Question: Lately I have noticed that more and more students, and friends, have become diagnosed with ADD. With the increase in this diagnoses, there is an increase in the prescription of Adderall. My questions are, how does this drug work and what are the side effects of taking Adderall?

Answer: Adderall is composed of a mixture of amphetamine. It contains two stereoisomers of the chemical. Amphetamine is a stimulant that is similar in structure to the recreational drugs methamphetamine and 3,4-methylenedioxymethmphetamine (MDMA). This chemical structure is closely related to the catecholamine family of neurotransmitters and hormones, which includes epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Below I have included the chemical structures of ampehtamine (Adderall), methamphetamine, epinephrine, and dopamine.

Generally, ingestion of catecholamines results in a stimulation of the part of the brain that affects emotion and arousal.  Adderall mimics the actions of the neurotransmitters in the catecholamine family. The drug works by binding to the receptors for dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain and epinephrine in the adrenal glans. Not only does it bind to these receptors but it also blocks the activity of the transporters that remove catecholamines from the synapse which would terminate the response. More or less, Adderall releases a dam of chemicals into the brain that make us feel good, alert, and energetic.

For someone with attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Adderall can be helpful. It improves attention and focus. Someone diagnosed with ADD or ADHD has a brain that is constantly over-stimulated. Once one of these patients takes Adderall, the stimulation in their brain can be reduced to a level that is comparable to someone who doesn’t suffer from ADD or ADHD.

Although Adderall has beneficial effects, it also poses potentially harmful side effects. The drug’s emulation of catacholamines can result in an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction, excitement, and paranoia. The sharp boost of energy provided by Adderall can lead to insomnia and anxiety, which has the potential to spark a schizophrenia-like psychosis disorder. Also, because the response to the drug in the brain stimulates other responses in the body, there are other potential health risks. Adderall can cause elevated heart rate and increases in blood pressure. There is also the potential to become addicted to Adderall.

There are many potential benefits from Adderall. There are also potential harmful side effects. Prescriptions of Adderall has tripled since the mid 90’s. With the limited time the drug has been mainstream on the market, there haven’t been enough comprehensive studies done to argue that Adderall is beneficial or harmful with statistical support.

By Nathan Monsein