With the competitive lifestyles and the exorbitant demand for performance in studies and/or workplaces, the need to increase cognitive abilities is being considered imperative by the young, working section of our society. People are seeking ways to outperform and gain an edge over others at school or the workplace. Most of them turn to Adderall, a prescription medication for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and some other sleep-related disorders, such as narcolepsy, taking it ‘off-label’ as a nootropic to enhance cognitive functioning and prolong focus.
Because it is extremely potent and potentially addictive, people have started looking for natural and holistic alternatives to Adderall. When the demand for any product in the market increases, it gets flooded with so many products claiming to be the best you can ever find. We are here to help you decide which one might be worth a try!
Why Look For An Alternative to Adderall
Adderall belongs to a class of medications called stimulants and is a combination of two drugs, namely – dextroamphetamine and amphetamine. It comes in the form of a tablet or extended-release capsule and is commonly administered for the treatment of ADHD, and some sleep disorders. It shows promising results (75-80% improvement in the symptoms) in children with ADHD, improving attention span and decreasing impulsive behavior.
Adderall increases the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. Dopamine is responsible for the control of the ‘reward & pleasure’ section of the brain, thus, when the levels rise, one feels motivated to achieve goals. The neurotransmitter norepinephrine is a stress hormone, which puts the body in the ‘fight-or-flight’ mode, thus increasing the attention and response of the brain and body.
- Stimulates the Central Nervous System.
- Heightens the focus span by boosting certain chemicals.
- Helps in gaining control over impulses and moods.
- Highly addictive if abused.
- Insomnia- difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- May intensify the symptoms of any pre-existing mental disorder: hallucinations, paranoia, anxiety, nervousness, and seizures.
- Allergic reactions
- Serious allergic reactions such as swelling of the face, tongue or throat may occur.
- Some people develop skin reactions such as rash or hives, or itchy skin.
- Problems with Circulatory System – the stimulant may constrict the blood vessels, increase blood pressure and raise your heartbeat.
- It can also interfere with the circulation of blood and cause numbness in your toes and fingers.
- It can cause adverse effects in people with pre-existing heart disorders – heart attack or stroke.
- It may cause shortness of breath or trouble breathing properly.
- It elevates the glucose levels in your bloodstream.
- May cause loss of appetite and weight loss.
- Stomach ache, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are also commonly observed issues, while some people also complain of constipation.
- Withdrawal symptoms, if abruptly stopped after long use – fatigue, sleep apnea, mood swings, and mental changes such as depression may occur.
As you can see, the long list of side effects has made people question the ‘off-label’ use of Adderall and led to the quest of finding out alternatives that can help attain all the benefits of Adderall without the detrimental effects.
Nootropics – Stimulants like Adderall?
Nootropics are cognitive enhancer drugs that have become popular alternatives to Adderall for studying as smart drugs or study drugs. They are being a preferred choice because of their effects like:
- Increased retention and memory
- 8-12 hours of alertness and attention
- Heightened cognition
- No short-term or long-term side effects
Best Adderall Alternatives
There are many options available in the market that you can get through a doctor’s prescription or over-the-counter. There is a long list of OTC cognitive enhancers that comprise natural as well as herbal supplements that are considered safe for use by children and adults.
- Modafinil is the most potent smart drug that you can buy on the market. It offers equivalent cognitive benefits to Adderall without the major side effects.
- It provides the following benefits:
- More than 12 hours of attentiveness
- Improved retention of memory
- Increased levels of energy
- Augmented reasoning and logic skills
- Commonly administered in 200 mg doses (Modalert 200 mg tablets), however, lower doses are also available such as Modvigil 100 mg.
- Armodafinil is similar to Modafinil, only differs in its chemical structure.
- Study shows that it may stay in your system for a longer period than Modafinil, thus letting you experience the prolonged effects at a lesser administered dose than Modafinil.
- 150 mg oral dosage of Waklert (active ingredient Armodafinil) provides longer effects than Modafinil.
- Flmodafinil is an analog of Modafinil, with an attached fluorine atom to the molecule’s one side. It gets more easily absorbed in the intestines when compared to Modafinil and gets converted to Modafinil.
- It is effective at half the dosage of Modafinil but provides only 6 hours of alertness.
- Available in the form of liquid solution as well as tablets, it leaves your system quickly and doesn’t affect your natural sleep cycle.
Non-Prescription/Over-The-Counter Adderall Alternatives
- This is a legal alternative smart drug to Adderall that can be purchased without any prescription from a doctor.
- It changes to Modafinil inside the body after metabolizing in the gut, however, more research is required to fully understand the mechanism of action.
- It is known as the lighter version of Modafinil as it offers 6-9 hours of effects, thus making it a less potent and less preferred choice.
- Mind Lab Pro
- It is an effective, fast-acting natural alternative to Adderall that enhances cognitive functioning and relieves stress.
- The ingredients are natural nootropics that support brain cell development, regeneration, and neuroprotection.
- The effects last from 6 to 8 hours.
- Qualia Mind
- One of the best natural alternatives to Adderall, Qualia Mind contains over 19 naturally occurring nootropics that not only provide you with solid 8 hours of focus and energy but also have neuroprotective properties.
- It is free from caffeine, and thus will not make you feel jittery, thereby making it a safe alternative.
- Alpha Brain
- It is a potent natural nootropic that can keep you focused and motivated for over 5-8 hours.
- It is available to be purchased over Amazon.
Herbal Substitutes for Adderall:
These naturally occurring chemicals in nature are used as ingredients in popular supplements designed for nootropic effects or suggested by doctors to help support an ongoing ADHD treatment.
A natural chemical that produces Phosphatidylcholine in brains to help with memory retention and provides relief from neurodegenerative diseases.
- Sold as a non-prescription supplement in the US, it has been studied to aid in brain and nervous system ailments.
- More research is required to explain its role in helping with ADHD symptoms.
It is a type of essential amino acid responsible for memory retention and stabilization of mood. Recent studies reveal its nootropic benefits, such as enhanced focus and attention span.
- Ginkgo Biloba
Gingko Biloba is a herbal supplement that is frequently advertised as a means of enhancing memory and blood flow in elderly individuals. A study reveals that ginkgo may help with managing ADHD symptoms in children and adults. During the study, twenty children consumed the extract instead of ADHD medication for a period of 3 to 5 weeks. All of the children exhibited improvements in test scores and experienced an overall improvement in their quality of life.
Extracted from a Chinese moss, Huperzine-A has neuroprotective properties and helps in the maintenance of your mood and energy levels to carry out daily tasks.
This supplement helps in heightening thinking skills and performance and also helps protect against age-related cognitive degeneration.
- Bacopa Monnieri
Being a potent antioxidant, it helps eliminate free radicals from the body. However, studies show that it has the potential to enhance memory retention and performance and may as well help in the production of serotonin.
It is an amino acid found in green and black teas that helps with stress management by improving your mood but may enhance cognitive performance.
- Rhodiola Roses
A naturally occurring herb, it increases your ability to be more productive by reducing stress and fatigue.
Also known as French Maritime Pine Bark Extract, it improves blood circulation and lowers oxidative stress and inflammation. A study reveals that pycnogenol supplements helped improve attention, coordination, focus, and reduced hyperactivity in children suffering from ADHD.
- Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA)
A study conducted in 2016 shows that GABA, a natural chemical present in the brain, may help in the reduction of hyperactivity, aggressive behavior, and impulses in both children and adults diagnosed with ADHD.
With or without ADHD, sometimes people may face issues concentrating or focusing on tasks. Some natural dietary supplements may help relieve them.
- Vitamins B6, B9, & B12: These essential vitamins improve mood and brain function. Vitamin B6 may enhance brain health & improve overall mood. Vitamin B9 or Folic Acid helps protect against neurodegenerative disorders. Vitamin B12 is necessary for the health of nerve cells.
- Flaxseed: An excellent vegan source of essential omega-3 fatty acids which helps in the nourishment of nerve cells.
- Fish oil: Also contains beneficial omega-3 fatty acid, which protects and nourishes the brain cells.
- Chia seeds & Walnuts: Provide brain-health essential omega-3 fatty acids.
- Rosemary: Makes you stay alert and enhances memory.
- Cocoa seeds: An antioxidant, it offers neuroprotective benefits.
- Mint: Helps in retaining memory.
- Saffron: Enhances overall brain function.
- Zinc: Zinc-rich foods, such as spinach, shrimp, and beef, may help in the reduction of impulsive behavior.
- Proteins: Specifically, amino acids such as tryptophan can help in the production of neurotransmitters in your brain to help you stay focused.
- Magnesium-rich foods: increase focus by relaxing your body and mind.
Holistic Alternative Approach to Adderall
- Take Care Of Your Gut
The two most important neurotransmitters for mental agility, Serotonin & Dopamine, are produced in the gut. Gut health can be boosted by improving digestion. Metals such as lead, antimony, mercury, and cadmium in food can obstruct the recovery of ADHD patients.
- Do not consume food that can harm the digestive tract.
- Exercising & sweating helps you in getting rid of harmful toxins from the body.
- Make sure you have a regular bowel movement. In case you don’t, help from therapies such as colon hydrotherapy can be taken to remove the waste from the body.
A well-balanced diet consisting of organic fruits and vegetables, organ meats, and organically pasture-raised meats can help in the detoxification of the body. Staying away from foods rich in sugar and food additives can affect dopamine working, thus leading to ADHD and related symptoms.
The Final Verdict
Adderall would be the best option for you if prescribed by the doctor for the management of your ADHD symptoms or any sleep-related ailment, provided it is used as per its intended purpose and not abused. But as you know by now, it comes with a long list of potential adverse effects that you can do without if cognitive enhancement is your goal. With so many options that have no major side effects, you can opt for anything from nootropics, to natural & herbal supplements, and dietary changes. However, we would recommend you consult your doctor before starting with any supplement to discuss if it may have any potential interaction with your normal regime.
- David F. Dinges, Sanjay Arora, Mona Darwish & Gwendolyn E. Niebler (2006) Pharmacodynamic effects on alertness of single doses of armodafinil in healthy subjects during a nocturnal period of acute sleep loss, Current Medical Research and Opinion, 22:1, 159-167, DOI: 10.1185/030079906X80378
- Practical Use and Risk of Modafinil, a Novel Waking Drug. Environ Anal Health Toxicol. 2012;27 (0): e2012007-.Publication Date (Web): 2012 February 22 (Brief Review) doi:https://doi.org/10.5620/eht.2012.27.e2012007
- Sharma Garima , Sharma Naveen , Nguyen Trong Bao , Jeong Hoon Ji , Nah Seung-Yeol , Yoneda Yukio , Shin Eun-Joo and Kim Hyoung-Chun *, Protective Potential of Ginkgo biloba Against an ADHD-like Condition, Current Molecular Pharmacology 2021; 14(2) . https://dx.doi.org/10.2174/1874467213666200424152454
- Neuro-Cognitive Effects of Acute Tyrosine Administration on Reactive and Proactive Response Inhibition in Healthy Older Adults. Mirjam Bloemendaal, Monja Isabel Froböse, Joost Wegman, Bram Bastiaan Zandbelt, Ondine van de Rest, Roshan Cools, Esther Aarts. eNeuro 18 April 2018, 5 (2) ENEURO.0035-17.2018; DOI: 10.1523/ENEURO.0035-17.2018 https://www.eneuro.org/content/5/2/ENEURO.0035-17.2018
- Grieb, P. Neuroprotective Properties of Citicoline: Facts, Doubts and Unresolved Issues. CNS Drugs 28, 185–193 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40263-014-0144-8
- Ende, G., Cackowski, S., Van Eijk, J. et al. Impulsivity and Aggression in Female BPD and ADHD Patients: Association with ACC Glutamate and GABA Concentrations. Neuropsychopharmacol 41, 410–418 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/npp.2015.153
- Verlaet, A.A.J., Ceulemans, B., Verhelst, H. et al. Effect of Pycnogenol® on attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): study protocol for a randomised controlled trial. Trials 18, 145 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13063-017-1879-6
- Sebastian Aguiar and Thomas Borowski.Neuropharmacological Review of the Nootropic Herb Bacopa monnieri.Rejuvenation Research.Aug 2013.313-326.http://doi.org/10.1089/rej.2013.1431
- Leslie Briars, Timothy Todd; A Review of Pharmacological Management of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. The Journal of Pediatric Pharmacology and Therapeutics 1 May 2016; 21 (3): 192–206. doi: https://doi.org/10.5863/1551-6776-21.3.192