MAASTRICHT. A quarter of all Maastricht University students have used ‘smart drugs’ – drugs that help you concentrate for a long period of time, like Ritalin – at least once. Of these, 28 percent used smart drugs last week and 55 percent last month. These results were unveiled last week by five students from the Honours Programme of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, who conducted a survey among 516 UM students.
Lena Nover and Mareike Müller, two of the student researchers, were surprised by the results. “We talked with a professor at the Faculty of Neuroscience and a psychologist from the counselling service at the Student Service Centre before setting up the survey. Neither felt that smart drugs were an issue at Maastricht University”, says Nover. As a result of the survey, the psychologists now include a question about smart drugs in their first meeting with students.
The participants reported taking smart drugs to improve their study results (42 percent), manage anxiety about their workload (33 percent) and compete with other students (29 percent). “We asked the users if they consider it okay to take smart drugs. Most of them said it’s unhealthy, but they do it anyway to help them cope with the pressure”, says Müller. In Nover’s view, it would help students to open up about the pressure they’re feeling: “It seems like everyone is doing a thousand things in addition to excelling in their studies. If someone were to just admit to being exhausted, people might be more willing to talk about it.”
They propose that the university raise awareness of smart drugs and their side effects. “It’s not the same as drinking coffee, as some people say. It can cause insomnia and depression”, says Nover. In addition, they suggest that UM could introduce structural changes to decrease students’ workload, for instance by including more time in the academic calendar for students to reflect on what they have learned. “People come to the university at a very young age. This is not just their own responsibility. UM should not only be leading in learning, but also leading in life.”