(Mental) performance enhancing substances to help with studying?

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Trismegistus4

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In connection with this thread, I've been realizing lately that things aren't going too well for me in med school. I'm at a strictly pass/fail school, and I've passed every exam so far, so technically that's all that matters as far as the first 2 years go. But I'm not really learning the material, because I procrastinate and then cram the week before the exam. I would say that on days when I don't have to prepare for PBL sessions, I usually wind up doing NO studying whatsoever, and when I do have to prepare for PBL sessions, I do so in a half-hearted manner. I procrastinate all afternoon, and don't really sit down to do the research until after dinner. I try to read the relevant sections in the textbooks, but after about 1 page my mind starts to wander, I pull up the browser and check one of my favorite blogs, and before I know it's been an hour and I still haven't gotten anything done. I finally manage to make myself do some real reading and take some real notes, but with all the procrastinating, 2AM rolls around and I still haven't done half the research, and I wind up just quitting and going to bed in disgust. Then, during the PBL session, I sit there in virtual silence while most of the other students know the material so well they're able to discuss it from memory, without even looking at their notes.

The thing is, even with such a poor effort, I am still able to pass the exams. Yet obviously, this is no way to prepare to become a doctor. So I've begun looking at what my classmates do differently. And I've seen that many of them just sit there and study without ceasing for hours at a time.

I'm just unable to do this. Maybe it's just lack of will, or maybe I genuinely have ADD, but for whatever reason, I can't make myself focus for such a long time. There are too many other things I'm thinking about for me to sit there and read 50 pages of dense text in one sitting and actually remember it.

So I'm wondering if there might be a safe study aid out there I could try that would improve my memory and concentration. Here are some ideas I've had so far:

  • Ritalin
  • amphetamines
  • ginkgo biloba
  • piracetam

Ritalin and amphetamines are prescription drugs, so obviously I'd have to either see a doctor or obtain them illegally, which is probably not a good idea. Ginkgo biloba, however, is herbal, and piracetam is available over the counter.

Does anyone have experience taking any of these? Can you attest that any of them actually work?
 

DeAlighieri

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I'm just unable to do this. Maybe it's just lack of will, or maybe I genuinely have ADD, but for whatever reason, I can't make myself focus for such a long time. There are too many other things I'm thinking about for me to sit there and read 50 pages of dense text in one sitting and actually remember it.
This might sound a bit odd, but have you considered meditation? I'm not talking about just sitting quietly, but actually learning meditation techniques from someone who knows what he/she is doing? If you don't mind me saying so--and I mean this as gently as possible--it sounds to me as though you're lacking mental discipline, have life-issues that are sufficiently intrusive to prevent concentration, or possibly both.

Learning how to reach a mental state in which one can not be distracted by intrusive thoughts or concerns might be what you need, rather than trying to drug yourself into concentration. It's also possible that meditation might allow you to deal with any underlying stress or problems that are making you a less-than-stellar scholar. Personally, I've found that if I'm spending a lot of time browsing blogs or goofing off on the net, it's generally because I'm avoiding something that I'd rather not deal with. Through meditation, I'm often able to identify the sources of my mental distractions and deal with them.

To be clear, I'm not doing any hand-waving about Eastern spirituality, talking about "positive energy" or Chakras, or any of that goofy stuff. I'm simply suggesting that meditation (I'd recommend Buddhist-based, as the spiritual component is entirely optional) is a form of mental exercise and discipline from which you might benefit. I'd certainly suggest trying it before popping pills.
 

Ender

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In connection with this thread, I've been realizing lately that things aren't going too well for me in med school. I'm at a strictly pass/fail school, and I've passed every exam so far, so technically that's all that matters as far as the first 2 years go. But I'm not really learning the material, because I procrastinate and then cram the week before the exam. I would say that on days when I don't have to prepare for PBL sessions, I usually wind up doing NO studying whatsoever, and when I do have to prepare for PBL sessions, I do so in a half-hearted manner. I procrastinate all afternoon, and don't really sit down to do the research until after dinner. I try to read the relevant sections in the textbooks, but after about 1 page my mind starts to wander, I pull up the browser and check one of my favorite blogs, and before I know it's been an hour and I still haven't gotten anything done. I finally manage to make myself do some real reading and take some real notes, but with all the procrastinating, 2AM rolls around and I still haven't done half the research, and I wind up just quitting and going to bed in disgust. Then, during the PBL session, I sit there in virtual silence while most of the other students know the material so well they're able to discuss it from memory, without even looking at their notes.

The thing is, even with such a poor effort, I am still able to pass the exams. Yet obviously, this is no way to prepare to become a doctor. So I've begun looking at what my classmates do differently. And I've seen that many of them just sit there and study without ceasing for hours at a time.

I'm just unable to do this. Maybe it's just lack of will, or maybe I genuinely have ADD, but for whatever reason, I can't make myself focus for such a long time. There are too many other things I'm thinking about for me to sit there and read 50 pages of dense text in one sitting and actually remember it.

So I'm wondering if there might be a safe study aid out there I could try that would improve my memory and concentration. Here are some ideas I've had so far:

  • Ritalin
  • amphetamines
  • ginkgo biloba
  • piracetam

Ritalin and amphetamines are prescription drugs, so obviously I'd have to either see a doctor or obtain them illegally, which is probably not a good idea. Ginkgo biloba, however, is herbal, and piracetam is available over the counter.

Does anyone have experience taking any of these? Can you attest that any of them actually work?
One of my best friends in medical school was diagnosed with ADHD. He was perscribed Adderall (basically an amphetamine). It helped at first, but he got tachyphylaxis (normal dose no longer effective). He needed to take it just to be his normal self. He even would come off it for the weekends so that it would be more effective during the week, but he said that it made him crash on theose weekends. He was so tired he did not have any energy to spend with his kids. Eventually he stopped taking it all together. Every stimulant will have tachyphylaxis like this and if you escalate doses you will end up in real trouble. It can destroy your health, family, career and even your life.

My suggestion would be to remove yourself from all distractions and get the job done. Drugs are NOT the answer. It is tough, but it sounds like you have not put forth enough effort to actually concentrate and remove distractions. Find out what study style works best for you. Don't just plod straight through a book. Switch topics every 15 min. 15 on swan-ganz catheters, 15 on Non ischemic cardiomyopathy, 15 in a Harry Potter book, and back to Swan-ganz. You get the idea. Break up the monotony, just stay away from things that really distract you for long periods of time. No checking email, no surfing the web. Good luck.

Ender
 

SomeDoc

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Medications as a quick fix are not always the answer; however there are times when medication use is indicated. I suggest that you speak to an academic adviser or counselor regarding your difficulties focusing to understand why you have difficulties concentrating (and are you procrastinating because you cannot concentrate [for a variety of reasons], or are you procrastinating by active choice) If it turns out to be the latter, you have to put in the work and be disciplined- ie you cannot procrastinate. Such periods of transition are the hard part initially- but the more you do it (ie being disciplined and staying on top of things), the more you get used to it and it becomes second nature. Find a good place to study, stick with study strategies that work. If you don't know what works, try different methods, and use the one that works best, and then stick with it and get good at it. You were able to get through college and get into medical school. That alone is testament to your abilities and potential as a student. Best of luck to you, and I hope things work out.
 

Occams Razor

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From what you've described, i'm not sure stimulants will be your savior.

Here's some tips/thoughts :

-- exercise...burn off some restless energy

-- don't try to study 50 pages at a time. read one, then ask yourself what you just read, what were the key concepts, etc. (recommended by a mentor of mine)

-- don't focus on what everyone else is doing. people learn differently. half the battle in med school is learning how you should play the game. after that, winning the game is do-able.

--a small, structured, study group may help with your motivation or lack thereof, as they will expect you to pull your weight in the meetings. and as Ender said, try studying away from a computer and all distractors in order to fully concentrate.

--this is a test of your character. how bad do you want to meet the end goal? what are you willing to give up to reach it?
 

ZagDoc

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Study where you don't have internet. I cannot study a lick at home when I have access to the internet or television. So... I go to Starbucks where the bastards force you to pay. Being the cheap poor medical student I am, the browsers stay shut and I can actually be productive. Being a coffeeshop, there's enough commotion going on around me I don't feel like I'm studying in a prison.
 

InternationlDoc

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The top student in my class openly admits to using Ritalin. He is impossible to talk to during finals (talks too fast, fidgety, all the side effects etc), but honors everything. He claims to have ADHD and gets his prescription from his MD father.

fair? no. but I doubt residencies would mind his almost guaranteed AOA.
 

Buspar

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The top student in my class openly admits to using Ritalin. He is impossible to talk to during finals (talks too fast, fidgety, all the side effects etc), but honors everything. He claims to have ADHD and gets his prescription from his MD father.

fair? no. but I doubt residencies would mind his almost guaranteed AOA.
:laugh:
 

MadameLULU

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SDN is not an appropriate place to discuss medication advice. Please consult a physician. Closing.
 
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