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Psychosocial motivators of “smart drug” use amongst university students

Dempsey, Robert C (2021) Psychosocial motivators of “smart drug” use amongst university students. In: Chemically Modified Minds: Substance Use for Cognitive Enhancement. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-981-15-6771-1

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Abstract

University students’ use of “smart drugs” during the course of their studies appears to be on the rise. “Smart drugs”, more formally known as nootropics (noo = mind, tropic = to turn or change; Cakic, 2009; Giurgea & Salama, 1977), are substances which can be prescribed to improve mental performance, including memory recall, attention and concentration, amongst other cognitive abilities. Nootropic medications are commonly prescribed to reduce the cognitive deficits associated with a number of medically diagnosed conditions, including vascular dementia, stroke, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and schizophrenia. Whilst these substances may be legitimately prescribed to address cognitive impairments in clinical populations, there has been a notable increase in societal concern over the use of these substances by healthy individuals as means of improving their cognitive performance without a medical prescription. A key risk group for the non-prescribed use of these stimulant nootropic “smart drugs” are university students, who may use substances such as methylphenidate (“Ritalin”), wakefulness-promoting medications or eugeroics (e.g. modafinil), as well as various legal substances, nutraceuticals and dietary supplements, to improve their performance in their academic studies. The aim of this chapter is to briefly review the use of non-medically prescribed stimulant “smart drugs” by university/college students in higher education, focusing on the psychosocial motivators underlying students’ use of smart drugs to improve academic performance, and an outline of potential interventions for reducing use in this population.

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