Popular illicit amphetamines like crystal meth and MDMA (Ecstacy) have been around since the early 1900s. Most people can agree that despite the negative stigma surrounding these compounds, amphetamines offer profound changes to the human brain.
What many don’t understand is that the common study-aid and ADD/ADHD medication, Adderall, fits within the same classification as the aforementioned illicit drugs (from a chemical standpoint).
Over the past 10 years, the popularity of blackmarket Adderall among college students and high achievers has exploded. Students are taking it to increase their memory and productivity, to boost their grades, and to be more productive at work and in life.
Many of them don’t understand that this boost in performance comes at a cost.
As many people learn about the potential dangers and limitations of Adderall, an effort has been made by the biohacker community to identify effective, and safe alternatives to this potent nootropic.
Adderall as a Study Aid
Adderall is one of the most common ADD/ADHD medications, and is also used for treating narcolepsy and dysregulated sleep cycles caused by shift work.
Outside the prescription uses of the drug, Adderall is used to boost productivity by improving focus and concentration. It can improve memory in the short-term before a test, and helps to remove distractions while working on a project.
Users on Reddit and other forum sites report dramatic improvements in cognitive function while on the drug.
The Legal Status Of Adderall
Adderall is classified as a Schedule II stimulant by the DEA. This means that it can only be obtained by prescription from a doctor in the United States. Under the DEA classification, the drug is considered to have a high potential for addiction and abuse, but is medically relevant.
It isn’t illegal, but is heavily controlled by the United States government. Some of these controls include additional limitations allowing only 30-day prescriptions to be filled at a time. This is to prevent people from stockpiling the medication.
How Adderall Works
Adderall is a combination of amphetamine salts. Most Adderall contains dextroamphetamine saccharate, amphetamine aspartate, dextroamphetamine sulfate and amphetamine sulfate.
These chemicals work by increasing dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain.
Dopamine is used for different tasks in the brain. One of its primary uses is in the reward center. When we do something that gives us pleasure, the brain releases dopamine to make us feel good, and encourage us to perform the same activity again in the future. This system also plays a major role in the motivational component of reward behavior.
People with ADD or ADHD have notably lower levels of dopamine in the brain—they need to constantly seek stimulation in order to get this dopamine reward feedback stimulated. Adderall boosts dopamine to normal levels to help prevent this constant need for stimulation.
In healthy individuals, Adderall boosts dopamine above and beyond normal parameters, resulting in overstimulation, and hypermotivation. This is great for productivity, but not so good for general brain health.
Norepinephrine is involved with the fight-or-flight response. This is the sensation you’ll get if you come face to face with a bear.
It tightens our blood vessels, speeds up our heart, and slows down all other body processes that aren’t immediately necessary to either run or fight off danger. This includes our digestive and immune systems.
Increasing norepinephrine through the use of Adderall makes us feel more alert and awake, but can also cause symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, reduced appetite, lowered immunity, and poor digestive function. This is especially true with long term norepinephrine stimulation.
Brain Balance & Adderall
The brain is a complex ecosystem. If it were a forest it would be home to all kinds of plants, animals, fungi, insects. They all work together to make this ecosystem healthy, and rely on specific climate conditions in order to thrive. If any of these elements fall out of balance, the whole system changes, eventually resulting in its destruction.
In the brain, these components are the neurotransmitters, nerve cells, hormones, and nutrients like oxygen and glucose. Adderall forces dopamine levels to rise, which puts a strain on the system as a whole.
Using our forest example, this is like forcing a particular species to reproduce faster than ever before. This causes imbalance to the ecosystem as a whole. The increased numbers of a single species can negatively affect the food source, water supply, and habitats of the other animals in the forest.
Adderall For Memory & Productivity
The reason Adderall has become so popular among college students is that it can boost productivity by supporting the reward and motivation center of the brain. It essentially forces our brains into productivity mode.
These effects occur only while the drug is circulating the system because as soon as it wears off, the brain wants to return to normal.
There are many forum pages on Reddit and Blue Light that discuss the use of Adderall for this purpose. Many people combine their Adderall dose with other substances to reduce side effects, boost its effectiveness, or support other processes like mental energy or reaction times.
Is Adderall Healthy?
Adderall is an amphetamine. This class is notorious for their profound effects on the brain. Some of the strongest psychoactive drugs in the world are classified as amphetamines, including Crystal Meth, and MDMA. Some of the amphetamines in Adderall are only 1 carbon atom away from methamphetamine (Crystal meth).
Although Adderall isn’t quite at the same level as these illicit drugs, it does force the brain’s neurochemistry out of balance.
As a result, there’s a long list of potential side effects connected to the use of Adderall.
Short Term Side Effects Include:
- Dry mouth
- Poor appetite
Long Term Side Effects
Whenever we force the body out of its natural balance, it immediately begins to try and get back to where it was. This is called homeostasis.
After a round of Adderall, once the drug has worn off, the brain immediately begins upregulating, and downregulating different processes to re-establish a balanced state.
If we were to take Adderall everyday without allowing it to reach balance between doses, we may develop long-term side effects.
It would be like exercising every single day, without allowing the muscles to recover and return to normal. We begin to develop negative side effects over time. We may even lose muscle mass or develop injuries.
The side effects of long-term Adderall use may include:
- Dry mouth
- Poor focus and concentration
- Lack of motivation
- Mood changes
- Suicidal thoughts
- Heart disease
- Weight loss
Best Adderall Alternatives
The side effects of Adderall, both short term and long term, along with its legal status in the United States has sparked many conversations in the biohacking community to look for safer, more legal alternatives, for which there are many.
Here are our top 5 Adderall alternatives based on their effectiveness and level of safety.
Out of all the nootropics on this list, Modafinil is the most similar to Adderall. It works to increase dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. It’s also a prescription medication, and can be used for both narcolepsy, and ADD/ADHD.
Modafinil also affects other brain systems like GABA and Orexin. Both of these chemical systems are involved with sleep regulation. Modafinil’s effects on these systems allow it to promote a feeling of wakefulness and focus, and is useful for regulating sleep cycles in shift workers. .
Compared to Adderall, Modafinil is much more gentle in its effects. Some reports even suggest Modafinil has a protective effect on the brain with long-term use .
Caffeine + L-Theanine
Caffeine is perhaps the most popular stimulant in the modern world—dating back thousands of years in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and South America.
Caffeine works through a completely different system than Adderall, but produces a similar outcome. It blocks a set of receptors known as the “adenosine receptors”. These receptors are responsible for making us feel sleepy at the end of the day.
Caffeine binds to these adenosine receptors, preventing real adenosine molecules from binding to them instead. Thus, caffeine makes us feel awake by blocking the chemicals in the brain that make us tired.
The downside of caffeine is that it also raises blood pressure, tenses our muscles, and can produce symptoms of anxiety. These side effects can make caffeine a poor choice as a nootropic intended to boost focus and productivity on its own.
The solution to these side effects is a chemical extracted from the tea plant called L-Theanine.
This compound is a perfect combination with caffeine because it eliminates the negative side effects almost perfectly, while offering its own benefits towards focus and productivity.
L-Theanine has a similar effect to Adderall by boosting dopamine and norepinephrine levels. Unlike Adderall, L-Theanine doesn’t force the brain out of balance. Instead, it optimises the brain’s natural ability to produce these chemicals on its own.
Combining L-theanine and caffeine work to boost focus, memory, and productivity in both healthy individuals, and those suffering from ADD or ADHD.
One of the first classes of nootropics ever discovered was the racetam family. This class of compounds work on a different system than Adderall yet have similar effects.
Some of these effects are better for improving memory, but less effective in other areas (such as ADD/ADHD medication).
Phenylpiracetam was made by adding a phenyl chemical group to the first nootropic ever invented, Piracetam. The addition of a phenyl group to piracetam dramatically improved absorption in the gut and blood-brain barrier. This allowed phenylpiracetam to offer the same benefits to piracetam, but with a smaller dose.
Phenylpiracetam works by boosting the brain’s acetylcholine levels. This is a neurotransmitter associated with the process of memory formation and retrieval.
Many people take racetams like this to boost memory before a big exam, board meeting, or while learning a new language.
Oxiracetam is another member of the racetam family. It offers much of the same benefits as phenylpiracetam, but is considered much more gentle in its effects. Many prefer this to phenylpiracetam because it’s not as stimulating.
A lot of athletes and students use oxiracetam in combination with other nootropics like Alpha GPC, bacopa, huperzine-A, or Caffeine/L-Theanine.
Oxiracetam is a perfect alternative to Adderall for those who don’t suffer from ADD/ADHD, but want to boost their focus and concentration without risking overstimulation.
It promotes a boost in concentration and focus, and can improve memory storage and retrieval both in the short term, and long term.
Oxiracetam is also more suitable for long term use than Adderall and the more potent version phenylpiracetam.
Alpha Brain is a proprietary blend of nootropic ingredients used to boost focus and memory. It’s an older formulation, but remains one of the greatest of all time.
It’s made by Onnit, which is a human optimisation company based out of the United States and endorsed by famous MMA advocate and biohacker, Joe Rogan.
Alpha Brain contains a number of natural and synthetic nootropics. It was designed by experienced biohackers to provide a boost in cognitive functioning without pushing the neurochemistry of the brain out of balance.
This means that Alpha Brain is safe to consume long-term without risking many of the negative side effects associated with Adderall.
Alpha Brain targets more than one chemical pathway in the brain, including dopamine and norepinephrine in a similar way to Adderall.
Alpha Brain also supports the brain from a nutritional angle. It contains many of the essential amino acids used to build neurotransmitters. It also contains antioxidants to protect the brain from inflammation and long-term damage.
Alpha Brain is suitable as a milder alternative for ADD/ADHD medication, for students looking top boost productivity and memory, and for long-term protection from neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer’s disease.
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