Is It Really Drug Abuse If It's Adderall?

A new study reveals who is searching online for ADHD drugs, and the relaxed attitude toward "study drug" abuse. 

When I was in college, Adderall was the most popular drug that no one thought was a drug. It was treated like a vitamin or protein shake, something harmless you'd take to enhance your performance. While some trends have changed in the past decade, a new study by ProjectKnow reveals that study drugs are as popular as ever. Of the millions of students currently in college, one in six admits to abusing ADHD medication.

The study analyzed Google search trends from 2004-2014, observing the searches for the top four ADHD medications: Adderall, Vyvanse, Ritalin, and Focalin. The researchers then mapped the trends by city and state, as well as by month. Interestingly, the cities that had the highest number of searches were college towns like Austin and Boston. New England, home of the majority of the Ivy League schools, searched for study drugs more than any other area of the country. Even more telling, however, was that the searches increased in the months of the end-of-semester finals, December and April, and dipped during the summer months of June and July.

The number of students who report using study drugs regularly has remained mostly the same over the past decade. Those who report having tried ADHD medication has increased, meaning that it's becoming more and more casual (with people trying it at least once, but not making a habit of it).

The laissez-faire attitude toward powerful medications is incredibly dangerous. Amphetamines (Adderall and Vyvanse) and methylphenidates (Ritalin and Focalin) have a high risk of dependency and addiction. A study by the Global Neuroscience Initiative Foundation has said that “misuse of stimulants is associated with dangers including psychosis, myocardial infarction, cardiomyopathy, and even sudden death.” What’s ironic is that numerous studies have shown that if you don’t have ADHD, the drugs aren’t helping you focus and you’re actually experiencing a placebo effect.

We all like to joke about that Very Special Episode of Saved By The Bell where Jessie Spano became (briefly) addicted to caffeine pills, but the show was in some ways prophetic. Our competitive culture has told kids that their best isn’t good enough, that they have to be better than everyone else, they have to excel. And that pressure is causing them to turn to dangerous pharmaceuticals in order to get that “edge.”

Few are doing these drugs for fun or to escape; they’re doing them because they feel like they can’t live up to the expectation. America is obsessed with performance, with grades and income and status. But it’s a Sisyphean challenge — you study in high school to get into the “right” college; you take drugs in college to make the “right” grades, so that you can then get the “right” job. There’s nothing inherently wrong with having expectations of yourself, wanting to do well and be your best self. The problem comes when you feel like you are flawed and need a drug to fix that, and when you are pursuing an idea of happiness that is not your own.

So take it from this study by ProjectKnow, and take it from Jessie Spano: Study drugs are a bad idea. If you need help, or know someone that does, explore the many resources on the internet, at your college, or by calling a helpline.

PHOTO CREDIT: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images


Lori Chandler is a writer and comedian living in Brooklyn, NY. She has been published in The New York Times and on CollegeHumor. You can follow her on Twitter @LilBoodleChild to keep up with her latest pieces, performance dates, and wry observations. 

Drill, Baby, Drill: What will we look for when we mine on Mars?

It's unlikely that there's anything on the planet that is worth the cost of shipping it back

Surprising Science
  • In the second season of National Geographic Channel's MARS (premiering tonight, 11/12/18,) privatized miners on the red planet clash with a colony of international scientists
  • Privatized mining on both Mars and the Moon is likely to occur in the next century
  • The cost of returning mined materials from Space to the Earth will probably be too high to create a self-sustaining industry, but the resources may have other uses at their origin points

Want to go to Mars? It will cost you. In 2016, SpaceX founder Elon Musk estimated that manned missions to the planet may cost approximately $10 billion per person. As with any expensive endeavor, it is inevitable that sufficient returns on investment will be needed in order to sustain human presence on Mars. So, what's underneath all that red dust?

Mining Technology reported in 2017 that "there are areas [on Mars], especially large igneous provinces, volcanoes and impact craters that hold significant potential for nickel, copper, iron, titanium, platinum group elements and more."

Were a SpaceX-like company to establish a commercial mining presence on the planet, digging up these materials will be sure to provoke a fraught debate over environmental preservation in space, Martian land rights, and the slew of microbial unknowns which Martian soil may bring.

In National Geographic Channel's genre-bending narrative-docuseries, MARS, (the second season premieres tonight, November 12th, 9 pm ET / 8 pm CT) this dynamic is explored as astronauts from an international scientific coalition go head-to-head with industrial miners looking to exploit the planet's resources.

Given the rate of consumption of minerals on Earth, there is plenty of reason to believe that there will be demand for such an operation.

"Almost all of the easily mined gold, silver, copper, tin, zinc, antimony, and phosphorus we can mine on Earth may be gone within one hundred years" writes Stephen Petranek, author of How We'll Live on Mars, which Nat Geo's MARS is based on. That grim scenario will require either a massive rethinking of how we consume metals on earth, or supplementation from another source.

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, told Petranek that it's unlikely that even if all of Earth's metals were exhausted, it is unlikely that Martian materials could become an economically feasible supplement due to the high cost of fuel required to return the materials to Earth. "Anything transported with atoms would have to be incredibly valuable on a weight basis."

Actually, we've already done some of this kind of resource extraction. During NASA's Apollo missions to the Moon, astronauts used simple steel tools to collect about 842 pounds of moon rocks over six missions. Due to the high cost of those missions, the Moon rocks are now highly valuable on Earth.

Moon rock on display at US Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, AL (Big Think/Matt Carlstrom)

In 1973, NASA valuated moon rocks at $50,800 per gram –– or over $300,000 today when adjusted for inflation. That figure doesn't reflect the value of the natural resources within the rock, but rather the cost of their extraction.

Assuming that Martian mining would be done with the purpose of bringing materials back to Earth, the cost of any materials mined from Mars would need to include both the cost of the extraction and the value of the materials themselves. Factoring in the price of fuel and the difficulties of returning a Martian lander to Earth, this figure may be entirely cost prohibitive.

What seems more likely, says Musk, is for the Martian resources to stay on the Red Planet to be used for construction and manufacturing within manned colonies, or to be used to support further mining missions of the mineral-rich asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

At the very least, mining on Mars has already produced great entertainment value on Earth: tune into Season 2 of MARS on National Geographic Channel.

Harvard scientists suggest 'Oumuamua is an alien device

It's an asteroid, it's a comet, it's actually a spacecraft?

(ESO/M. Kornmesser)
Surprising Science
  • 'Oumuamua is an oddly shaped, puzzling celestial object because it doesn't act like anything naturally occurring.
  • The issue? The unexpected way it accelerated near the Sun. Is this our first sign of extraterrestrials?
  • It's pronounced: oh MOO-uh MOO-uh.
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Study: The effects of online trolling on authors, publications

A study started out trying to see the effect of sexist attacks on women authors, but it found something deeper.

Surprising Science
  • It's well known that abusive comments online happen to women more than men
  • Such comments caused a "significant effect for the abusive comment on author credibility and intention to seek news from the author and outlet in the future"
  • Some news organizations already heavily moderate or even ban comments entirely; this should underscore that effort
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