Whether you’re a student who needs to concentrate on writing a long paper, a mother whose brain has become foggy or a professional who wants to feel more focused at work, you might be wondering whether you need a prescription for Adderall or another ADHD medication.
However, Business Insider reports that Adderall may not provide cognitive benefits if you don’t have ADHD. If you’re just looking for improved focus, productivity and memory, you might be better off taking a nootropic.
Adderall Function And Side Effects
Adderall is a Schedule II stimulant. It can help people with ADHD concentrate, but it also has the potential to be abused.
The drug arouses your nervous system. It makes your blood pump harder, increases your energy and makes you more alert. It also encourages the production of the following neurotransmitters:
The substance can make you feel euphoric. In fact, recent research shows that if you do feel particularly elated while on the drug, you’re probably less likely to have ADHD.
Kids who take Adderall may be able to focus on the task at hand better. Studies show that the drug doesn’t necessarily improve their cognitive function, though. Also, people who already had high performance on certain tasks showed a decrease in creativity when they took amphetamines in one study.
Plus, even short-term use of this potent drug can result in serious side effects. Because Adderall raises blood pressure, it can be dangerous for people with cardiovascular problems.
Other Adderall side effects include:
- Mood disturbances
- Loss of appetite
- Jitteriness and social withdrawal in children
Animal studies have demonstrated that you could develop a tolerance to Adderall. Experts are also concerned that long-term use could damage the central nervous system. It’s normal for dopamine levels to decrease as you age. Researchers wonder whether long-term use of amphetamines such as Adderall can compound those effects or damage other parts of the brain.
How Nootropics Work
Nootropics work on the brain in a variety of ways. Like amphetamines, nootropics may increase the levels of certain neurotransmitters. However, many nootropics work on the acetylcholine system, not the dopaminergic system.
Dopamine has been found to play a significant role in cognitive function. However, flooding the system with dopamine can lead to dependence and withdrawal symptoms. It can also cause cravings for more of the substance that produced the rewarding effects.
Although some nootropics indirectly affect dopamine levels, most don’t cause a dopamine surge like amphetamines do. Instead, they cause increases in other neurotransmitters that are important for learning.
Acetylcholine is also important for brain function and communication between neurons. Acetylcholine is linked with memory creation. Higher levels of acetylcholine are thought to suppress the interference from previously learned information and help you create new memories.
Think about what happens when you study for a test. You want to be able to store new information without getting bogged down by what you already know. Acetylcholine is crucial for the establishment of working memory.
Although experts used to think that new brain cells couldn’t be created in adults, they now know that certain parts of the adult brain can generate neurons throughout life. Growth of new brain cells may help boost brain power.
Even if new brain cells aren’t being created, your brain is continually rewiring itself. This is called neuroplasticity. The ability to create new synapses can make you a more efficient learner.
Huperzine-A is a nootropic that is known for encouraging the production of nerve growth factor. Think of the nerves in your brain as a map of your thoughts. The faster you can get through that map, the more efficiently you may be able to process information.
Protecting The Brain With Nootropics
Many scientists believe that the degeneration associated with cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s are related to a decrease in cholinergic transmission. If you can boost acetylcholine production with nootropics, you may be able to protect your brain cells from damage.
Huperzine-A has been shown to protect certain types of cells from oxidative stress damage. Noopept, another nootropic, is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. It can protect the brain against the toxic effects of excess glutamate and calcium.
Amphetamines do not have the same kind of neuroprotective qualities as nootropics. Although experts have found that low doses of amphetamines can boost cognition and protect brain cells, the effects are largely dependent on doses lower than the typical prescription. Also, this research has been conducted in people who have already experienced brain damage from a traumatic brain injury or stroke.
Amphetamines, like Adderall, are prescription medications. It’s illegal to take these drugs without a doctor’s orders. Therefore, whether you use Adderall recreationally or to help you get a brain boost, you’re still breaking the law if you don’t have a prescription.
Almost all nootropics are legal and available over the counter. Some nootropics are created in a lab. Others, like vitamin B and choline, are naturally occurring. You can even get those from foods.
Nootropics tend to have fewer dangerous side effects than Adderall. In fact, many people who take nootropics don’t experience any negative consequences. When people do experience side effects from nootropics, they tend to be mild and short-lived.
Some side effects from nootropics include:
Combining certain nootropics can alleviate some side effects. If you take a nootropic that uses up a lot of choline, for example, you may want to supplement your diet with additional choline. This can stave off the headaches that can come with nootropic use. Starting off slowly, doing your research and cycling nootropics when necessary can also reduce the likelihood that you will experience side effects.
Nootropics are not neurotoxic, and many of them protect brain cells and facilitate central nervous system communication. Although some have been more extensively studied than others, experts agree that they’re generally a safer option than prescription drugs like Adderall.