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“Students will use it as a party drug”

Maxim: Ritalin helps you through your examinations

Seven per cent of Dutch students (at four universities) use Ritalin: for fun and to help them study. That’s the result of a study by Erasmus University in Rotterdam. Ritalin is a drug prescribed for people with ADHD to help them to concentrate. But when healthy people take it, Ritalin works the other way around; they get an energy boost. Is it a good idea to take Ritalin before your examinations?

Kim Kuypers, who has researched the subject of psychopharmacology, doesn’t believe Ritalin will have a huge effect on your achievements. “We did a study a while ago with Ritalin. Healthy people who took it were asked to drive a hundred kilometres. I think, if I remember correctly, that they zigzagged a bit less. But whether they were really more concentrated, I don’t know.” 

Pharmacologist Ben Janssen explains what happens at the level of cells. “Your cells give off noradrenaline, which gives you energy. But they also absorb it again, so that as little energy as possible is spilled. Drugs like Ritalin curb your cells from absorbing noradrenaline, so more remains to give you an energy signal. I know of a study in which rats performed a bit better after taking Ritalin. But when they were given an overdose, they performed less well than rats that didn’t take the medicine. And besides that, there are some side effects. Your blood pressure can go up; you can lose your appetite. You can also get insomnia, although that might actually be what these students want. I don’t know if Ritalin is addictive. It’s certainly less addictive than cocaine, which has more or less the same effects. It won’t hurt if you take a pill once in a while. Students take all kind of things to stay up longer, like herb mixes and vitamins. And Red Bull – they all drink Red Bull.”

Psychologist Gjalt-Jorn Peters, who wrote his PhD thesis on ecstasy use, thinks students use Ritalin more as a party drug than as a means to perform better on exams: “It works a bit like speed. It gives you a high energy level. It might also help you concentrate, but I’m not sure about that. But what I do know is that it’s not easier to get than speed – you need to know someone who takes Ritalin on prescription. For speed you only need to find a dealer, and that’s not as hard as you might think.”

The real question, journalist Bas Belleman asks, is whether students take Ritalin in such percentages at all. “Erasmus University only interviewed 130 students, most of them studying economics. That means we are talking about 9 users. Of course that number could be higher, but you can’t rely on this study for that. An earlier study showed that only 1.2 per cent of Dutch students use Ritalin.”

 

Cleo Freriks

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