The Nineties are well and truly dead and buried. It seems students today are less interested in taking drugs and dancing at an all night rave. They are doing all-nighters and they are taking drugs, it is just they are studying instead of dancing. Smart drugs are now on the scene.

Smart drugs can improve memory, cognitive abilities and attention. A joint Harvard and Oxford University study confirmed this for a drug it subjected to testing. Students seem more determined than ever to succeed. It may be the debt incurred from high fees, the very competitive post-graduate job market or the positive examples set by the many, high profile, young tech trail blazers. Whatever the reason, enhancements are appealing to many pressured students much as anabolic steroids have appealed to body builders.

One of the best known drugs is Ritalin, commonly prescribed to sufferers of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and is similar in many respects to amphetamine. Because it provides a slight euphoria, it can be addictive.

Modafinil was the drug examined in a  joint study by Oxford and Harvard. It suggested the risk from it is low, though noting there is no long-term data.

So what is the legality of smart drugs?

Illegal drugs are classified under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and are categorised as A, B or C depending on the level of harm they can cause to the user or to society. The class sets the maximum penalty for offences involving the drug with Class A drugs such as cocaine and heroin being the most serious.

Penalties can be severe; dealing Class A drugs invites a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Dealing Class B drugs such as cannabis and amphetamines or Class C drugs such as khat or diazepam can incur a maximum of 14 years in prison.

Drugs controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act are illegal to have, produce, give away or sell. In some cases drugs can be prescribed (such as codeine and diazepam).

The Psychoactive Substances Act came into force on 26 May 2016. This made legal highs….illegal highs by making it an offence to produce, supply, offer to supply, possess with intent to supply, import or export psychoactive substances; that is, any substance intended for human consumption that is capable of producing a psychoactive effect. The maximum sentence is 7 years’ imprisonment

However this excludes legitimate substances, such as alcohol and medicines as well as controlled drugs scheduled under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

Ritalin and a similar drug, Adderall are controlled class B drugs and may only be sold and possessed with a prescription.

Modafinil is not a classified drug but can only be sold with a prescription. Whilst it is illegal to sell modafinil in the UK to a person without a prescription, it is not illegal to buy. Under the Medicines Act 1968 it is illegal to sell Modafinil  unless through a registered pharmacy (or dispensed by doctor, dentist or midwife).

What if a medicine such as Modafinil is supplied for another reason than it was used? The Court of Appeal considered this in the case of Regina v Foster in 2010. Mr Foster was  a police officer, in possession of stanazolol. However it was packaged up as a body building steroid (No Bull) and that is what he was using it for. Appealing his conviction for drug possession, Mr Foster argued that it was a medicine. The Court held that just because stanazolol was capable of being a medicine, it was not being used as a medicine for therapeutic purposes and was using it as an anabolic steroid. Thus the officer was right to have been found in possession of a drug.  The mere fact that stanozolol was capable of being a medicinal product was of no assistance to the defendant.

If a medicine, intended for other therapeutic purposes was being used instead as a study drug, then as with Mr Foster, a person in possession could find themselves on the wrong side of the law.

In reality a person supplying study drugs which are classified, for example Ritalin, then the sentence would only approach the maximum term if the supply was on a very large, organised scale with other serious aggravating factors, however supplying even small amounts of any drug of Class B can result in a custodial sentence or a humbling, tedious dose of unpaid work in the community.

Prosecution for possession of very small amounts is less likely, though police warnings and penalty fines are far more likely, That being said, prosecution is possible and all that hard work and study will not assist in securing a job with a criminal conviction.

A quick internet search for study drugs yields dozens of online suppliers. Some go so far as to take the user through a consultation and prescribe the drug. Whether this would be enough to protect a supplier from prosecution if they sold illegal unless prescribed drugs would depend on the evidence; is the consultation genuine and carried out by a medical practitioner? Are the drugs always prescribed irrespective of what answers are given in the consultation? Other sites simply take the user straight through to a checkout. Some are selling pills which are not illegal, others are.

It is likely that many of the sites buy pills from unregulated manufacturers based around the World; India, China – wherever they are based, quality controls may be lacking.

Students have been taking and passing exams for centuries. You are not the first. Nobody knows the long term effects. There are ethical issues too – some will see this as cheating – we consider users of steroids in sports as drug cheats; is this any different? With no study drugs, I somehow managed to pass European Competition Law. I failed GCSE physics and would still fail it today, no matter how much Ritalin I may take.


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