The academic pressure at medical school has driven many students to use the stimulant Ritalin in an effort to keep up with their studies, especially as the year comes to an end.

Mainly used as treatment for people suffering from attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Ritalin (also known as vitamin-R) is often used illegally by students to increase their level of concentration and enable them to study for longer periods of time.

Like other stimulants, Ritalin works by increasing levels of dopamine exciting the brain and body, which enhances one’s level of activity, while reducing fatigue.

Because of this, 4th year medical student Thulane Ndaba is taking the pills to cope with exams at the end of each six-week block.

When he first got to medical school, Ndaba read an article in Wits Vuvuzela about students using Ritalin. It was only this year he considered using Ritalin after hearing rumours that some of his classmates were taking it.

Ndaba said he knew six people who were on Ritalin. “I found out that one of my friends had been using it since 2nd year,” he said.

Sandra Khubeka has been using the pills since 2nd year. Her father is a doctor and gives her repeat prescriptions which she shares with Ndaba and other friends. Khubeka said the reason her father still prescribed her these pills was he was not willing to risk her failing a year and him wasting money for fees.

Although Ritalin helped Ndaba concentrate for long hours while studying, he could not sleep one night taking an overdose of 30mg, instead of the usual 10mg dose. He felt very anxious and “fidgety” during his exam the following day and had a “mind block”.

Some of the side effects of Ritalin are anxiety, anaemia and sleep complications.

*Pseudonyms have been used for students.

Visit to read the story published by Vuvuzela on the same subject in 2008.

After this story was published we received an email from a grade 12 learner wanting to know how to get the pills.