Document Type


Publication Date



methylphenidate hydrochloride, MPH, Ritalin, Post-Secondary Students, Cognitive Enhancement, Stimulants, Health Risks, Criminal and Civil Liability


For years, students have endured the physical and mental stress that comes as a result of the demands of post-secondary education. All -night cramming for exams and marathon paper writing sessions are considered, by many, to be a rite of passage, endured by generations of students. For many years, students have also turned to stimulants (from coffee to energy drinks and caffeine pills) to extend their physical and cognitive limits in order to better cope with the demands of school and life. In this sense, the use of stimulants as study-aids is not a new phenomenon nor has it been the subject of much concern or discussion. But within the past few years the use of a prescription drug (specifically, methylphenidate hydrochloride, MPH, often known as Ritalin ) by post-secondary students for cognitive enhancement purposes has emerged as a phenomenon and has become the subject of considerable attention in tile bioethics literature as well as the popular press.

Students who use MPH illicitly are risking their health. Furthermore, when students take, buy, sell, or give away MPH they are exposing themselves to the risk of significant legal repercussions. Many students are unaware of the severity of consequences they could face with respect to both criminal and civil liability and how these consequences could affect their future. Thus, one purpose of this paper is to outline the potential risks for post-secondary students associated with the use of MPH for cognitive enhancement - both physical and legal risks. We describe the evidence with respect to the cognitive benefits and physical risks of illicit MPH use for cognitive enhancement purposes and explain the potential legal repercussions associated with this use. The second purpose of this paper is to highlight how physicians who prescribe MPH to students for cognitive enhancement purposes may also face legal risks. In sum, we seek to fill knowledge gaps about the law as it relates to cognitive enhancement use of MPH by post-secondary students and thereby, we hope, contribute to the development of sound policy and practice in this arena.