Adderall has something of a bad reputation. Developed as a drug for ADHD and narcolepsy, it has arguably become more well-known–and also more popular–for its off-label uses.
People use Adderall to lose weight, enhance athletic performance, stay up all night partying, or simply feel good. Most notoriously however, Adderall has been widely abused as a nootropic–a study drug, or productivity and cognitive enhancement drug. As of 2020, Adderall is the 27th most-prescribed drug in the United States.
As an amphetamine-class drug, Adderall should not be underestimated or taken lightly. However, it’s not an evil drug, and used properly, it can be life-changing for many people.
Part of the key to making Adderall work is not using more of it than you need. In this article, we’ll discuss other supplements you can take with Adderall–as well as non-chemical approaches to mental enhancement–in order to maximize the utility you get out of Adderall while minimizing the risks and side effects.
How Adderall Works
Adderall is actually a mix of four different amphetamine salts: dextroamphetamine sulfate, amphetamine sulfate, dextroamphetamine saccharate, and amphetamine aspartate monohydrate. Each of these salts contains amphetamine.
Amphetamine itself comes in two enantiomers–mirror-image versions of amphetamine, the way your left and right hand are mirror images of each other. These enantiomers are called dextroamphetamine and levoamphetamine. Two of the amphetamine salts in Adderall contain only dextroamphetamine, while the other two contain a fifty-fifty mixture of dextro- and levoamphetamine. Thus, Adderall yields a 3:1 ratio of dextro- to levoamphetamine.
This is important because those two types of amphetamine have slightly different effect profiles; most people seem to do somewhat better with a mix of the two, rather than just one or the other. Furthermore, dextroamphetamine has a half-life of 9 to 11 hours, while levoamphetamine has a slightly longer 11 to 14 hour half-life. Thus, Adderall can be long-lasting, and will exhibit biphasic elimination, with the minority levoamphetamine component being eliminated more slowly.
What Are The Effects Of Adderall On The Brain?
Adderall works primarily by increasing the actions of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, and secondarily by triggering the release of serotonin, epinephrine, histamine, and several neuropeptides.
According to Jason Law of the Hallowell-Todaro ADHD Center, people with ADHD usually have too little dopamine and norepinephrine–both stimulant neurotransmitters in the pre-frontal cortex. Most of the time, anyway–when people with ADHD get really interested in something, their dopamine and norepinephrine levels spike too high.
Law says that Adderall, at low doses, stabilizes those neurotransmitters, raising the baseline level while also attenuating the propensity for large spikes. This stability, paradoxically, has a calming effect. He adds that caffeine can have a similar effect, but the side effects are greater because it is more systemic in its effects, while Adderall is more targeted to the pre-frontal cortex.
Typical Adderall Dosages
Although amphetamines last well over ten hours, their effects start to decline noticeably after four hours. Thus, extended-release formulations of Adderall and other ADHD drugs have become popular for the greater stability and ease of use they provide. A 12-hour extended release formula is available as a generic, while a 16-hour version is sold under the brand name Mydayis.
But to reiterate, ADHD patients usually take the lowest possible dose of Adderall–as little as 5 mg immediate-release, or 10 mg extended-release. At this dose, it has few side effects and little addiction potential.
People who use Adderall recreationally, or as a nootropic or athletic enhancer, frequently use higher doses, often 20 mg or more. At those dosages it can be very addictive, and exhibits exactly the side effects you’d expect from amphetamines–tachycardia, sweating, twitching, headaches, insomnia and mood swings.
Regardless of what you’re using Adderall for, there are two things you’d always like to be able to do–get the same benefit from a lower dose, and minimize the side effects from the dose you’re using.
Vitamins To Take With Adderall
Many vitamins and minerals can be helpful add-ons to Adderall.
B vitamins in general are crucial for mental performance, although they have no particular synergy with Adderall.
Tommy Black, a former school psychologist and now CEO of children’s mental health startup Esteem Therapeutics, recommends several other supplements for ADHD patients. “Magnesium has decent effects. Vitamins E and D are important too, but magnesium is the biggest. Magnesium is a laxative though; don’t use magnesium citrate, which is the most common form. Use magnesium threonate or glycinate, those absorb better.”
Magnesium And Adderall
Magnesium has a rapid calming effect, and is most often taken before bed, but can also be taken in response to anxiety, or combined with stimulants that tend to cause anxiety. Magnesium is usually dosed at 100 to 400 mg. Note however that different forms of magnesium vary considerably in how much magnesium they have by weight.
With 144 mg elemental magnesium, Double Wood’s magnesium l-threonate is a GMP-certified magnesium supplement manufactured in the USA. Doublewood Supplements are a trusted brand in the wellness industry, enjoying a long-standing reputation for quality and trustworthiness.
Vitamin D And Adderall
Vitamins D and E are both fat-soluble, so they build up slowly over the course of weeks. Vitamin D is crucial to all-around health and should be dosed at 2,000 to 5,000 iu/day of vitamin D3, not D2.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant, protecting the body from free radicals. It should be dosed at 50 to 200 mg per day.
Naturemade is an established brand, and so checks the “trustworthiness box” for us. We like this 1000 iu option because it allows flexibility and precision with dosing; for example, if you’re a bigger person, you can take more simply by taking more capsules.
One other mineral to be aware of is zinc. One study found that zinc potentiates Adderall; it found “a 37% reduction in amphetamine optimal dose with 30 mg per day of zinc.” In other words, if you take zinc, you should reduce your Adderall dosage by one-third. If taken, zinc should be dosed at 15 to 30 mg per day for men, or 10 to 20 for women.
L-Tyrosine And Adderall Can Enhance The Effect And Help You Recover
Another amino acid, L-tyrosine is the main building block of dopamine. Since Adderall increases the production and utilization of dopamine, it also causes your brain to use more tyrosine.
Due to the effect of L-tyrosine, Adderall interacts with it in one of three ways. Taken together with Adderall, it can potentiate the effect. Taken a few hours after Adderall, it can extend the effect, delaying the point where Adderall feels like it’s wearing off (even though it really lasts all day).
Or, taken after Adderall wears off, it can replenish your brain’s tyrosine reserves, which helps to restore the ability to produce dopamine normally and reduces the “crash” or withdrawal after Adderall wears off. In fact, Tyrosine is sometimes used this way by people quitting caffeine.
We recommend the second and third uses over the first. In practice, that means when taking L-tyrosine with Adderall, taking 500 to1000 mg of L-tyrosine 4 hours after taking Adderall, and another 500 to 1000 mg 12 to 24 hours after, generally first thing the following morning.
Like we’ve written above, Thorne Research enjoys the esteem of many individuals and organizations whose opinion should matter—professional sports teams, the Mayo Clinic, and medical colleges, to name a few.
Thorne’s L-Tyrosine is dosed at 500 mg per cap. Per our l-tyrosine dosage recommendation this capsule size makes it easy to take our suggested amounts with just one or two capsules.
L-Theanine And Adderall May Take The Edge Off
We’ve written about L-theanine before. It’s an amino acid that exerts a calming effect on the brain without being significantly sedating. Theanine is commonly used in conjunction with caffeine to moderate caffeine’s side effects–such as twitchiness, irritability and distractibility–in order to enhance its nootropic effect, enabling a stronger sense of focus.
Theanine can have much the same effect when paired with Adderall, reducing the mental side effects so that you can enjoy the energy without the loss of focus. It should be taken at the same time as Adderall. The usual dosage is 200 mg, but some people prefer to use only 100 mg, particularly when paired with a loser dosage of a stimulant.
Thorne Research Theanine uses Suntheanine, the proprietary l-theanine that’s used in the majority of studies that show promising outcomes for theanine usage. The Unwinder almost always recommends theanine products that use Suntheanine for this very reason.
Thorne Research enjoys a stellar reputation among health professionals and, interestingly, professional sports leagues such as the NFL, UFC, NBA, and MLB. They manufacture, process and test all the supplements they make in house; the facility is GMP compliant. Thorne is also recognized by one of the most scrupulous regulatory health bodies in the world, Australia’s Therapeutic Goods agency, as having an “A” rating.
Doctor’s Best is an established, trustworthy brand in the supplements space, and has a theanine supplement at a fraction of the cost of Thorne. Doctor’s Best’s l-theanine supplement uses Suntheanine, a proprietary theanine that’s been used in the majority of studies that support l-theanine’s benefits. While Doctor’s Best is certainly less flashy than Thorne, we’re recommending it here as a counter to the premium prices Thorne puts on its supplements. In contrast, Doctor’s Best is an affordable supplement you can take over the long term without breaking your budget.
Caffeine And Adderall Can Boost The Effect
As mentioned earlier, caffeine has more global effects than Adderall, which means it will have more physical side effects such as tachycardia (racing heart) or increased body temperature. However, you’re likely to be using it anyway, and it probably is better to combine low-dose caffeine and Adderall rather than using more Adderall.
Many of the effects of caffeine are similar to Adderall, albeit with a greater tendency toward physical effects. The big difference is that caffeine acts on the adenosine receptor to suppress tiredness. As such, caffeine and Adderall can be a very powerful anti-fatigue combo–and can also leave you completely unable to sleep.
This combo is probably best if you’re very tired, or doing tiring physical work. A good caffeine dosage would be 40 to 100 mg in that case, or half as much in other conditions. Either way, cut out the caffeine 10+ hours before bed, and the Adderall even earlier. L-theanine would also be a good addition to this stack, both at the same time as caffeine and Adderall and later when you get ready for bed.
These are precisely dosed, and have theanine in a 3:2 ratio to caffeine. They also have B vitamins– discussed later.
Ashwagandha And Adderall Can Take The Edge Off And Help You Sleep
Ashwagandha is a nootropic and adaptogen used mainly for its anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effects. Similar to theanine, it moderates the side effects of stimulants and helps with focus and stress. It will generally have a more noticeable sedative effect than theanine, so it’s probably preferable if Adderall gives you anxiety or makes you jumpy–or if you happen to be stressed out for external reasons, such as work stress, while using it.
As we’ve mentioned before, the active ingredient in aswagandha is withanolides, and it should be dosed based on withanolide content rather than the full raw weight of the ashwagandha. Dosing is fairly individual; 10 to 30 mg of withanolides is usually good for cognitive enhancement, while 30 to 50 is more of an evening dose.
Best value and highest potency
Toniiq Ashwagandha offers one of the most potent ashwagandha supplements on the market, with 10% withanolides. The recommended dose of two capsules (1,300mg) provides the equivalent of 15 generic ashwagandha capsules. At around $17 for 90 capsules, this product is reasonably priced, potent, and vegan, which is well rounded for an ashwagandha supplement.
Tribe Organics partners with KSM-66—an award-winning ashwagandha product that’s sourced from a proprietary extraction process—to produce an effective supplement. We like this ashwagandha supplement because of the brand’s clear transparency with ingredients, the extraction process, and peer-reviewed support. At just under $25 for 120 capsules (300mg per capsule), we find that it also provides great value for a product with high potency.
Editors note, 04/21: This item is currently missing from Amazon. We will update this review if it returns to Amazon.
Combining Nicotine and Adderall Can Enhance Adderall’s Effects
Nicotine is mainly sold as an aid to quit smoking, but it is also commonly used as an appetite suppressant and nootropic. Unlike smoking, nicotine on its own is quite safe and has low addiction potential. It also doesn’t feel very stimulating–you’ll feel awake and focused, but won’t get hot or hyperactive.
The most common side effects are skin rashes (if nicotine patches are put on the same place over and over) or nausea (if you take too much at once). In fact, nausea is very likely if you’re a non-smoker and try to use nicotine gum without having built up a tolerance for it.
The best way to take nicotine is in transdermal patch form, which gives you steady blood levels for 12-24 hours. Just be sure to take it off 2 to 3 hours before bed, and be aware that combined with Adderall, the appetite suppression can be extreme.
A good starting dose is a 3 to 4 milligram patch. Since patches are sold in 7, 14 and 21 mg doses, this means you’ll need to cut them up. As long as you’re doing that, you should save money by getting the 21 mg patches; they all cost the same amount.
This stack is useful for productivity or weight loss, not ADHD. Use low-dose patches for steady blood levels and minimal side effects.
Rite Aid is obviously a well-established brand in the health and wellness industry. This generic form of Nicoderm does the trick as good as any, and at a good price at that.
Editors note, 3/2021: Currently out of stock.
More Ideas For How To Manage Adderall
Psychologist and ADHD specialist Dr. David Sitt highly recommends mindfulness meditation as a supplementary treatment for ADHD. “I encourage people to start off with just one minute of focusing your mind towards your breathing. So I tell myself for the next minute, I’m going to inhale, hold, exhale. Three times in a row. And then I’ve focused my mind for one minute on one thing alone. Most people come out of this with a greater sense of calm, clarity and focus.”
“Do this one minute once a day at minimum to start. Use an app like Waking Up or Headspace or Calm. Work up to doing guided meditation for three, five, eight, ten minutes at a time.” Sitt says that many of his patients are ultimately able to reduce or eliminate their need for Adderall using strategies such as mindfulness meditation and mindfulness cognitive behavioral therapy.
A more advanced form of mindfulness meditation comes in the form of neurofeedback—the use of brain-scanning EEG devices to provide feedback and guidance for meditation and focus exercises. In essence, they get you the same results only faster.
One of the cheapest, most comfortable and user-friendly neurofeedback devices is The Muse EEG Headband.
Listening to music on infinite loop can also be helpful for productivity. Nootropics blogger Jonathan Roseland of Limitless Mindset likes Victory by Two Steps From Hell, while I prefer Stay Hungry by Twisted Sister.
There is also computer-generated algorithmic music designed to promote focus or relaxation. The best program for this is brain.fm, which has a free trial. Wear headphones to block out other sounds, and you’ll be able to tell within the first half hour whether it works for you.
Finally, Roseland recommends dual n-back brain training software for measuring the effectiveness of brain training and nootropics. He recommends BrainScale, a free web-based application.
Dr. Black’s app Esteem, serves a similar purpose but is meant for parents monitoring their children’s ADHD symptoms, rather than adults monitoring themselves.
Remember that whatever you do, when you’re experimenting on yourself it’s imperative that you follow three rules.
First, only change one thing at a time.
Second, be conservative. Start out with low dosages of everything.
Third, have a way of measuring and tracking your results.
Follow these principles and you can find the Adderall stack that works for you, safely giving you the maximum cognitive benefit without the side effects.