now scientists say the results raise serious ethical questions about whether it should be “classified, condoned or condemned”.
Dr Ruairidh Battleday said:
Modafinil can and does enhance some cognitive functions. For the first time, we have a cognitive enhancer that appears not to have significant detrimental cognitive, emotional, or physical side effects. This means that it is time for a wider societal debate on how to integrate and regulate cognitive enhancement. The ethical exploration is a huge and important goal for the near future: one that both scientists, politicians, and the public need to be involved in.
A survey recently run by The Tab showed that 26 per cent of students at Oxford University claimed to have used the drug, with around one in four at Newcastle and Leeds admitted to trying modafinil, and one in five at universities in Sheffield, Nottingham and Manchester.
We imagine there’ll be an increase in use of the drug again next year during exam season. Just be careful – although there are no short term side effects, scientists remain unsure on what could happen after long term use!
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