“The first article about college abuse of amphetamines to study was in Time Magazine in 1937: This. Ain’t. New.”, said Alan Schwarz, journalist and author of ADHD Nation.
Take Your Pills is a new Netflix documentary examining the black, white and grey areas of cognitive enhancement stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin in American society. The film gives some history about the use of stimulants that date back to 1929, when a doctor experimented on himself by ingesting amphetamines. The doctor’s notes said that he felt great! Really great! And, super productive as he got so much done! “Enhanced performance” was selling point back then, and in our modern, competitive society in acquiring “pep pills” as they were called. The “great!” feeling paired with the productive side made it highly addictive, so mass production of amphetamines and marketing started throughout the world: from the jazz clubs to World War II, to college campuses, to women as “weight loss” pills, to artists and musicians.
But, there was a side effect, the main one being their addictive nature. So, Congress eventually passed The Controlled Substance Act in 1969 to classify amphetamines as a Schedule II controlled substance (requiring a doctor’s prescription). This resulted in strictly limited production — For instance, by 1972, there were only 400 million pills being produced in America, down from eight billion in 1969.
The film dives deep into the addictive side effects of being productive; that high of getting a mass amount of work done is like none other, especially when you have an enormous amount of schoolwork, like college students. In the documentary, several college students and young professionals are interviewed about their experiences with Adderall, a few being prescribed it when they were elementary age or younger. They talk about the pressures of doing well on homework and on the SATs, which led to regular use of the drug in high school. Once they got to college, that pressure intensified… and got even worse once they hit the working world.
The ridiculous amount of pressure that society as a whole puts on its citizens is widely discussed and how this affects students and people to be the best and to stay ahead of the pack. There were several mentions of what it says about American society when we’re aggressively instilling the “work hard, play hard” mantra to young kids, who then grow to be adults who think that damn near killing themselves with work is the only way to achieve success.
The amount of children under 18 on Adderall or some variation is 3.5 million. In 1990, only 300,000 children were on it, although the film does say that adults are now the leading consumers of Adderall. The question that gets asked the most is how many people really need to be on amphetamines for a legitimate medical reason and how many people just think they do or just want to be because of the production side effect? What about the long-term side effects of amphetamine abuse? Is it worth abusing these drugs to be retired by 50, but with severe liver damage? Are the six-figure salaries worth the psychotic episodes? There’s nothing wrong with success or working hard, but don’t sacrifice your mental and physical health over it. Life is too short for that.
Take Your Pills is available now on Netflix.