HLSC122 Assessment 3: Critical Evaluation of Evidence

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HLSC122 Assessment 3: Critical Evaluation of Evidence

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HLSC122 Assessment 3: Critical Evaluation of Evidence


The use of stimulants to increase academic performance in university students has attracted the attention of scholars over the last few decades. Some students claim that certain drugs can boost their mental performance thereby helping them to get higher grades in university. The scientific community is dived on the role of stimulants in enhanced academic performance. While some researchers believe that smart drugs can activate the brain and extend the concentration spans of users, other researchers opine that prescription-only drugs should only be used for the right purpose. Whether the use of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder drugs constitutes cheating or not remains controversial. While some researchers claim that it gives some students undue advantage over other students, others claim that the students still need to work for them to pass examinations. In fact, the drugs only keep them alert but it is their individual efforts which help them to pass examinations. This paper critically examines the available evidence to understand whether stimulants increase academic performance in university students.


Hildt, E., Lieb, K., & Franke, A. G. (2014). Life context of pharmacological academic performance enhancement among university students – a qualitative approach. BMC Medical Ethics, 15(1), 23-23. doi:10.1186/1472-6939-15-23


Elisabeth Hildt is philosophy professor and director of the Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions at Illinois Institute of Technology.  She has written a lot on philosophical and ethical issues in neuroscience, neuroethics and biomedical ethics. Professor Dr. Klaus Lieb is the Director of the Department for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the Mainz University Medical Center. Professor Andreas Günter Franke is a German medical professor who has contributed immensely in the field of medicine.

Elisabeth Hildt, Klaus Lieb and Andreas Günter Franke are the authors of the research article. The three authors declare that they have no competing interest in their publication. The three authors are highly educated individuals who have contributed to the body of knowledge in the field of pharmacology. All of them participated in conceiving and designing the study. Andreas and Elisabeth conducted the interviews and analyzed the data but all of them took part in data interpretation, writing of the manuscript, revision and approval of the final copy for publication.


Research Aims

The aim of the study was to put the phenomenon of pharmacological academic performance enhancement via prescription and illicit (psycho-) stimulant use (Amphetamines, Methylphenidate) among university students into a broader context.

The increased attention on performance enhancement or cognitive enhancement (CE) drugs propelled the authors to understand the context in which students use the drugs. They wanted to find out whether the drugs are exclusively used for academic purposes or other reasons beyond academic achievement.



The researchers used interview methods. They sampled eighteen healthy students who used stimulants without medical prescription and interviewed them face-to-face. They were asked the circumstances surrounding their use of prescription drugs for academic purposes. The leading questions were related to the situations and context in which the students considered the non-medical use of stimulants. The audio files were transcribed by one of the researchers who were not involved in the interview and the results were analyzed qualitatively.  The methodology was good because face-to-face interviews could help the researchers in getting deeper information from the drug users.



The findings identified six categories of life contexts related to the use of stimulants amongst students. The situations include the need for academic excellence, side effects of previous use, pressure to perform better, timing of exams, use beyond academic excellence and the experience of enhancement.


Strengths and weaknesses

The findings reveal that many students use the stimulants for extra strength to enable them excel academically. However, the stimulants have other uses which are far beyond academic results. The stimulants help users stay active and strike a balance between studies and other activities outside the classroom. The findings indicated that some students use the stimulants to stay motivated and cope with their memory. However, the study fails to give the adverse effects of the use of stimulants to students. Other researchers have shown that stimulants cause sleeplessness.


Munro, B. A., Weyandt, L. L., Marraccini, M. E., & Oster, D. R. (2017). The relationship between nonmedical use of prescription stimulants, executive functioning and academic outcomes. Addictive Behaviors, 65, 250-257. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2016.08.023



Bailey A.Munro, Lisa L.Weyandt, Marisa E.Marraccini, Danielle R.Oster are the authors of the article. Bailey A.Munro is a distinguished Interdisciplinary Neuroscientist with a Ph.D degree and great experience in psychological, biological research and data analysis. Dr. Lisa L.Weyandt is a lecturer in the University of Rhode Island in Kingston. Lisa is an expert in biological psychology, developmental psychology and clinical psychology. Marisa E.Marraccini is an assistant professor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is an expert in psychology and philosophy. Dr. Danielle Roster Danielle is a senior lecturer at the University of Rhode Island, Kingston. She is an expert abnormal psychology, educational psychology.


Research Aims

The aim of the research was to examine the relationship between non-medical use of prescription stimulants (NMUPS) and executive functioning (EF) among a sample of college students. The researchers were justified in their study because they wanted to know whether the use of drugs impacted the academic performance of the students or not.



The researchers used random sampling technique. They sampled three hundred and eight students from six public universities within the United States of America. They used SSQ, BDEFS and GPA measures to determine the effects of the use of prescription stimulants (NMUPS) on their performance.  The methodology was appropriate because it picked students at random. From the random sample, the percentage of stimulant users would be analyzed



The findings indicated that more than 18% of the sampled population was involved in nonmedical use of prescription stimulants. Many of the interviewed students quoted executive functioning as their motivation factor. They wanted to perform better in their studies. Some students waste their time during the normal studying period and resort to stimulants to learn more in less time. The drugs can give the attention needed but they cannot substitute a normal life. The drugs keep the victim sleepless at night which ends up undermining the content learnt since it does not stick in the brain.


Strengths and weaknesses

The research findings provide exam periods and the pressure to excel as risk factors in the use of drugs. Although the studies showed that many of the students who used stimulants did so to enhance academic performance, it does not explain the relationship between the students’ GPA results and their use of drugs.



Wasserman et al. (2014) examined the nonmedical use of prescription stimulants among osteopathic medical students. He found out that the best way of addressing the use of drugs for academic excellence is by reducing stress and the feelings of competitiveness amongst students. Medical students, unlike students in other professions do not use stimulants since they understand the medical effects of using drugs for the wrong reasons. Research on medical students could be the key to unraveling the abuse of drugs for academic excellence. Dr. Amelia Arria and her team from The School of Public health (2017) researched on ways of curtailing the use of stimulants amongst normal college students. According to them, the nonmedical use of prescription stimulants leads to addiction and drug dependence without any academic improvements. It is wrong to use drugs and cause more problems instead of solving the underlying problems.

According to Dr Arria, the non-medical use of stimulants does not increase academic performance. Instead of taking medical drugs, students should study ahead of examinations. Over 90% of students who use stimulants for academic gain are active users of other types of drugs or they have used other non-medical drugs in their lives (Richardson-Tench, Taylor, Kermode & Roberts 2016). However, The Globe and Mail (2017) ironically stated that drugs work well and enhance attention span. A student on drugs can study for long hours without getting exhausted.  However, the drugs, Ritalin, Adderall or Concerta have side effects. Users reported lack of sleep and unpleasant loss of concentration after their effects were over. In order to stay alert, the users are supposed to take more of them. The cycle tends to resemble that of addictive stimulant drugs which must be taken for the user to feel high.

One of the renowned research fellows at Oxford University publicly claimed that he uses Modafinil, a stimulant used by ADHD patients, to enhance to his work (DW, 2017).  According to him, it is not cheating since he still has to do his work to get the results. He further explains that the drugs help him work smarter, accomplish difficult tasks in less time and work without getting tired.

Hildt, Bagusat & Franke (2015) found out that the use of drugs for pharmacological neuroenhancement (NE) could lead to addiction. Many students use stimulants thinking that their chances of developing addiction are slim since they use the drugs for academic reasons. However, Hildt discovered that all drugs are addictive regardless of the motive.

Arria et al. (2017) found out that there is no relationship between nonmedical use of prescription stimulants (NPS) and improvement in GPA score. According to him, universities and colleges’ prevention and intervention strategies should emphasize that drugs cannot achieve grades. The drugs help in reducing anxiety during examinations, in keeping the users motivated during the examination process and in staying alert. The side effects include too much stimulation which keeps too many ideas flowing into the user’s head. When the energy from the drugs drops, lack of concentration sets in and the user is required to have more and more to stay alert.

According to Ponnet, Wouters, Walrave, Heirman & Van Hal (2014), stimulants do not enhance academic performance. The use of stimulants derails performance and lead to other complications. The greatest predictors of the students’ intention to abuse medical drugs are subjective norms, attitudes and behaviors. Students tend to follow what their fellows are doing. Procrastination, psychological distress, and drug abuse also predict a student’s likelihood to use stimulants (Greenhalgh et al., 2017).  More than 93% of students use stimulants to focus and concentrate. (Herman et al. (2011). More male students and more Caucasians abuse stimulants in the United States.



There are varying opinions on the effects of stimulants on the academic performance of university students. Some researchers argue that stimulants increase mental alertness which provides a good environment for students to study while others argue that stimulants are addictive and cause other mental disorders. However, one issue is clear. Stimulants cannot study for the students. Arria & DuPont (2010) recommend eight strategies which can help in reducing the use of stimulants in colleges. According to them, the authorities should first dispel the myths regarding non-medical use of stimulants for academic excellence. There is no such thing as an academic steroid. The universities should create awareness of the legal risks of using prescription drugs for other purposes. Thirdly, physicians should be held accountable for drugs sold to people without medical conditions warranting drug use. The government should empower parents to take a central role in prohibiting and discouraging their children from using stimulants. Campuses should develop action plans of detecting and deterring drug users. The universities should relieve stress from students and develop intervention measures to assess the risks and prevent progressive use of drugs. They recommend further research on the harmful effects and benefits of abuse resistant formulations.



Greenhalgh, T.M., Bidewell, J., Crisp, E., Lambros, A., & Warland, J. (2017). Understanding research methods for evidence-based practice in health 1e Wileyplus learning space Wiley e-text powered by Vitalsource. Wiley. Retrieved from https://acu-edu-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=61ACU_ALMA21112742500002352&context=L&vid=61ACU&search_scope=61ACU_All&tab=61acu_all&lang=en_US

Hildt, E., Lieb, K., & Franke, A. G. (2014). Life context of pharmacological academic performance enhancement among university students – a qualitative approach. BMC Medical Ethics, 15(1), 23-23. doi:10.1186/1472-6939-15-23

Munro, B. A., Weyandt, L. L., Marraccini, M. E., & Oster, D. R. (2017). The relationship between nonmedical use of prescription stimulants, executive functioning and academic outcomes. Addictive Behaviors, 65, 250-257. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2016.08.023

Richardson-Tench, M., Taylor, B., Kermode, S., & Roberts, K. (2016). Inquiry in health care (5th [ACU] ed.). South Melbourne, Australia: Cengage Learning.

Wasserman, J., Fitzgerald, J., Sunny, M., Cole, M., Suminski, R., & Dougherty, J. (2014). Nonmedical Use of Stimulants Among Medical Students. The Journal Of The American Osteopathic Association114(8), 643-653. doi:10.7556/jaoa.2014.129

School of Public health. (2017). New Study Investigates College Students’ Nonmedical Use of Prescription Stimulants, Academic Performance and Other Drug Use | UMD School of Public HealthSph.umd.edu. Retrieved 15 October 2017, from https://sph.umd.edu/news-item/new-study-investigates-college-students-nonmedical-use-prescription-stimulants-academic

The Globe and Mail. (2017). Students reaching for ADHD drugs to deal with academic stressThe Globe and Mail. Retrieved 15 October 2017, from https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/education/drugs-as-study-aid-a-growing-trend-on-campuses/article14945567/?ref=http://www.theglobeandmail.com&

DW, D. (2017). Oxford academic: I use brain enhancing drugs | #drugtrap | Life Links | DW | 29.10.2014DW.COM. Retrieved 15 October 2017, from http://www.dw.com/en/oxford-academic-i-use-brain-enhancing-drugs/a-18027581

Hildt, E., Lieb, K., Bagusat, C., & Franke, A. (2015). Reflections on Addiction in Students Using Stimulants for Neuroenhancement: A Preliminary Interview Study. Biomed Research International2015, 1-7. doi:10.1155/2015/621075

Ponnet, K., Wouters, E., Walrave, M., Heirman, W., & Van Hal, G. (2014). Predicting Students’ Intention to use Stimulants for Academic Performance Enhancement. Substance Use & Misuse50(3), 275-282. doi:10.3109/10826084.2014.952446

Herman, L., Shtayermman, O., Aksnes, B., Anzalone, M., Cormerais, A., & Liodice, C. (2011). The Use of Prescription Stimulants to Enhance Academic Performance Among College Students in Health Care Programs. The Journal Of Physician Assistant Education22(4), 15-22. doi:10.1097/01367895-201122040-00003

Arria, A., & DuPont, R. (2010). Nonmedical Prescription Stimulant Use Among College Students: Why We Need to Do Something and What We Need to Do. Journal Of Addictive Diseases29(4), 417-426. doi:10.1080/10550887.2010.509273

Arria, A., Caldeira, K., Vincent, K., O’Grady, K., Cimini, M., & Geisner, I. et al. (2017). Do college students improve their grades by using prescription stimulants nonmedically?. Addictive Behaviors65, 245-249. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2016.07.016

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