Let students use Adderall

Students using Adderall to enhance cognition is not the same as cheating.

by Christopher Meyer

Last week the Daily published a column titled âÄúUsing Adderall is a form of cheating.âÄù The article, originally published in the Technician âÄî the student newspaper for North Carolina State University âÄî called on their university to consider classifying nonprescription consumption of Adderall as cheating in the Student Code of Conduct.  
I say universities should move in the opposite direction and give Adderall away for free. Adderall isnâÄôt right for everyone, but itâÄôs right for a lot of people, including a lot more than those currently using it. Universities should provide students with the knowledge they need to make an informed decision, and let them determine for themselves whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
Adderall is a stimulant composed of a mixture of amphetamine salts. It is primarily prescribed for people with ADHD, but it improves concentration for most âÄúneurotypicalâÄù people as well, enabling them to be far more productive on academic tasks than they otherwise would be. Along with other âÄústudy drugsâÄù like Ritalin and Provigil, Adderall has soared in popularity as more and more students use it to improve their academic performance.
A 2009 Minnesota College Student Health Survey found that 7 percent of students at nine Minnesota colleges reported that they used prescription drugs without a prescription. The study did not specify what drugs the students were taking, but itâÄôs a safe assumption that the majority are study drugs. If the University of Minnesota were to follow the TechnicianâÄôs advice, thousands of our peers would be instantly transformed into cheaters.
Technically I wouldnâÄôt be among them, because I have a prescription for Adderall. I didnâÄôt start with one, however; I first started taking it illegally when my friend offered me some during finals last spring. After researching the drugâÄôs side effects extensively, I concluded that it was a good fit for my lifestyle and sought out a prescription. I did officially get diagnosed with ADHD (without lying about anything; I was completely forthright during the entire process), but it was a stretch. The cognitive benefit Adderall has for me is not much different than the effect it has for most people: It simply allows me to concentrate more intensely for longer periods of time.
Adderall has had physical benefits for me as well. IâÄôm slightly overweight, and Adderall helps me control my appetite. (Indeed, the formula thatâÄôs now branded as Adderall was originally invented in the 1950s as a weight loss drug under the name Obetrol.) I used to sleep too much, usually nine or ten hours a day, but with Adderall I can bring it down to a more reasonable seven or eight. Adderall is sometimes prescribed for people with narcolepsy for this reason. Adderall also makes it easier and more enjoyable to exercise; it energizes you and enhances physical endurance in addition to mental endurance.
Each of those benefits can turn into harms for people with different circumstances. If youâÄôre not getting enough sleep already, Adderall can give you insomnia. If youâÄôre not careful to monitor your diet, it can cause malnutrition. If you push your body too far when you exercise, it can drive your heart rate to dangerous levels.
There are many other potential issues as well. Some people are allergic to the drug, and it can react badly with other medications. Adderall is also chemically addictive, so if you use it for a long period of time and then stop abruptly, you might suffer severe withdrawal effects. Your body builds tolerance to the drug, so over time it takes more and more of it to produce its effects. If you donâÄôt get a prescription, that will quickly make it grow extremely expensive.
All of these are reasons to be cautious before starting on Adderall, but they are not adequate reasons to prohibit people from doing so, and theyâÄôre not reasons to attack those of us who have decided that itâÄôs worth it.
The TechnicianâÄôs logic for why Adderall should be classified as cheating was as follows: âÄúAdderall makes it possible to significantly increase the amount of time spent studying as well as the attentiveness to the material, which results in a dishonest grade.âÄù
This logic fundamentally misunderstands what it is that makes cheating bad in the first place. When someone cheats by copying answers from a neighborâÄôs exam, they are asserting that they know something that they donâÄôt actually know. When someone takes Adderall, theyâÄôre gaining real knowledge, doing real work and making real contributions to society.
Perhaps the biggest reason people have for opposing cognitive enhancements is that they pose a threat of exacerbating inequality of cognitive ability between those who take the drug and those who donâÄôt. This can be fixed by making the drug available to those who want it, not just those who are willing to jump through the systemâÄôs hoops to get a prescription. Inequality is a legitimate concern, but itâÄôs not an appropriate response to prevent ourselves from benefiting from technology (in this case, biotechnology). There are other technologies that donâÄôt work for everyone, but that doesnâÄôt mean we prevent everyone they do work for from using them.
This will become more and more of an issue as more neurological enhancements become available.  WeâÄôre on the cusp of some serious advances in neurological understanding, which may lead to far more potent enhancers. What happens when more substantial enhancements become available? Will we take advantage of their benefits or squander the opportunities they provide?