Deakin Communicating Science 2016

EES 200/101

Study Drugs: Caffeine Killer, or Problem Pill?

It’s commonplace nowadays to start off one’s morning with a cup of coffee.


(Flickr user rport 2011) [7]

If you look at any university globally between the hours of 6am and 10am, you’re likely to find 2 types of PhD students. It’s easy to spot the first sub-type, characterised by drooping eyelids, a gaunt expression; and a lack of will to keep going as confirmed by the catchphrase “don’t talk to me until I’ve had a coffee”. This is contrasted by the second sub-type, whose eye-catching vigour and excitement for the day is all thanks to the sweet, sweet nectar of the Coffea Arabica plant.

Coffee’s no longer restricted to the Parisian aristocrats or the Ethiopian farmers who are believed to have first cultivated the plant for its medicinal traits [1], it’s one of the most popular drinks in the world. It’s prized worldwide as the best-tasting legal psychoactive stimulative substance around. But what if I told you, that somewhere out there, there existed a brand new group of psychoactive substances, being hailed for their stimulative and cognition-enhancing properties?


Amphetamine (boghog 2015) [8]

It’s no secret that performance-enhancing drugs exist in society, you don’t have to look too far to find evidence for that. In sports, anabolic steroids such as 1-androstendiol and methyltestosterone are well-known for their effects and legal status [2], which is why they make headlines so often. In a more scholarly setting, prescription drugs like Adderall (l-amphetamine and d-amphetamine) (shown left), and Ritalin (methylphenidate)


Methylphenidate (Angsaar 2007) [9]

(shown right) are known to be used to increase productivity and improve concentration; by those who suffer from attention-deficit-disorder (ADD), and those who do not. In a 2012 article in the Journal of American College Health, Garnier-Dykstra LM et al. reported that through the duration of their university degree, 31.0% of students used prescription-only drugs in a non-medical setting [3].

Caffeine is well-known for its ability to kick your study into 5th gear and have you writing like mad for hours on end to reach a deadline, and the same goes for prescription medicines such as amphetamine enantiomer mixtures and methylphenidate. These drugs are Central Nervous System (CNS) stimulants, which through various detailed mechanisms of action can increase the activity of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and norepinephrine [4], and in the case of amphetamine, serotonin [5]. But as we know it’s not all sunshine and high distinctions, even caffeine in recreational dosages comes with its own slate of side effects, such as vasocontriction (tightening of blood vessels) and consequential blood pressure increase, irritability, dehydration, and physical and psychological dependence [6].

But I’m not here to tarnish the reputation of the world’s favourite legal stimulant! No, not at all, I’m here to investigate the world of “nootropics”; drugs that are heralded


Modafinil (fuse809 2013) [10]

for their science-fiction-like ability to improve one’s cognitive function, creativity, or motivation. So I decided what better way to investigate the effect of one such drug, Modafinil (shown right); than to convince a daring, physically-healthy and mentally-sound person to try it out! So when I found that a friend (who I’ll refer to as ‘X’ from now on) was willing to partake in my trial, I was excited to say the least.



[1] Ofcansky, T et al. 2004, Historical Dictionary of Ethiopia, Scarecrow Press, retrieved 8/4/16,

[2] World Anti-Doping Agency 2015, The 2015 Prohibited List, WADA, Quebec, retrieved 10/4/16,

[3] Garnier-Dykstra, LM et al. 2012, ‘Nonmedical Use of Prescription Stimulants During College: Four-Year Trends in Exposure Opportunity, Use, Motives, and Sources’, Journal of American College Health, vol. 60, no. 3, pp. 226-234

[4] Nehliq, A et al. 1992, Caffeine and the central nervous system: mechanisms of action, biochemical, metabolic and psychostimulant effects, retrieved 10/4/16,

[5] Food and Drug Administration 2007, Adderall Fact Sheet, FDA, Maryland, retrieved 10/4/16,

[6] Ogeil, RP et al. 2015, Commonly used stimulants: Sleep problems, dependence and psychological distress, retrieved 10/4/16,

[7] rport 2011, Coffee, photograph, viewed 12/4/16,

[8] boghog 2013, Racemic Amphetamine ACS, diagram, viewed 12/4/16,

[9] Angsaar 2007, D-methylphenidate-plane, diagram, viewed 12/4/16,

[10] fuse809 2013, Modafinil2DACS, diagram, viewed 12/4/16,


About sebrawson

19/M, long walks on the beach and Kahlua

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This entry was posted on April 13, 2016 by in Uncategorized.

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