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Could Caffeine Replace Adderall As A Brain Stimulant?

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Caffeine is proposed as a safe alternative to the famous Adderall drug; like we needed other reasons for loving Coffee and Chocolate!

Adderall has been traditionally prescribed for treating ADHD patients. Yet, it was also commonly used as a “smart drug” for healthy people seeking robust cognitive performances.

Caffeine Vs Adderall

There are several natural alternatives to Adderall; Caffeine could be one. This article compares caffeine and Adderall. We start with a preview of what they are and how they work, then we show how and when they could enhance brain abilities and physical activity. 

While caffeine comes from natural sources, Adderall is chemically developed. Both substances are stimulants for the central nervous system, yet they differ in how they impact our brain.

Caffeine

Caffeine is a natural compound. It is found and extracted from seeds, nuts, or leaves.  

Worldwide, caffeine is legal and distributed without prescriptions; however, classified as a psychoactive drug. 

Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. Once absorbed in the bloodstream, it works on blocking the neurotransmitters responsible for relaxing the brain and making us feel tired [1]. The natural compounds of caffeine can activate conscious mental activities (psychomotor) and result in an alerting and arousing effect on the brain [2]. 

Caffeine can be naturally found in plants or supplemented in pills or beverages. Caffeine's excessive use might happen when served in quickly digested forms like in Soda. The following sources are regarded the richest in caffeine found in markets [3]. 

Coffee Beans. 1 cup of brewed coffee contains about 95 mg caffeine. 
Soda. A can of cola or energy drinks contains about 40 or about 80 mg of caffeine, respectively.
Tea. 1 cup of black tea contains about 47 mg of Caffeine.
Dark Chocolate. 1 ounce contains about 24 mg of caffeine.

Adderall

Adderall belongs to Schedule II drugs. It is a pharmaceutical drug produced by the combination of two neutral sulfate salts [4]. 

In the early 90s, the drug was developed to help in treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Nevertheless, it has been commercially marketed and consumed as a stimulant for higher cognitive performance, even among healthy individuals. 

Adderall's family has an immediate-release variant sold as Adderall and two extend-release variants sold as Adderall XR and Mydayis. 

This drug's mechanism works to block the reabsorption of neurotransmitters and increases the release of neurotransmitters into the external neuronal space; this mechanism is thought to explain the effect of the drug improving the mental activity of ADHD patients.


Improving Focus And Cognitive Performance

Caffeine

The most common motivations behind consuming caffeine-containing products, like coffee and energy drinks, are the boost in focus, memory, and physical performance. 

Research suggests that caffeine affects the central nervous system with accompanying locomotor activity stimulation [5]. It facilitates mental tasks involving a limited extension of working memory, suboptimal alertness, and passive information learning [6].

Caffeine can improve cognitive performance and prevent cognitive decline in healthy individuals. While it is suggested to benefit motor performance, frequent or excessive caffeine consumption may fail to improve alertness and mental performance [7]. 

Adderall

Adderall is meant to help ADHD patients feel more focused and achieve better cognitive performance. Nevertheless, the drug has been used by healthy people who are seeking higher alertness and mental activity [8]. 

The misuse of Adderall -and similar stimulants- is only second to marijuana as the most common form of illicit drug among college students. An intuitive logic drives this misconception that if stimulants can improve the attention of ADHD patients, they should also promote the learning of healthy individuals. However, several studies showed contradicting results.

No evidence is yet found to relate cognitive enhancement to nonmedical use of stimulants. Most of the reported effects of misusing drugs like Adderall in enhancing focus among the healthy was explained as a possible placebo effect. Some minor effects were found in subjects with low cognitive performance, proving that the drug is more effective in treating cognitive disorders than improving cognitive performance [8].


Boosting Energy Levels And Mood

While there is no evidence showing that Adderall has any physical or psychological benefits on individuals, caffeine has been used and proven effective in enhancing physical performance when consumed in regular dosages. 

Research showed that both high and low caffeine doses before exercise could extend the period before feeling tired, resulting in about 12 % enhanced exercise endurance and exercise intensity [9,10].

In Major Depression Disorder (MDD) cases, the adenosine receptors A1 and A2A are distributed in abundance in the brain's regions responsible for motivation and emotion. Caffeine is proposed to oppress these neuronal receptors and suppress their resulting depression symptoms [11].

On the other hand, the excess nonmedical use of adderall has been associated with adverse mood effects such as nervousness, trouble sleeping, and loss of appetite [12].


Treating ADHD Patients

Caffeine

Gathered data suggest that caffeine might be considered for treating ADHD. The long-term safety information for treating children with ADHD is yet not sufficient. When using coffee to provide patients with caffeine, it is challenging to ensure standard doses or maintain stable blood levels [13]. 

While further scientific evidence is required to support caffeine's usage alone in treating ADHD, combining caffeine with other substances provides a serious potential for natural alternatives to Adderall.

L-Theanine is an amino acid that has an alerting and arousing effect on the brain [14]. It is already found alongside caffeine in tea. 

Combining L-Theanine and Caffeine has been studied in treating ADHD patients. When applied to children with ADHD, the combination of L-Theanine and Caffeine limits distractions, inhibits impulsivity, and enhances cognitive performance and sustained attention. 

The studies suggested the Theanine-Caffeine combination as an Adderall alternative in treating ADHD impairment. The combination can improve sustained attention and cognitive levels in Children with ADHD by limiting mind distraction during attention attempts [15].

Adderall

Despite being developed initially to treat obesity, Adderall has effectively helped ADHD patients under a long-term treatment plan. 

Adderall is a good treatment for ADHD in adults and children older than three years; it is also approved to treat the chronic sleep disorder of narcolepsy (overwhelming daytime drowsiness and sudden attacks of sleep). 

The Adderall XR and Mydayis are also valid for treating ADHD in adults and children older than six and thirteen years old, respectively.


Caffeine Vs Adderall: Summing Up

Scientific research and a long history of coffee and tea consumption speak in favor of caffeine as a brain stimulant that could enhance mood, physical, and cognitive performance. 

The consumption of Adderall by healthy individuals is a slippery approach lacking any scientific evidence, it can be safely substituted by the moderate usage of caffeine in food, drinks, and supplements. 

Comparing the effects of Caffeine vs Adderall in the medical treatment of ADHD is still favoring Adderall as a reliable drug in a long term  treatment program; further studies are still needed to find a validated way of completely replacing Adderall with natural substances.

References:

[1] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11283304/
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4846529/
[3] https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/caffeine/
[4] https://www.drugs.com/adderall.html
[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4462044/#R111
[6] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20182035/
[7] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23108937/
[8] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/brb3.78
[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5306327/
[10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4213371/
[11] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5992708/
[12] https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2007/011522s040lbl.pdf
[13] https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/caffeine-for-adhd/
[14] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18296328/
[15] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6574559/

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