One of the most popular prescription stimulants, Adderall, is typically prescribed to individuals diagnosed with ADHD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
However, it is an equal favorite among college students who use Adderall to enhance neurocognitive performance.
In addition, many college students use it as a study drug to stay focused and alert while studying or during exam days.
The idea behind the practice is that smart pills, and smart drugs like Adderall make you smarter and enhance cognitive performance.
But, do they? We take a look at the evidence if a pill has the power to make you smarter and help improve performance. Here’s what you need to know.
- A Study Tested If Adderall Makes You Smarter
- Does Adderall Help You Focus?
- Does Adderall Help With Memory Retention?
A Study Tested If Adderall Makes You Smarter
To test whether Adderall could help make students become smarter and support cognition, one pilot study recruited 13 healthy college students who did not meet the criteria for ADHD.
The participants underwent two different sessions of neurocognitive tests; the first after taking 30 mg Adderall and the second after taking a placebo.
Study findings, which included different aspects of working memory and attention, presented underwhelming results regarding actual performance.
Results showed no significant difference between the Adderall and placebo groups in reading recall and language. However, some improvements were observed in the Adderall group in attendance.
The placebo group showed better scores in one of the working memory tasks where participants were required to remember number sequences.
On the other hand, participants taking Adderall reported feeling positive and good around 90 minutes after administration.
As such, the authors of the study concluded that people without any ADHD diagnosis who took Adderall might have felt better but not necessarily delivered improved cognitive performance (1).
Does Adderall Help You Focus?
It is a common misconception among students that Adderall can support cognitive ability by helping them focus better.
While it is true that Adderall can help you feel more alert and focused while boosting motivation, it does little to make students smarter or ease the task of studying and securing better grades.
If anything, studies show that it helps you stay awake and alert at best.
Like other central nervous stimulants, Adderall causes changes in brain chemistry which can help improve ADHD symptoms such as restlessness or the inability to focus.
This smart pill can increase central nervous system activity, leading to higher energy levels and reduced fidgeting and restlessness. As a result, it can also improve focus and an enhanced ability to finish tasks.
The primary mechanism behind these actions is that taking Adderall releases dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. Releasing these brain chemicals can lead to an increase in concentration.
Among these, dopamine is the reward neurochemical. Any drug like Adderall can produce feelings of euphoria, help you feel more alert, and may prevent the brain from being distracted.
On the other hand, Norepinephrine ramps up the sympathetic nervous system, triggering alertness, clarity, and focus.
Does Adderall Help With Memory Retention?
Studies have observed that drugs like Adderall and other similar stimulant medications do not improve memory.
The fact that Adderall has a limited impact on working memory and remembering is further tested by a research study that recruited healthy adult participants to conduct two sessions of tests.
The test evaluated how psychostimulants affected cognitive performance, particularly learning and concentration. The other was to determine the effect of these drugs on sleep and working memory.
The participants used placebo in one session and 20 mg of Adderall in the next.
Evidence revealed that regardless of what the participants received, their attention tended to diminish throughout the day.
The main boost found was in the brain’s executive functions, where participants showed more productivity on the Adderall dose but had little to no effect on working memory (2).
So, while Adderall mimics the stimulant effects of adrenaline in the brain, bringing on added clarity and alertness, the boost from the drug is short-lived.
On the flip side, long-term unsupervised use of similar stimulant-type drugs or prescription stimulants like Adderall can lead to serious health complications like high blood pressure, rapid heart rate, difficulty sleeping, and decreased appetite.
In some cases, the side effects may be more severe for those suffering from certain pre-existing medical conditions.
But perhaps the worst health dangers come from the drug having a high potential for addiction, abuse, and misuse and resulting in mental health symptoms such as severe anxiety, panic attacks, mania, and paranoia.
So, does Adderall make you smarter? The simple answer is no; it does not. While it does have a stimulating effect, pills like Adderall are best effective as a treatment medication for ADHD or narcolepsy.
When you take Adderall for neurocognitive benefits without being diagnosed with ADHD, the benefits may be limited and short-lived at best.
If want to improve your cognitive function and focus, many other methods don’t come with the same risks and side effects as taking prescription stimulants like Adderall.