The Consumption of Brain Stimulants by Medical Students at a University in Southern Brazil: Prevalence, Motivation, and Perceived Effects

Henri Luiz Morgan Arthur Franzen Petry Pedro Afonso Keller Licks Artur Oliveira Ballester Kellwin Nery Teixeira Samuel C. Dumith About the authors



Psychostimulants are substances with the capacity to heighten alertness and motivation, also featuring antidepressant proprieties improving mood and cognitive performance. For this reason, many students use these substances indiscriminately. The purpose of the study was to investigate the use of substances stimulating the central nervous system by medical students at the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande (Furg), Brazil, verifying the most commonly used substances, the reason for use, and the user’s profile.


A quantitative, observational and cross-sectional study was conducted on 200 of Furg’s medical students enrolled at the institution in the second semester of 2015. Data collection was conducted by means of a standardized and auto-fill questionnaire, featuring questions on demographics, behavior and stimulant use. Information about the consumption of caffeine, methylphenidate, modafinil, piracetam, energy drinks, amphetamines, and MDMA was collected, with the results analyzed by means of the Fisher’s exact test on statistics program Stata 11.2.


The prevalence of stimulant substance usage at some point in the students’ lives was 57.5% (95% CI 50.9 to 64.4), with 51.3% having started during college. Usage of psycho stimulants at the time of the research was 52.3% (95% CI 45.3 to 59.3), with 16.6% of the students consuming more than one psycho stimulant substance. The most popular substances were energy drinks (38%) and caffeine, consumed more than five times a week (27%). The consumption of stimulants was higher among students in the earlier stages of the degree. The main reasons given by the students were to compensate for sleep deprivation (47.7%) and to improve reasoning, attention, and/or memory (31.6%). Perceived effects of the stimulant use saw 81.2% reporting sleep reduction, 70.8% concentration improvement, 58.0% fatigue reduction, 56.1% improved reasoning abilities, and 54.0% heightened wellbeing.


Stimulant consumption among medical students was high. More than half of the students reported consuming psycho stimulants and one in three of them used them to improve cognitive performance. The use of these substances was considered effective by most of the users, which may hamper the fight against these substances.

Central Nervous System Stimulants; Medical Students; Prevalence; Energy Drinks; Caffeine; Methylphenidate

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