Netflix special reflects on the controversial history and usage of ADHD/ADD medication
By Jessica Berget, Assistant Editor
Having trouble focusing in school? Every student can relate to that. However, there are people who need more help with concentration than others. Some of these people might be diagnosed with ADHD or ADD and need to take medication for it, while others work in highly competitive environments and need the boost. Whatever the reason, the answer to problems of focus is often drugs. The 2018 Netflix special Take Your Pills explores different stories of people taking focus enhancing drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin as well as the history of the medication.
The documentary opens with eye-catching, colourful, and sometimes psychedelic imagery and graphics; you kinda feel like you are on Ritalin yourself as your eyes dart across the screen (which sets the appropriate tone for the film). It focuses on university students’ experiences in taking Adderall and Ritalin to enhance their performance in school. The film has some fascinating perspectives on the popularity of these drugs in education, how these drugs helped students with their goals, and how good the pills make users feel—while also discussing the medication’s downfalls. One student emphasizes how much the drug helped her with school, but also that she felt slower and not as funny as she used to be—but she states that you have to “pick and choose.” A former NFL player talks about how it helped him in his football career and how it made his body pain go away.
As the documentary goes on about ADHD and medication statistics—Dr. Anjan Chatterjee—chair of Neurology at the University of Pennsylvania, mentions an interesting connection. “People used to take drugs to check out, now people take drugs to check in.” This fact prompts the interviewer to ask the doctor how he feels about this point while she adds on that “it makes [her] kinda depressed.” “We probably have meds for that,” Chatterjee jokes.
It may make some people sad thinking about having to do drugs to enhance performance but, as the documentary details, doing drugs to solve problems or to make people work harder has been around since before we even knew what these drugs were. Doctors in the past used to prescribe heroin and cocaine as common remedies, amphetamines were given to soldiers to help them stay awake and alert—and amphetamines were also prescribed to people for weight control, depression, and period pains. It was simply the times.
using Adderall and Ritalin is the sign of our competitive and fast-paced
culture, but it’s also nothing new. The documentary discusses that TIME
magazine reported a study on the relationship between students and amphetamines
as early as 1937. We also may recall artists of today singing about Adderall
usage, but singers back then such as Fred Astaire sang about the same thing but
under a different name: Benzedrine. The film offers a lot of fascinating
comparisons of the way amphetamines were used and treated in the ’20s, ’30s,
and ’60s to the fashion in which they are used and represented today. Take Your Pills is a fascinating and fun
educational film about the strengths and downfalls of ADD/ADHD medication and
its prominent use throughout history. I give it a four out of five because, ironically,
it was hard for me to stay focused on the film as it had some slow parts and
sometimes too much talking parts together. I could have used some Adderall to
finish it. With media having either an overly positive or negative
representation of the drugs, it’s refreshing to see such a balanced take.