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Curtin University
National Drug Research Institute

Preventing Harmful Drug Use In Australia

The Use of ‘Study Drugs’ by WA Tertiary Students

Project Team

Principal Investigator:

Professor Simon Lenton, National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University

Project staff:

Marina Nelson, National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University

Contact Person:

Professor Simon Lenton, National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University


Recently some university student guilds and health services have recieved anecdotal reports of increased use of so-called ‘study drugs’ or cognitive enhancers (CEs) by students at their institutions. These are substances that are used in an attempt to improve intellectual ability in areas such as alertness, information processing and memory. These substances include: prescription amphetamines; anti-dementia drugs; methylphenidate, caffeine, racetams and other stimulants; newer drugs such as modafinil; and some herbal supplements. There is some evidence that university students who use CEs tend to perceive them as effective, but whether CEs are effective at improving cognition in healthy individuals is unclear. Evidence of their effectiveness laboratory settings is extremely mixed and their effectiveness beyond laboratory settings is unknown. However, the use of any CE carries a risk of harm. Adverse side effects have been associated with all studied CEs, some of which are severe and/or permanent and for many the long term harms associated with use are unknown. Harms may also occur as a result of legal consequences of illicitly obtaining CEs online or via others’ diverted prescription medications. Only two studies have investigated prevalence of use in Australian university student samples (range from 4%-8%) however, their estimates are questionable. This web survey and key informant study will explore this relatively recent drug use phenomenon and inform potential future interventions. The aims of the study are to: (1) ascertain the prevalence and frequency of the use of these drugs by Western Australian tertiary students; (2) obtain more detail on the specific drugs being used, how they were being used and obtained; (3) investigate student attitudes surrounding them; (4) document the self-reported benefits and harms experienced by users; and (5) recommend potential interventions to prevent use and reduce the harm among those who do use these drugs. The proposed study has been informed by, and will be conducted in partnership with, health services and student guilds from a number of tertiary institutions in WA.