Dying to stay awake: health warning over “smart pills”

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Adderall is used by those who want to stay awake or improve their concentration (Picture by Patrick Mallahan III)

THOUSANDS of Scots are dicing with death as they try to boost their brain power with illegally bought “smart pills”.

A rising number of people are buying drugs designed to treat conditions like ADHD and narcolepsy to help them stay alert and focused.

But experts warn that taking the drugs, such as Ritalin, Adderall and Modafinil, for non-medial reasons could have deadly consequences.

Dr Premal Shah, a consultant psychiatrist who specialises in ADHD, said: “These drugs are prescribed to patients with very severe ADHD who have problems holding down jobs and maintaining relationships.

“But in the wrong hands, like any drugs , they can be dangerous – or even fatal.”

The Class B substances have a similar effect on the body as cocaine and are used as an alternative to caffeine in people who want to fight off tiredness or improve their concentration levels.

Government think tank Foresight predicts the use of the drugs could become as “common as coffee” in the UK within two decades.

Dr Shah added “We’ve heard of an increasing number of people using them for recreational purposes, either snorting or injecting them to get a buzz, or as cognitive enhancers to improve concentration.

“But these are powerful drugs. They can be addictive and have a significant effect on the mood and, more importantly, the heart.”

Worrying

Barbara Sahakian, a professor of clinical neurosurgery at Cambridge University, said: “This is a growing problem in the UK.

“Unfortunately it’s hard to monitor, but research shows that in just 10 years, the number of psychostimulant drugs prescribed in the UK has doubled which is very worrying.”

She added that many people were upfront about taking the drugs.

She said: “I’m amazed at the amount of people I’ve come across who are quite open about taking these drugs to boost their memory, concentration or even to avoid getting jetlag. People from all walks of life, from students to musicians and even academics.

“We are very quickly accelerating to a 24/7 society and I’m concerned about the increasing number of ordinary people using prescription drugs as a quick fix.

“We’re certainly seeing an increasing lifestyle use in these drugs , particularly in people who travel a lot and those studying or working in competitive fields.

“But the main concern is where people are getting them from. Either patients with a prescription are selling them or people are ordering them over the internet.

“In the latter case, the drugs people are receiving could be anything, or even include toxic elements.

“It’s a dangerous game.”

A spokeswoman for the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) added: “Only healthcare professionals can take into account the risks and benefits associated with every medicine.

“Anyone who self medicates or buys their medicines from the internet could be in danger of receiving counterfeit or substandard medicines. At best this is a waste of money, at worst it can kill.”

2 COMMENTS

  1. It should be very carefully noted that narcoleptics are physically incapable of becoming addicted to central nervous system (CNS) stimulants due to either a total absence (narcolepsy with cataplexy) or very low levels (narcolepsy w/o cataplexy) of the neuropeptide Orexin. One of the very many things orexin does in the brain is help to regulate dopamine. The action of CNS stimulants is to produce more dopamine, which helps narcoleptics stay awake. Orexin also is very much involved with reward. Therefore, because the reward an addict gets from taking the drug does not exist in narcoleptics, there is no addiction.

  2. CNS stimulants can definitely be very powerful and the traditional stimulant medications based around the amphetamine molecule (adderall, desoxyn, others) are very tightly controlled. There is a whole other family of smart drugs however that are being researched and are just as effective as amphetamines, and are legally available for consumption. These are called nootropics, and might well be the future as they are less habit-forming and generally have fewer side effects.

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