Does Adderall make you smarter?
Adderall is probably int he top 5 most abused drugs in the US and Canada. This might sound ridiculous, but it’s true; the use of Adderall is already off the charts, and usage rates are still accelerating. Obviously this is in no small part to the explosion in ADHD diagnoses in the US.
But there is also a different trend happening; a growing number of people are using Adderall as a study aid or productivity enhancer. In other words, they’re using it without a prescription for the purposes of cognitive enhancement. A small minority of traders, programmers, students and athletes are avoiding the dangers of Adderall by using OTC Adderall alternatives, but off-label use of Adderall is still extremely widespread.
Yet most users of Adderall don’t properly understand how the drug works. They have no idea why it makes them seemingly so much more productive, or engaged, or motivated. Many assume that Adderall actually makes them smarter – that it enhances brain function in some way that makes them more intelligent.
Is this the case? Can Adderall really make you more intelligent?
How does Adderall work?
Let’s delve a little deeper and try to answer these questions together. We’ll explain how Adderall works, how it seems to make some people “smarter”, and what the best nootropics can do for your cognitive function.
How Adderall works
Adderall is a central nervous system stimulant. It rapidly increases the release of a number of neurotransmitters, namely dopamine and norepinephrine. Of these, the most relevant to explaining the effects of Adderall is norepinephrine.
When you consume Adderall, your norepinephrine levels immediately start rising. Norepinephrine is your body’s main “fight or flight” neurotransmitter. When released, it sharpens focus, elevates blood pressure, elevates heart rate, increases motivation, accelerates decision-making, increases excitability; basically, it does all of the things you might need to survive an imminent threat.
Adderall also triggers a surge of dopamine to be released in the brain, making you feel more motivated, elated, and generally improving cognitive function.
If you have ADHD, you will likely find that Adderall makes you feel a lot calmer and more able to stay focused on your work or studies. This is becaue many of the symptoms of ADHD are characteristic of a lack of CNS stimulation (although they are not caused by a lack of epinephrine). By increasing nerve activity, Adderall brings people with ADHD “up to baseline”.
If you don’t have ADHD, then you’ll find that Adderall produces a state in which your brain is completely wired to deal with a threat even though there is no actual threat to deal with. So all of that jittery, nervous energy gets directed to the task at hand, such as an assignment or project that must be finished before the 9am deadline.
The downside to this is serious side effects. If you don’t have ADHD, Adderall will make you feel much more mentally energetic, but it will also make you extremely anxious, jittery, nervous, and twitchy. It will also increase your heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension. Addiction, dependence and withdrawals are likely if you continue to use Adderall and develop a tolerance.
Can Adderall help you focus?
Yes. Adderall can make you more alert, awake, and focused. The stimulant effect releases dopamine into the brain, which can give you a feeling of well-being and euphoria.
As we have seen in our studies, this increases your energy and motivation to give more attention to a task. It isn’t without its downsides. Adderall can lead to insomnia, increased heart rate, and other problems.
Can Adderall make you more intelligent?
Adderall does not make you smarter. It does not improve any measure of intelligence in any way. One could argue that Adderall makes you smarter int he sense that it harnesses focus and improves discipline and motivation, but this is not really making you “smarter”; it is just making you more focused and energized on a given task.
There is no mechanism by which Adderall can make you more intelligent. It works by raising norepinephrine levels, and to a lesser degree dopamine levels. This has the effect of making you extremely excitable, motivated, focused, and energized. These are not measures of intelligence or cognitive ability.
Why does Adderall seem to make some people smarter?
Now, there is one way that Adderall could be said to make you more smarter.
The clinical data makes it clear that you can positively influence IQ through learning. If you suffer with ADHD and it makes you completely unable to focus at school – or in any learning context – then Adderall might help you become smarter by allowing you to focus and learn.
Over months and years, the focus that Adderall can give you can make you a more effective learner, which will make you smarter over long periods of time (studies indicate that you can boost IQ by up to 15 points through years of mental engagement and learning).
But for any body who does not have ADHD limiting their ability to focus, Adderall cannot make you smarter.
Bottom line: Will Adderall make me smarter?
Can Adderall make you smarter? The answer is a firm “no”. Adderall cannot make you smarter. Adderall increases noreprinephrine, which makes you more excitable, energetic, and motivated. There is no mechanism by which Adderall can enhance cognitive function beyond raising energy, motivation and excitability.
Brian Johnson is current Editor of Vagarights.com and a long-time writer for VAGA. A former psychologist, Brian is passionate about improving mental health and finding ways to stave off cognitive decline. He is an expert on nootropics, cognitive enhancement and biohacking more broadly. You can see his work on Google scholar.