The Problem With 'Smart Drugs'

02/07/2013 17:34 BST | Updated 01/09/2013 10:12 BST

As a second year student of the London School of Economics, battle-hardened and weary from summer exams, I have first hand knowledge of both the insane pressure students are under during exam times, and people who have combatted this pressure using so called "smart drugs", such as Ritalin and Anadrol.

I'm not going to lie: when one of my housemates did an eight-hour bender in the library after taking a (un)healthy dose of Anadrol, my response was all of the following: 1. That's stupid 2. That's not fair 3. That's ridiculous 4. What a massive twat. The reasoning behind this response was: "Why does he get to have a massive advantage from those drugs, when me and the vast majority of students don't? We're all under the same amount of pressure, it doesn't seem fair!" (large amount of expletives removed) and other related indignant posturing, finger pointing and maybe a bit of tears as it was exam time after all (there wasn't tears really, but there could've been).

However, after a period of peaceful, zen-like and cross-legged deliberation on a kooky, zany and shit colourful rug coupled with the fact that my exams, on the whole, went relatively well, I have realized that the issue of spiraling use of smart drugs amongst students is a lot more nuanced than some students selfishly gaining a big advantage over others. A bit more understanding is needed.

An anonymous LSE student said in Tuesday's earlier article for Huffington Post UK: "There's no question they help you concentrate, but the problem is you concentrate on the same thing, reading one sentence three times, and before you know it, its 5am and you've written out the whole 25,000-word reading."

Now, that doesn't sound particularly enjoyable, does it? I don't know about the rest of you, but when I want to do some efficient and procrastination-free revision, I don't envisage myself manically reading one line, over and over again until I can recite it off by heart, but perhaps not only in English, but in a plethora of other languages I have learnt for no discernible reason. No, I don't envisage that at all, but it's that sort of inefficient, panicked learning that these smart drugs sound like they induce.

Indeed, the aforementioned housemate in question told me, in strict confidentiality of course, that when he took the Anadrol, he worked solidly for six hours in his own world, forgetting to eat, drink and use the toilet (whether this resulted in him soiling himself remains to be seen, although I have my suspicions). Now this isn't quite gurning, listening to very repetitive house music and telling every stranger in attendance "I love you so much, man", admittedly, but it does sound very unpleasant.

So, this poses one pertinent questions: what does the use of these drugs reveal about the pressure students are under?

Clearly, if students, not only at LSE, but at Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester and many other well-known British universities are going to such lengths as taking Class B drugs (Ritalin is Class B), then what's driving them to do so must be serious.

Life during university is now defined by intense competition (HOW DID YOU DO IN YOUR EXAMS MATE!!!!???), but also the threat of intense competition afterwards. Yesterday, it was announced that places for graduate jobs was at its lowest point since 2008! Rejoice! Progress! However, a rather important caveat was that this still involved 46 applicants for each position. Jobs are hard to come by, so when it comes to exam time university students are under incredible pressure to deliver, and to give themselves some sort of advantage.

To make matters worse, this feeling of pressure is now going to begin at a much earlier time. Michael Gove's fantastically inept reforms (I still believe he just a very well observed parody), involve abolishing coursework at GCSE level, as well as more frequent assessments. Thus, students at the tender age of 15 and 16 will have their future (as good GCSE's leads to getting into a good Sixth Form which leads to good A-Levels which leads to good University, which leads to good degree, which leads to loadsafuckingmoney, which leads to nice family) resting on one set of exams, with none of that pressure relieved by coursework or exams done throughout the year.

Surely, if university students aged between 18 and 21 feel the need to take these much maligned "smart drugs", then how long until younger school children (now stop me if I'm scare mongering, which I am a bit) are forced to cram, cram, and cram some more, and in order to facilitate this cramming, take them?

So, to conclude, what I'm trying to say, in the wise and sage-like words of The Verve is: the drugs don't work, they just make you worse (but I completely understand the reasoning behind you feeling the need to go to such drastic measures to increase your chances of doing well in your life).

Probably not quite as catchy a song title, but truer nonetheless.