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Stimulant Drugs Don’t Improve Focus, Study Finds

Researchers reported several college students saying they use stimulant medications to help them study, even “if it doesn’t really help them in the long run.”

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Updated:August 24, 2019, 6:45 PM IST
Stimulant Drugs Don’t Improve Focus, Study Finds
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Students looking for a “cognitive boost” are unlikely to reap any benefits by using psychostimulant drugs, a new study has found.

While they are commonly prescribed in the treatment of conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), prescription drugs like Adderall (amphetamine and dextroamphetamine) are also misused by people seeking a “brain boost.”

It’s a “growing issue” in the United States, particularly among young college students, according to San Francisco-based provider of health information, Healthline.

A study conducted by University of California researchers and published in journal Behavioural Brain Research, used a double-blind, placebo controlled, repeated measure design to investigate the effect of morning administration of a commonly used stimulant, dextroamphetamine (DEX), on repeated, within-day and overnight working performance, as well as on sleep in healthy young adults.

The researchers recruited 43 people, aged 18 to 35, to test and measure short- and long-term effects of prescription medication.

First, the participants’ working memory and attention was tested by having them do many things at once.

Study co-author and University of California associate professor, Sara Mednick, told Healthline the tests were meant to mimic what the human brain typically endures, like remembering a phone number while doing other tasks.

“There’s a specific ability we have to keep information in our heads while we’re doing other things,” she said.

Researchers repeated the tests after 75 minutes, 12 hours, and 24 hours, where the participants were sequestered overnight in private rooms inside the varsity’s sleep lab while electrical activity in their brain was recorded on a machine.

Compared with placebo, the researchers found no within-day benefit of 20 mg DEX on working memory.

“After sleep, DEX performed worse than PBO and the overnight improvement in performance in the PBO condition was absent in the DEX condition. Moreover, sleep quality was negatively affected by DEX administration. In summary, we found no cognitive boost from psychostimulants across a day of wake and a blockade of overnight WM increases with the stimulant, compared to PBO,” the researchers said in the abstract of their study.

“If you talk to anyone in college who is taking these stimulants, the hope is they’re using them to be able to study and party longer,” Mednick said. “It may make you feel like Superman, but it’s actually not making you smarter.”

Mednick said during her research, she found several college students saying they use stimulant medications to help them study, even “if it doesn’t really help them in the long run.”

Dr. Vernon Williams, a sports neurologist, told Healthline that the research is “critically important,” considering the “epidemic” of prescription stimulant use among college students and young workers.

“These may be tolerated by most people,” Williams said, “but they can cause real significant issues.”

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