Because postponing is something I am particularly good at, it often happens that I have to work through all the tough exam materials in a (too) short period of time just before the end of the semester. A noisy student house is not an option in such a situation and so I often decide to confine myself to the university library. It is almost amazing how the University Library has something away from a survival bunker in the run-up to the examination periods. Everyone is punctually on the door at 9.30 in the morning so that they cannot walk outside until closing time. I install myself at a table full of food parcels, cans of red bull, laptop pen, writing pads, articles, and books. While everyone around me is concentrated on his study material, concentration is sometimes hard to find. Facebook beckons and I am distracted by every thought. I fervently desire at such moments that there is a way to stay focused. And that is there.
In the corridors, it has long been whispered that pills such as Ritalin increase concentration and drowsiness. Ideal for those who want to go through a night to meet that one deadline. Especially in the United States, this rumor has spread rapidly among young people. There are worrying figures about the non-medical use of Adderall (the big sister of Ritalin) among the American students. Even at top universities, the illegal trade of a game of Adderall UK during exam periods can give an American student no less than $600 Dollars. That means such as Ritalin are so popular, must be an indication that the rumors have a core of truth. For me enough reason to wonder myself WRM Ritalin gives our brains a boost. Plus if Ritalin does its job so well, WRM will the use of Ritalin as smart pills still be such a taboo?
The fact that I am not the only one who is fascinated by this topic, appears when I type the word Ritalin on the Google search page. As a dead whale that is being opened, I get an explosion of articles, columns, opinion websites, documentaries and information pages about me. It is clear that this one medicine has caused a lot of dust. But before I venture into this social discussion, I am of course first interested in what Ritalin does with our brains.
Anyone who has read my previous article will remember that the cells that our brains consist of, also called neurons, can communicate with each other. They do this by means of signals. And no, no smoke signals, but chemical substances, as postmen, ensure that the message is passed on from one neuron to another. These substances are also called neurotransmitters. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is champion in the transmission of messages. Especially when it comes to messages that tell our brain what our goals are and what information from our environment is used to achieve those goals. With goals, I do not mean the kind of goals here as in ‘I want to get rich later’, but more concrete goals like ‘I want to get hold of the chair’. It is important that enough dopamine is sent to communicate messages correctly. Some of the dopamine molecules are almost immediately sent back and taken up by the neuron that released them. Sometimes, however, these processes go wrong.
A lack of dopamine means that the sent message does not come across properly. That is what happens in ADHD patients. At present, dopamine molecules cannot do their job well due to a shortage of colleagues. Processes in the brain that normally ensure that we can focus our attention and motivation on specific aspects of our environment are therefore poorly controlled. The brain of ADHD patients, therefore, receives too much information from which it does not know what to do with it. Because we are also very happy with stray dopamine molecules, a dopamine shortage also means that we have less sense to carry out certain tasks. Everything gets boring after a few seconds. These consequences often manifest themselves in unrest, impulsivity, mood swings and tantrums. In order to put the brake back on, as it were, ADHD patients are prescribed Ritalin.
Ritalin falls under the category of brain boosters that have the working substance Methylphenidate. This so-called psychostimulant is closely related to amphetamine and counteracts the re-uptake of the returned dopamine molecules. As a result, more dopamine remains available between the two communicating neurons. For example, a shortage is somewhat compensated and ADHD symptoms decrease. In practice, ADHD patients experience this as an increased concentration so that they no longer feel that they are flooded with external stimuli. But not only ADHD patients benefit from the effect of Ritalin. More available dopamine can also provide a better and sharper focus on a ‘healthy’ brain through the same effect as that described above. However, opinions are divided about whether Ritalin has the same effect for everyone. Numerous studies have been done about this and it seems that the effect of brain boosters in healthy individuals depends on how good their own dopamine housekeeping is. The idea is that someone who has already balanced dopamine levels would benefit less from swallowing Ritalin than individuals who would have slightly disturbed dopamine levels.
No vitamin pill
Now that we know that the working substance in Ritalin has something like amphetamine, you may ask yourself where you heard the word amphetamine before. Right. Speed. Meth. Both known as hard drugs that stimulate work but are, above all, addictive. Although Ritalin is less strong than speed, it is essential to realize that we are not dealing with innocent pills here. It is not for nothing that Ritalin falls under the Opium Act worldwide. In addition to the fact that it is punishable to buy or sell Ritalin without a prescription, Ritalin also has side effects like every medicine. Sleep problems, nervousness, loss of appetite, depression, and psychoses all belong to the list of nasty luggage that Ritalin brings with it. There is also the risk that young people can become psychologically dependent on these brain boosters. Students can feel that they can no longer perform optimally without Ritalin UK, Concerta UK, Adderall UK, Modafinil UK, etc. It is worrying that young people are probably lacking in information and are therefore indifferent to the negative effects of the multiple uses of smart pills.
Getting the best out of yourself
If we leave out the side effects, we can also raise ethical questions about artificially increasing our dopamine levels and improving our brain functions. We could ask ourselves whether it is fair that brain boosters might give students an advantage over the rest for an examination. Think of it as a kind of fraud 2.0. Yet there are people who see no harm in optimizing brain functions by means of brain boosters and just applaud them. The argument that we already live in a world that is anything but natural is often quoted. We have iPhones, cars, but also medicines that prevent our death. WRM would we not be allowed to increase our concentration by taking a Ritalin pill? The fact that in America is no longer just about students is also clear when ABC News publishes an item in 2012 that makes it clear that housemothers use Adderall to get through the day. But it is known that scientists are also guilty of it. Illegal trade, the misleading of doctors and the internet makes it very easy for all these people in 2013 to come to brain boosters. It will therefore not surprise me if it also occurs more often in UK than we all think.
For this week I choose at least to trust that my own dopamine levels will give my brain a boost to drag me through my exam. And otherwise, there is still coffee.