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Prevalence of methylphenidate use by Master of Medicine students at a South African university
  1. Willem Andries Nienaber Louw,
  2. Ryan Alroy Davids
  1. Anaesthesiology and Critical care, University of Stellenbosch, Parow, South Africa
  1. Correspondence to Dr Willem Andries Nienaber Louw, Anaesthesiology and Critical care, University of Stellenbosch, Parow 7505, South Africa; wanlouw{at}


Background Methylphenidate is mainly used for the treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactive-disorder (ADHD). Its effect of increased attentiveness leads to the potential of off-label use by students for academic enhancement—previously demonstrated in undergraduate students. No publication exists on postgraduate student use of methylphenidate.

Objectives To provide a summary of the self-reported prevalence and correlates of methylphenidate use in Masters of Medicine (MMed) students registered at the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences of a South African university.

Methods A cross-sectional study was conducted. Data were collected via a self-administered anonymous online questionnaire distributed by email to 505 registered MMed students.

Results Of the 253 responses (response rate 50.1%) received 71 (28.1%) have used methylphenidate. Only 2.4% have been diagnosed with ADHD. The majority (73.2%) obtained it without a formal medical consultation. Self-prescription (26.8%) and prescription by a colleague without consultation (23.9%) contributed significantly. Academic performance enhancement was the primary motivation for use in 71.8% and 42.3% of users started using methylphenidate while registered as an MMed student. There was no statistically significant difference in terms of gender (p=0.151), age (p=0.288) or year of study (p=0.149).

Conclusions Off-label use of methylphenidate is prevalent in MMed students registered at this South African university. The prevalence is significantly higher than in undergraduate medical students. The non-conventional means of access is of great concern. Efforts should be made to discourage self-prescription, educate students on the dangers of methylphenidate use, promote better access regulation and enhance psychological support.

  • education and training
  • medical education & training
  • substance misuse

Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request. Not applicable.

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Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request. Not applicable.

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  • Contributors WANL conceived original idea. WANL and RAD designed questionnaire. WANL collected data. WANL did scientific writing, supported by RAD. WANL acts as guarantor.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Disclaimer All statements made are that of the authors and not the official position of the affiliated institution.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.