We asked Sussex University if Modafinil is cheating

The miracle study drug is a staple of some students’ lives, but what are the consequences?

It would be hard to escape the lure of any aid that could promise higher grades and more concentration. It isn’t wrong to find the easiest way to perform any task we are given, but how far are we allowed to go?

For students, Modafinil offers that incentive. The nootropic drug is originally used to treat those suffering from chronic fatigue or narcolepsy and can only be available via prescription in the UK. Yet, it doesn’t stop one in four students at Oxford University from taking it according to a study from their medical school.

Even our very own study back in 2014 found one in five students have taken the drug which then begs the question, is using Modafinil cheating?

Calls for education institutions to crack down on study drugs were popular news in 2015 as not much was known about the drug and worries that it could be dangerous to use. Several years later, the research finds that it isn’t as dangerous as many people think nor is it as effective as first thought.

It might actually be a safer alternative to using other drugs to improve study. Reddit is full of forums talking about the process of micro-dosing on speed in order to keep minds sharp.

Sussex University has even conducted studies on the use of Modafinil and concluded that it improves rapid shifts of attention. This means that users could quickly shift focus from one task to the next without being distracted.

However, the idea that Modafinil will immediately make you smart is wrong. It merely sharpens up your focus and motivation like a super strong coffee; there already needs to be a desire to work to combine with the drug to make it effective.

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Whilst we can sit around and talk about whether it is actually worthwhile to do Modafinil, the question remains unanswered. Is it cheating?

I set out to find out, the first port of call was chatting to a few lecturers at Sussex University who shall remain un-named.

One conversation I had with a lecturer revealed that the university does not have a strong, official stance on its use. It was generally agreed that what a student gets up to in their own time – with regards to drug use – is down to them and that the university should not intrude.

Of course, the university would have to step in if their drug policy was violated. These terms include the supply and possession of controlled substances either in on or off-campus accommodation. After looking at the UK’s Misuse of Drugs Legislation, Modafinil (or Provigil) is not included which means it is not a controlled substance.

When I pushed further and compared athletes taking steroids to students taking study drugs, the response was vague. As if it wasn’t something that was widely considered.

Another conversation I had delved deeper into the ethics of using the drug. Whilst this lecturer said that it would be impossible to monitor whether or not a student has taken Modafinil, wherever possible they would try to regulate. In this instance, if a student was quite clearly wired off drugs in an exam or openly admitted to using the drug then they would assess the situation and step in if they believed that the student was in danger.

I took that lecturers look the other way and in fact, care more about why students feel the need to take them rather than the issue of taking it at all. The issue of safety was also paramount.

This was also reflected when I asked Sussex University to comment about their opinion on the study drug. They stated:

“The University offers support to any student who is worried or concerned about the use of drugs to contact our Student Life Centre without delay.

“We strongly advise students to never consider taking any drug not prescribed to them.  It can be harmful, even fatal.”

I felt perhaps there could be a bias in Sussex. There may have been this social contract the university that the faculty all agreed upon that Modafinil was not a massive issue. I turned my attention to the Joint Council of Qualifications, the national council that includes the official examination bodies of the UK such as AQA, OCR, City & Guilds, and others.

Their response to ‘is Modafinil cheating’ goes as follows:

“The awarding bodies believe that a student’s wellbeing is of paramount importance and would caution any student considering taking prescription drugs that do not meet a medical condition to improve his or her performance in an examination. Students should always consult, and take the medical advice of a doctor, before taking any medication.

“Schools and colleges should have a clear drugs policy in place and that policy would be deemed to cover external examinations that are held under the jurisdiction of the school or college.”

I posted this question to university students all over the country with 75 per cent of the students I asked believing it did not count as cheating. Some even delved in a little more deeply into some analogies.

One student suggested that there was no difference between taking Modafinil or having a strong coffee. The student then continued to state that ‘is it cheating to have a good diet? Is it cheating to have a good nights rest?’.

Other students supported this argument. The fact that Modafinil doesn’t make you smarter in the literal sense meant that to some students it can’t be classed as cheating.

Whilst the issue of ‘cheating’ is still up in the air, the law on Modafinil is very clear. Since it is a prescription drug in the UK, you are unable to buy it from a UK source without a prescription. However, this law does not apply to sources outside the UK meaning those who purchase study drugs tend to get them imported from overseas. The law then states that you are able to use these drugs for personal use.

So what can we conclude?

It seems at least in Sussex University that the use of Modafinil is a personal issue and if the safety of students is at risk then they will step in. The university stated that there are many different support networks that can help students through their education and that perhaps using those would be much safer than using prescription drugs to aid study.

Students don’t seem to think Modafinil is cheating as it doesn’t mean that you immediately can pass your course with no effort at all. Whilst the sample size was small all across the UK, this may not be the overriding view but the sample overwhelmingly agreed Modafinil was not cheating.

Do you think Modafinil is cheating?