Updated 15 May 2014

Smart drugs: would you take them?

Imagine a drug that was guaranteed to make you better at your job. Well, it exists and it's coming to South Africa.


Drugs, in the conventional sense of the word, haven’t made a good name for themselves. However, a new brand of so-called “smart drugs” is sweeping through the world’s flashiest industries and most illustrious seats of learning.

Going under brand names such as Alertec, Provigil and Modavigil, the active ingredient Modafinil has traditionally been used to treat narcolepsy and other sleep-related disorders. Now, its alertness-boosting abilities are being harnessed by bankers, lawyers and students who need to make sure they’re on top of their game when they need to be, reports the Daily Mail.

A student interviewed at Oxford University claimed that up to a quarter of his classmates were taking the drug, prompting calls for drug tests before exams. It’s still not clear, however, that taking such substances would constitute cheating.

Read: Smart teens more likely to take drugs

While they are often compared to energy drinks, vigilance-promoting drugs are different because instead of simply decreasing “sleepy” theta waves, in the same way as caffeine, they also boost “active” alpha waves. In other words, instead of just stopping you feeling sleepy, modafinil also makes you feel more awake than you normally would. Proponents describe things seeming clearer and having more confidence as benefits of these new drugs.

At Cambridge University, pills are being sold for as little as £2 a pop, giving almost unlimited access to higher levels of performance.

The legality of smart drugs is an interesting topic, and one that changes from country to country. Because the drugs are prescription-only, selling them without a valid prescription is illegal – buying them, however, is not.

Read: Is Ritalin safe?

And like all medication, modafinil isn’t without side effects. Common reactions to the drug include anxiety, back pain and, curiously, drowsiness. A number of potentially fatal conditions have also been linked to the drug, including toxic epidermal necrolysis and Stephens-Johnson syndrome.

Smart drugs are yet to take off in South Africa in the same way they have overseas, but it’s unlikely to be long before they start popping up at universities and financial institutions across the country. Would you take them?

Read more
Adults abusing Ritalin
Are you addicted to medication?
Drug allergies – be informed


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