02/07/2013 10:31 BST | Updated 03/07/2013 10:25 BST

Drug Test Students, Says Scientist Barbara Sahakian, But Is It Right?

Students are divided over whether tests for smart drugs should be introduced during exam time
Students are divided over whether tests for smart drugs should be introduced during exam time

A leading scientist has warned students to expect drug tests prior to sitting exams, to curb the spiralling use of "smart drugs", but students have remained divided over the ethics of such tests.

Students continue to clash over leading neuroscientist Barbara Sahakian advocating drug tests as a way of weeding out those using class B drug Ritalin, and similar substances, which have been linked to psychosis, depression and memory damage, during exams. Some students believe the tests are a good idea, and say those caught using brain boosting substances should be expelled; others firmly oppose the notion, comparing the drugs to a "massive cup of coffee".

Maryam Akram, a student at the London School of Economics (LSE), dubbed the tests "ridiculous", saying: "Concentration drugs are not comparable to sport performance enhancers as they affect concentration not actual ability, so it should not be tested as such."

Akram believes using the drugs is completely fair, adding: "It doesn't increase your intelligence, it just helps you concentrate; it's like having a massive cup of coffee.

"In no way should the use of such drugs be encouraged as it is still a prescription drug, however, whether it can be described as a serious problem is questionable.

"It would be better to concentrate on the cause of the problem and the pressure which drives people to use them."

Another LSE student, who wishes to remain anonymous, admitted to using the concentration drug Anadrol, but threw cold water on the idea they are wholly beneficial.

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She told 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.

"I'd never really thought of it as cheating but I guess it is really. I don't think it will be doing it again next year."

She agreed with Akram, adding: "I think it's very problematic to start testing. We need to look more at why people are feeling so much pressure in the system, and why people don't feel they can do it themselves."

Sahakian previously voiced her concerns about students using smart drugs last year, saying research into the long term side effects of taking the drugs had yet to be explored.

Ritalin, usually prescribed for attention deficit disorder, and Modafinil, prescribed for narcolepsy, are some of the most favoured "performance enhancers", according to one medical journal.

These drugs are being chosen by students and academics alike because they “do not produce extreme changes in mood that usually accompany recreational use, such as a ‘high’ or ‘rush’, and do not lead to obvious physical dependence”, the authors of the journal said.

Harry Bithell, a Youth MP for Blackburn, echoed the idea the drugs are similar to caffeine:

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One University of Manchester student, who also chose to remain anonymous, dismissed the caffeine-related line of reasoning as a "pretty poor argument", saying: "I don't think it's fair people use these drugs."

However he raised the viability of introducing the tests, and concerns they would put students under even more pressure.

"It [the test] sounds like it would be extremely hard to do, and would add to the stress of exam periods," he said. "The university might find out I'd done heroin a few days ago and would I get in trouble for that? Are they going to come up with a list of drugs that it's okay to have in your blood?

"Some feel compelled to take them probably because of pressure, others because of lack of preparation and some because they've used them in the past. I don't think it's fair for people to take them, but some people have the opinion that because they're accessible to everyone you have the choice to take them and so it's fair."

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Other students agree the use of the smart drugs are "unfair" and reason, in light of this, drug testing is necessary. An anonymous student from the University of Coventry told us: "To take concentration drugs while others do not, I feel, is unfair.

"If drug tests were to be used I feel it would be beneficial to cut out this advantage. However, such a decision would be greeted with hostility but to know every students natural potential is vital.

"Especially in the work place where the use of such enhancing drugs wouldn't be tolerated," he continued. "The only option I could see presently that would be fair is to screen every student before exams."

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Tom Murray, from the LSE, agreed: "There should be an outright ban of consumption of performance-enhancing substances."

"Drug tests are the answer to the smart drug problem. They should be coupled with information warning students about the problems both mentally and legally of taking these drugs to help prevent the problem.

"Those caught under the influence should be expelled from examinations".

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All those asked agreed on one thing: that the pressure of the scarcities of jobs, coupled with the recessions, led students to take these drugs.

Despite this universal agreement, students are still divided on the ethics of using drugs: is using them fair in the first place, and regardless of whether it is fair or not, are drug tests the best way to combat it?