Contrary to popular belief across college campuses, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medications may fail to improve cognition in healthy students and actually can impair functioning.
Study co-investigators Lisa Weyandt, professor of psychology and a faculty member with URI’s George and Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience, and Tara White, assistant professor of research in behavioral and social sciences at Brown University, had anticipated different findings. “We hypothesized that Adderall would enhance cognition in the healthy students, but instead, the medication did not improve reading comprehension or fluency, and it impaired working memory,” she said. “Not only are they not benefiting from it academically, but it could be negatively affecting their performance.”
This first-ever multisite pilot study of the impact of so-called “study drugs” on college students who do not have ADHD comes at a time when use of prescription stimulants such as Adderall, Ritalin and Vyvanse is common among young adults who believe the drugs will improve their academic performance. Research by Weyandt and others has estimated that 5 to 35 percent of college students in the United States and European countries without ADHD illegally use these controlled substances, buying or receiving them from peers, friends, or family.