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Licensing study drugs: Cambridge professor argues in favour

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Cambridge Psychiatry professor Dr Barbara Sahakian has argued that study drugs, if safely monitored, can in fact support positive development.

Dr Sahakian argued that the current system of getting hold of the said cognitive enhancing drugs is dangerous for students, as when buying drugs online, “you don’t know what you’re getting – it could be anything.”

A nationwide survey found that 20% of students at UK universities have used study drugs – frequently bought on the dark web – while Oxford University’s student newspaper, Cherwell, found that there the numbers ranged around 25%.

Buying modafinil on the dark web (a study drug normally used for treatment of narcolepsy, shift work sleep disorder, and excessive daytime sleepiness) can cost around £20 for 30 tablets, according to The Independent.

Dr Sahakian added: “I think the Government should look at the front runner drug that people are using as a cognitive enhancing drug, and actually get together with the drug company and assess whether it’s safe and effective for people to use.”

You don’t know what you’re getting – it could be anything.
Dr Barbara Sahakian

It has been reported that using study drugs, such as modafinil, can in the long term lead to issues such as panic attacks, anxiety and other mental health problems, especially after they are no longer used.

Dr Sahakian argued that although there have been reported side effects, the real risk is in “drug/drug interactions” and students “taking too much.” She added that licensing them can allow people to talk to their GP before taking them for example and also allows us to have the said drugs better monitored.

Dr Sahakian also claimed that there may be other situations in which cognitive enhancing drugs can be used, for example in preventing people from falling asleep when driving.

Vicky Hall, a first-year Law student commented: “I think the solution for students is a different one. If something goes wrong, either wrong choice of degree, lack of sleep, a need for more support coping with material, managing time, stress and so on, I think study drugs are just a temporary solution – if one at all.”

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