Does Adderall Make You Smarter?Top Trends
In the movie “Limitless,” a character takes a “smart pill” that allows him to access 100 percent of his brain. Instantly he becomes a mega-brain who can write a book in days, learn a language in hours, and unravels the complex formula of the stock market.
It’s only a movie. But in college campuses across the country, students take prescription stimulants like Adderall, thinking the drug will help them get better grades.
In fact, Adderall has become known as the “study drug” because students often use it to increase their focus and level of productivity.
But does Adderall and other so-called “smart drugs” like it really make you smarter?
Lee Physician Group psychiatrist Dr. Eric Raab, board-certified in psychiatry and neurology, offers some answers.
What is Adderall?
Adderall is a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, two central nervous stimulants that improve focus and reduce impulsivity by increasing dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain.
In 1996, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Adderall for treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
“Adderall helps people diagnosed with ADHD by improving their focus and concentration because it is a direct stimulant on the central nervous system,” Dr. Raab says. “The medication has the same effect on those who do not have ADHD, which poses the greatest risks and side effects when the medication isn’t used as intended or the user takes more than the prescribed dose.”
Studies report that prescription stimulant misuse among college students may run as high as 35 percent of students in the U.S., according to the Psychiatric Times.
Many students take Adderall to boost their “brain power” while improving their focus and concentration on exam days or when pulling “all-nighters” to finish a term paper.
“Adderall is considered to have a significant risk for abuse and the development of physical dependence,” Dr. Raab says. “That’s why the FDA classifies the drug as a Schedule II controlled substance. Healthy adults who take prescription stimulants like Adderall do report improved mood and perceived neurocognitive enhancement. But these effects are probably fueling the increased misuse of these medications as ‘smart drugs.’”
In one study, 25 percent of Michigan University students admitted to using central nervous stimulants such as Adderall to complete classwork or to take an exam in one survey.
Almost one in two young adults reported it was easy to get Adderall or similar stimulant-type drugs from friends or classmates.
The Dangers of Dependence
Drugs like Adderall may help you feel more alert, awake, and focused. It has a stimulating effect that releases dopamine to the brain, giving you a sense of euphoria and well-being.
But taking a drug like Adderall if you don’t have ADHD or narcolepsy could lead to physical and psychological dependence, as well as other harmful health effects like heart problems and psychosis, says Dr. Raab.
“There’s no research to support the expectation that prescription stimulants like Adderall enhance neurocognition and improve academic performance,” Dr. Raab says. “On the contrary, studies show that in healthy individuals, stimulant misuse may impair performance on tasks that rely on working memory and cognitive ability—or so-called ‘smartness.’”
Dr. Raab says, these drugs and their side effects, some of which can be potentially fatal, far outweigh their perceived benefits.
“If you want to boost your brainpower, try reading or learning a new language,” says Dr. Raab. “These and others like regular physical activity, a healthy diet and getting enough sleep are natural, safe ways to improve your cognition and boost your concentration abilities.”