Nootropics and the 21st Century Student

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By Anzatshilidzi Tshivhase

This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 7 of VARSITY News.


Nootropics definitely aren’t something new but they are becoming more and more widely used in our society. To put it simply, nootropics are drugs, supplements and other substances that may improve cognitive function. Particularly with regards to executive functions, memory, creativity or motivation.


They can range from something as simple as ginko biloba and fish oils, all the way up to the stronger drugs such as Concerta or Ritalin.  I think most students can admit to finding themselves in deep academic waters and relying on some form of Ritalin just to get through the work and finish that one assignment or the content for the test. Now, I’m not saying this is the worst thing, but there are probably some side effects that you didn’t consider when your friend gave you one.


Ritalin and Concerta can be widely beneficial for those who need it but it may have adverse effects for those who just need it to get through a tough academic week. Some common side effects include insomnia and other sleep disturbances, a fast heart rate, loss of appetite, high blood pressure and trouble with vision and the most extreme risk factor is that of a stroke. A major cause for concern for those who have not been placed on these medications by a health professional, is the development of addiction. People may end up highly dependent on these drugs and unable to manage their workloads without it. This coupled with the fact that some students will take these irregularly or only when their workload is an unmanageable also places them at higher risk of struggling with concentration thereafter.


On the other hand, I know a lot of people aren’t able to get the diagnosis they need due to a variety of reasons such as access and affordability. Many people of colour find it hard to tell their parents or guardians that they’re struggling to concentrate for fear of being called lazy or as ADD and other concentration disorders are often wrongly labelled as a ‘white people’s thing’. So many people spend a large portion of their lives thinking they just aren’t academically inclined or labelled as ‘disruptive in class’ only to find that they just needed some extra help.


An emphasis should be placed on less harmful alternatives which can enhance study performance as well as a long-term plan between the healthcare provider and patient on how to control the chronic condition these prescription drugs are used to treat. Cognitive Behavioural therapy and alteration in diet are also an effective tool which can be used to optimise your grades. High levels of sucrose in your diet has been linked to ADHD and difficulty concentrating, so maybe try switching high sugar foods with healthier alternatives.


I’m not suggesting that one shouldn’t use these drugs to help them with their academics as these medications can allow those who need them to concentrate, focus on the work at hand and give confidence needed to realise that they deserve to hold a space in academic rooms.


However, it is important to consider the side effects first and consult with your doctor if you are taking them, especially as some of the drug interactions can be fatal.


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