When was the last time you felt awake? Not just hyper from library coffees and nervous energy, but actually alert, focused and ready to face the huge pile of work next to you? Not in a long time? I thought not.

Now imagine taking something that is essentially the essence of not-tiredness. One tiny little thing that fills you with boundless energy; it makes you feel alive in a way that you’ve probably forgotten existed with all those late nights in the library; it turns your exhausted nods across the café into lively conversations, and you remember how to laugh again.

It has the potential to make you focus on what you’re working on, so that 40 page essay you have to read will feel like it took moments out of your day and, more importantly, you’re much more likely to actually understand what that obscure theorist was explaining.

This is the world of study drugs, and it is a place I’ve inhabited solely for the past few weeks. It began with the sudden and terrifying realisation that I had a dissertation to conceive of, plan and write in less than a month. I knew that I was doomed unless I found a way to take the normal 12 vaguely conscious hours a day I could expect to work, and turn them into hyper-efficient 18 hour days. So, having heard good things about them, I bought myself some study drugs.

It’s difficult to explain the effect they have on you. It’s not like an illegal drug; there are no euphoric highs, you don’t have an overwhelming urge to hug people, or discuss undergraduate level philosophy with awe and wonder. It’s more like you have suddenly become your best self – to begin with, at least.

Half a pill will prevent you from sleeping for about 18 hours – in my experience at least – so each day would begin with me groggily turning my alarm off and reaching for the pack of pills by my bed. Once it kicked in, I’d get to my laptop, open my dissertation and begin working. Or that was the plan anyway.

The trouble with these study drugs, though, is that they can’t actually trick you into enjoying what you’re doing. So, if you really can’t stand your subject and you’re much more interested by say, Twitter, you’re buggered. There’s really nothing like using that newly found acute ability to absorb information to have meaningless but witty interactions with strangers over the internet. That’s what’s happened to me, at least.

Over the past nine days, I’ve slowly become completely nocturnal, sleeping less each night than the one that came before it, until all the sleep I manage to get is a short nap in the afternoon each day. I’m currently in my 25th hour of being awake.

Even when you try to get to sleep, your mental capabilities exhausted, your brain won’t turn off and your eyes won’t click shut. So it’s reached the point where my body is entirely aware that I’m doing my best to cheat it of precious sleep, and in rebellion it has just removed my ability to be critically engaged. The bastard.
So instead of just being tired and unable to work, I’m lying wide awake and horribly aware of precious time slipping past but academic work still eludes me entirely. It is quite literally a waking nightmare.

It’s also entirely decimated my appetite. I have entirely forgotten to eat for days at a time.

I’ve remembered and wandered into the kitchen, with the knowledge that I absolutely must be hungry – but nothing appeals. I had stockpiled mountains of carbs and chocolate, and it is just sitting there watching me grow wan and irritable under the stress and sugar deficiency.

Oh – and one more thing. It plays HAVOC on your bowels. I’ll tell you something, I would have finished this dissertation DAYS ago if it weren’t for hourly trips to the bathroom. My entire house is sharing my misery in this, and we’ve put up a competitive tally chart in the bathroom to track it. The house record is 15 in a day.
So yes, there are – sometimes gross – side effects, and no, they’re not the magic solution to your studying worries, but at the end of the day, my dissertation is almost finished. I’ll keep taking them until it is.

Addiction to study drugs doesn’t seem to be an issue at University; we don’t have to take them, they are just a useful alternative to the sleepless zombies we otherwise become. The side effects of study drugs are definitely worth the 2.1 I will grasp onto, just, with faltering fingertips.

I’m not addicted, but I just think the exhausted, hyper, starving, laxative-imitating side effects that study drugs necessarily involve are a price I’m willing to pay to scrape that 2:1.

And if that doesn’t show a commitment to my education, I don’t know what does.