Adderall is a household name in the United States for treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. The drug became well-known for enhancing focus and concentration. It’s commonplace on college campuses, even without a prescription or diagnosis.

But this drug has a dark side. Adderall can lead to some nasty side effects. As a Schedule II controlled substance, it may lead to abuse, addiction, and nasty withdrawal symptoms. When misused, Adderall can lead to serious health problems, including heart failure, stroke, and death. 

Fortunately, there are many alternatives to Adderall in the form of alternative prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, and herbal remedies.

What are the side effects of the alternatives to Adderall? The side effects of Adderall alternatives depend on what type of alternative you use. Most Adderall alternative side effects are minor and range from dry mouth to diarrhea to insomnia.

Let’s break down a variety of Adderall alternatives, including side effects. First, we’ll take a look at Adderall and how it works.

How Adderall Works

The Basics

Adderall (amphetamine/dextroamphetamine) is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant. It eases symptoms of ADHD by increasing the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, which helps focus and attention. 

This stimulation of the CNS can also lead to higher energy levels, decreased restlessness and fidgeting, and lowered impulsivity

Side effects can arise from both the stimulant and amphetamine properties of Adderall, which can overstimulate the brain while also suppressing appetite. These side effects include:

  • dizziness
  • headache
  • dry mouth
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • nausea and vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • fever
  • high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • nervousness
  • depression
  • insomnia
  • psychosis

Who should not take Adderall? 

People with certain conditions, such as heart problems, high blood pressure, or stroke, should not take Adderall. These people are at risk for developing serious side effects from Adderall, including an irregular heartbeat and an increased risk of stroke. 

One reason Adderall is popular is that it’s one of the only medications for ADHD that can be used in patients aged 3 and older. Most ADHD medications are approved only for ages 6-12 and older.

Learn More: Is ADHD a learning disability? 

How Adderall & Other Nootropics Impact Brain Health

ADHD and other cognitive or mood disorders are associated with impaired brain health. Inflammation and lack of blood flow are just 2 factors that can make an unhealthy brain. 

Indicators of brain health include:

  • Mental energy: the ability to stay focused and motivated
  • Cognitive performance: a person’s ability to think, remember, and pay attention. 
  • Alpha brain waves: brain waves that occur when a person is in a state of wakeful relaxation. Alpha brain waves are associated with a feeling of calm and well-being.
  • Mood and mood swings: regulated by chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin and dopamine.

Your brain health and cognitive abilities can be affected by many factors, including sleep, stress, and illness.

Adderall and similar medications are known as nootropics. Nootropics are substances that can improve brain function. They are sometimes called “smart drugs” or “cognitive enhancers.” 

Nootropics are used for a variety of reasons. They can improve cognitive function, attention span, memory retention, mental clarity, and multitasking ability.

Prescription nootropics are often used to help treat conditions like ADHD, narcolepsy, and Alzheimer’s. However, there is a growing trend of people using nootropics without a prescription for non-medical reasons, such as to boost cognitive function or memory.

Dietary Supplement Alternatives

There are several natural nootropic alternatives to Adderall. These nootropic supplements are often safer and have fewer side effects than prescription medication. Some are as effective as Adderall for treating ADHD (sometimes still called ADD), and they are typically less expensive than Adderall.

Check with a trusted medical professional before taking any new supplements or medications, especially if you have preexisting health conditions. Make sure that any supplements you choose are made only with high-quality natural ingredients since they’re not regulated by the FDA.

Here are some of the best natural Adderall alternatives:

Caffeine

What it is: Everyone’s favorite morning stimulant is one of the simplest over-the-counter remedies for ADHD. Found in coffee, energy drinks, and supplement form, caffeine may improve ADHD symptoms for some people.

How it works: Caffeine increases dopamine and other chemical levels in the brain to increase pleasure and focus.

Side effects: Caffeine can cause side effects in some children and teens, including:

Bacopa Monnieri

What it is: Bacopa monnieri is a small herb traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine. It is also known as Brahmi, which refers to the goddess Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge in Hinduism. 

How it works: Bacopa increases levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is involved in learning and memory. The herb may also increase levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is involved in motivation and reward. 

Bacopa may improve cognitive function by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain. It may also promote the growth of new neurons in the brain.

Possible Side Effects: Bacopa monnieri may increase the effects of medications that increase the level of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, including: 

  • Erythromycin (E.E.S., E-Mycin, Eryc, Ery-Tab)
  • Clarithromycin (Biaxin)
  • Rivastigmine (Exelon)
  • Donepezil (Aricept)
  • Galantamine (Razadyne)
  • Tacrine (Cognex)

Other side effects may include: 

  • Increased bowel movements
  • Nausea
  • Bloating
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Dry mouth
  • Fatigue

Lion’s Mane Mushroom

What it is: Lion’s mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) is an edible fungus used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine. It’s a rich source of antioxidants and polysaccharides, believed to have anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties.

How it works: Lion’s mane mushroom is a potent memory supplement that may improve the development and function of nerves and protect them from damage. This natural supplement can reduce ADHD symptoms by stimulating cognitive function and enhancing focus and concentration.

Possible Side Effects: This fungus is relatively safe with only mild side effects. Some people may experience nausea or stomach discomfort, and it’s possible (but rare) to have an allergic reaction.

L-Tyrosine

What it is: L-tyrosine is an amino acid used in the biosynthesis of proteins that can be taken as a supplement. It helps with the production of the neurotransmitters dopamine, adrenaline, and noradrenaline.

How it works: L-tyrosine increases levels of neurotransmitters by increasing levels of an enzyme called tyrosine hydroxylase. This enzyme is responsible for converting tyrosine into norepinephrine and dopamine, which are involved in attention and focus. 

Possible Side Effects: L-tyrosine appears to be safe at most dosages. However, it may lead to side effects such as:

  • Headache 
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea 
  • Diarrhea
  • Restlessness 
  • Insomnia

L-alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine (Alpha-GPC)

What it is: Alpha-GPC is a natural choline compound in the brain. It is a precursor to acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in memory and learning.

How it works: Like some other nootropics, Alpha-GPC works by increasing levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.

Possible Side Effects: Some people who take Alpha-GPC experience side effects including:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Heartburn
  • Skin rash

Ginkgo biloba

What it is: Ginkgo biloba is a plant native to China. The leaves of the plant are used to make an extract used in alternative medicine. Ginkgo biloba is used for various conditions, including memory problems, blood circulation disorders, and anxiety.

How it works: Ginkgo biloba increases blood flow to the brain and protects nerve cells from damage.

Possible Side Effects: Some minor side effects of ginkgo biloba include:

  • Upset stomach
  • Allergic reactions in the skin
  • Headache
  • Dizziness

Huperzine A

What it is: Huperzine A is a potent and reversible inhibitor of the enzyme acetylcholinesterase derived from the Chinese club moss Huperzia Serrata.

How it works: Huperzine A works by inhibiting the breakdown of acetylcholine, maintaining increased levels of this neurotransmitter in the brain to support cognitive function.

Possible Side Effects: Possible side effects of Huperzine A include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

L-Theanine

What it is: L-theanine is an amino acid found in tea leaves. It is a natural relaxant and may reduce stress and anxiety.

How it works: Studies have shown that L-theanine can help with ADHD by reducing anxiety and improving sleep and concentration. 

Possible side effects: Possible side effects of L-theanine include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • High blood pressure

Phosphatidylserine

What it is: Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a type of phospholipid found in cell membranes. It is a major component of nerve cell membranes and is thought to play a role in memory and cognitive function.

How it works: Phosphatidylserine supplements provide the body with the raw materials it needs to produce phosphatidylserine. Phosphatidylserine is a compound essential for proper cell membrane function and crucial to nerve cells’ health.

Possible Side Effects: PS supplements may cause insomnia and upset stomach, especially in high doses. They may also have a blood-thinning effect, which can negatively interact with other blood-thinners and impact medical procedures.

Citicoline

What it is: Citicoline is a pharmaceutical supplement made from choline and cytidine, compounds that are naturally present in the body. It is available in branded forms, such as Cognizine or Mind Lab Pro, as well as generic forms.

Supplements containing citicoline are often considered the closest thing to OTC Adderall. While there’s no such thing as over-the-counter Adderall, these substitutes offer benefits that come close.

How it works: Citicoline is a nootropic substance that improves cognitive function in a variety of ways. Citicoline, like many other brain health supplements, may increase acetylcholine levels, a neurotransmitter critical for memory and learning. 

This dietary supplement may also protect the brain from age-related damage and improve blood flow to the brain.

Possible Side Effects: Citicoline side effects are rare and may include:

  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Headache
  • Blurred vision
  • Chest pains
  • Stomach pain
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea

Vitamin and Mineral Supplements

In some studies, ADHD has been linked to deficiencies in certain vital nutrients. Supplements or foods high in specific vitamins and minerals may also help individuals with deficiencies. 

Examples include: 

  • Zinc
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Vitamin C
  • B vitamin complex (including vitamin B6 and vitamin B12)

Branded & Compounded Supplements

Some natural nootropics reduce inflammation and increase blood flow in the brain, while others calm stress or stimulate the brain to improve focus and increase energy. Many of the above options can be found in nootropic blends such as NooCube

These blends may be the best nootropics as they support brain health and cognitive ability in multiple ways. 

Other ingredients to look out for in natural nootropics include:

  • Maritime pine bark extract (Pycnogenol)
  • Cat’s claw
  • Rhodiola Rosea
  • Oat straw

Prescription Alternatives

Several prescription drugs may be used to treat ADHD, including:

  • Amphetamine/dextroamphetamine (brand name: Adderall)
  • Lisdexamfetamine (brand name: Vyvanse)
  • Methylphenidate (brand name: Ritalin)
  • Atomoxetine (brand name: Strattera)
  • Guanfacine (brand name: Intuniv)

Amphetamine, lisdexamfetamine, methylphenidate, and atomoxetine are stimulants that alter brain chemicals to manage ADHD symptoms. These are potentially addictive drugs that come with significant side effects for many patients, from dry mouth to new or worsening psychosis.

Guanfacine is a centrally acting alpha2A-adrenergic receptor agonist originally designed to treat high blood pressure. The Intuniv brand has been adjusted for ADHD patients 12 years and older.

While it’s not a stimulant, guanfacine may still cause significant side effects, including hallucinations and worsened anxiety in some patients.

Drugs may manage symptoms of ADHD, but they do not cure or reverse it. When you discontinue prescription drugs for ADHD, their effects will stop.

Because of the long-term effects, serious side effects, and potential for addiction these medications present, we avoid prescribing them unless all other interventions have failed.

Talk to a qualified medical provider before making any changes to your medications.

Diet and ADHD

Many factors impact the onset and symptoms of ADHD, including genetics and environment. The exact role of diet in this process is still unclear, but dietary treatments for ADHD are effective, according to recent research. 

Western diets are often high in processed foods high in additives, sugars, and trans-fats. Avoiding these foods and replacing them with foods rich in natural nootropics may play a key role in managing or even preventing ADHD

Natural nootropics in food can help to protect brain cells from damage and improve brain energy levels. Some of the most popular nootropics include foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and brain boosters.

Key Takeaways

ADHD is a problem that affects many families in the United States. Adderall remains one of the most common methods of treatment, despite the associated risks. 

Fortunately, many other options exist to treat and manage ADHD, including dietary supplements and nutrition changes. 

Need More Guidance?

If your child struggles with ADHD and you’re in the Atlanta area, we’re here to help. Don’t hesitate to book an appointment or simply reach out with any questions.

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