In the United States, a Schedule II drug is one that has some accepted medical use, but at the same time a high potential for abuse that may lead to severe psychological and physical dependence. Cocaine, morphine and methadone are all Schedule II substances. Imagine, then, opening Twitter one morning to be greeted by tweets from across the nation by young people that quite plainly, without redaction or self-censorship, are speaking about their use of a specific Schedule II substance. More than that–they are openly joking about this drug, applying hashtags to it, posting photos of them eating and snorting it, and attempting to buy and sell it to anyone who’s interested. All apparently with no fear whatsoever of being noticed by law enforcement, let alone their friends and family, and despite the illegitimate possession and use of the substance being a felony that is punishable by jail time.
This is precisely what’s happening as I type this sentence, because right now college students across the country are taking their final exams and some of them (an estimated 6.5 million, in fact) are using mixed amphetamine salts to increase their chances of acing the tests. Sounds pretty serious, right? But when you refer to the amphetamine in question by its brand name, which is Adderall, something interesting happens. People relax back in their seats a bit. Their concern lessens. And if they are college students, their mood might shift even more dramatically. The opening paragraph of this article might suddenly sound like the shrill objections of an overeating fuddy-duddy parent or politician. In other words, someone who doesn’t understand that Adderall fits into the modern college student’s diet right alongside a can of Red Bull or a strong cup of coffee–just one of the many options available to boost focus and concentration. But energy drinks and espressos didn’t send 23,000 young adults to the emergency room in 2011 (a four-fold increase since 2005). Nor do they possess the incredible potential for abuse and addiction that Adderall does. So is this drug, which shares a classification with cocaine but is simultaneously inspiring memes, hashtags and inside jokes on every social network, a bad guy or a good guy?
I’ve been on a journey around the social web to find out. I’ve eavesdropped on college students’ conversations about Adderall wherever they’re occurring, from the mirky shadows of the “dark web,” where illicit drugs are bought and sold with a concurrency, to the comparatively fresh air of Reddit and Twitter, where Mainstreamed Adderall photos and screenshots of phone conversations are posted as if they’re not about the illegal procurement and use of a mind-altering amphetamine.
Introduction to Adderall
The chances are, especially if you read the news or have attended a college in the last five years, you already know a bit about Adderall. You probably know that it’s a pharmaceutical stimulant amphetamine used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy and sometimes severe depression. You’re also no doubt aware of its main effects: It increases a person’s energy, alertness, motivation and focus, especially for tasks that would ordinarily strain these faculties. You might also have heard about its less desirable side effects, like decreased appetite, heart palpitations and extreme anxiety. So instead of telling you more stuff you might already know or could read elsewhere, I’ll just give you the CliffsNotes–just the most useful facts about Adderall that are worth knowing before we delve into the things college students are saying about it.