Associated Press

With final exams looming across the land, a team of researchers has asked an interesting question: Is it cheating if you take a hit of a friend's Ritalin to help you study?

They asked 616 students at an unnamed Ivy League college who did not have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder about their use of stimulants and found that 18 percent "reported misusing a prescription stimulant for an academic purpose at least once." Thirty-three percent did not consider such stimulant misuse to be cheating, while 41 percent said it was and 25 percent were not sure. Students who played a varsity sport and belonged to fraternities or sororities reported more frequent misuse of stimulants.

For those of us who loaded up on coffee and NoDoz or took widely available methamphetamines in decades past, the survey raises this question: Is there really a difference between that behavior and borrowing a dose of the Ritalin or Adderall that now litter college campuses? If a stimulant helps you stay awake, concentrate and do the work, what difference does it make?

Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York, who led the research presented at a conference of the Pediatric Academic Society Saturday, sees an important distinction between legal and illegal stimulants.

"Cheating may just connote in some people’s minds stealing this or cribbing that," Adesman said. "When I frame it as somebody doing something illegal for academic advantage, then I think that’s cheating."

Adesman said illegal transfer of these medications poses health risks for the person taking them and opens the donor to criminal charges. Some users have turned up in emergency rooms with heart palpitations and other ailments, he said.

Adesman said schools should revise their honor codes to make stimulant abuse a violation, as Duke University has.

"Drink as much Red Bull, NoDoz, coffee lattes [as you'd like]," Adesman said. "But once you’re talking about committing a crime to gain an academic advantage, I think it should be proscribed."