Assessing prevalence, knowledge and use of cognitive enhancers among university students in the United Arab Emirates: A quantitative study

Safia Sharif, Suzanne Fergus, Amira Guirguis, Nigel Smeeton, Fabrizio Schifano, Kelvin Ian Afrashtehfar (Editor)

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BACKGROUND: Cognitive enhancers (CE) are often used to improve memory, alertness and cognitive capacity. These products are commercially and pharmaceutically available. Due to high academic pressure, university students are at risk of CE misuse. However, data regarding this issue are limited, especially in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

AIMS: To assess the prevalence of CE intake; evaluate students' knowledge of these substances; and identify student characteristics associated with CE usage.

METHOD: A cross sectional study based on a validated online survey that was distributed using university-licensed software (Qualtrics) as a direct web link via email and social media to all Medical, Pharmacy, Dentistry, Nursing and Engineering students enrolled in six UAE universities. Associations between student characteristics and CE use were investigated using the chi-squared test and multiple logistic regression. Reasons for CE use, temporal patterns of use, details regarding purchase and types of CE used were compared by gender.

RESULTS: One quarter of students had used CEs. There was a clear difference between users and non-users in terms of gender (p<0.001). CE users were disproportionately represented by students from either UAE or other Arab countries (p<0.001), and by students of Medicine, followed by Pharmacy, Dentistry, and Engineering (p<0.001). CE use increased with year of study, reaching the highest level in the fourth year (p<0.001), which for most programmes is the final year. Modafinil was self-administered, especially in males, for concentration and alertness; B12 was typically taken by female students for academic performance and concentration; and high-dosage caffeine compounds were ingested to improve alertness levels. Use of the internet for both obtaining information and purchasing CEs was frequently reported. Multiple logistic regression analysis showed that gender, nationality, and year of study were associated with CE use among UAE university students.

CONCLUSIONS: Universities need to address the prevalence of CE use amongst their students by providing effective support programs.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0262704
Number of pages15
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1 January
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jan 2022


  • Research Article
  • Computer and information sciences
  • People and places
  • Medicine and health sciences
  • Engineering and technology
  • Physical sciences
  • Biology and life sciences
  • Social sciences
  • Research and analysis methods


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