Lesson 3: Stimulants: How to improve concentration without Adderall

My friend Brandon and I were rambunctious kids causing all sorts of trouble while growing up. But all of that changed when we got into highschool…

…Brandon started taking Adderall and his personality changed completely.

Suddenly he wasn’t interested in spending much time together and he had a couple new friends he spent time with. Particularly, he was interested in finishing his work as fast and as thoroughly as he could.

During lunch he would sit in his next classroom working on homework to get it done early. He was far more quiet and focused than ever before and it confused the hell out of me.

He was a different person and it was a result of using the prescription drug Adderall to fuel his passing grades throughout high school.

Since then, he has removed himself from the prescription drug and we have become friends again as if nothing happened. But I still have a healthy respect for Adderall’s effects and it isn’t something that I really want to try.

Don’t get me wrong: everything is a tool.

If you are prescribed (or not) Adderall so you can succeed in your professional or student life, that is your prerogative. It is an effective tool (which is one reason doctors prescribe it!), but it is also easy to abuse it.

In Lesson 3 we are breaking down stimulants in general with a specific focus on Adderall (alternatives and recovery). Here is how we break it down:

  1. Basics – Understanding Stimulants
    1. Stimulants
    2. Adderall
    3. Experimental Drugs
  2. Advanced – Post-Use, Alternatives, and Testing
    1. Post Use
    2. Modafinil
    3. Phenylpiracetam
    4. Caffeine and Ephedrine

Basics – Understanding Stimulants

1.1. Stimulants

There are all kinds of legal and scientific definitions of stimulants, but we all have some basic understanding of what a stimulant does.

Essentially, it gives us a physical and / or mental boost that allows us to focus on a given task with more intensity and longer duration.

Sometimes stimulants get a bad reputation, but we can all remember the first time we had a cup of coffee…

…not only did it FEEL amazing, but it led to far more concentration and success.

In fact, I remember taking my first cup of coffee after nearly 5 years without it: mind = blown

But here is the thing…stimulants may not be providing you with the benefit that you think.

The “Yerkes-Dodson Law” explains an interesting phenomenon. I’ll spare you the scientific lingo (or most of it)…

Bottom line: there is an optimal dose of each stimulant that ranges depending on your unique brain chemistry. Too much stimulation means anxiety, which translates to poor mental performance. That’s no bueno.

1.2. Adderall

The most famous (infamous?) of all stimulants is Adderall.

This prescription drug (almost universally around the world) is commonly prescribed to children in order to help them concentrate and remain on-task while in school. In fact, a scary 11% of American children are prescribed and take Adderall (or derivatives thereof). Yikes…

Like my friend Brandon, the short and long term effects of such a strong stimulant are profound. The (even scarier) reason Adderall is so popular and effective?

It’s an amphetamine.

Yes, just like the methamphetamine that wreaks havoc within communities. Well… not quite.

Adderall is a mixture of 4 different amphetamine salts. The names aren’t important, but they are not as strong as street methamphetamines (thank god). That being said… it’s still an amphetamine.

Typically the desired effects include greater concentration, increased mood and happiness, mental and physical endurance under stress, and clarity of focus.

But here is the thing…

…there are a whole host of problems with Adderall.

  • Adderall tends to impair already mental high-performers (but helps low-performers)
  • People on Adderall find it difficult to determine whether performance is better or worse
  • Using Adderall leads to potentially significant withdrawal symptoms
  • Reduces appetite and increases blood pressure, palpitations, poor sleep quality etc.

Now you know what we’re working with… or perhaps you know from experience. Either way, let’s move on 🙂

1.3. Experimental Drugs

If you need an alternative to compare with the stimulatory effects of Adderall, you are going to need something more powerful than grandma’s herbal remedies.

Don’t get me wrong – grandma and herbal remedies are great. But, for the purpose of reducing your tolerance on Adderall or finding a safer alternative, you are going to need something effective.

Often in the smart drug and nootropics world, effective options come in the form of “experimental drugs”. These are essentially chemical compounds that have little (or no) scientific research to back their claims. Some have few (or no) studies on humans and others are experimental as a stand-in for stimulants.

As we go through the advanced section, we’ll bring up a few “experimental drugs” in addition to experimental combinations that are untested except for willing and avid members of the nootropics community.

Advanced – Post-Use, Alternatives, and Testing

2.1. Post Use

A few months ago I did a feedback survey to thousands of brain health enthusiasts and one woman wrote back:

“I’ve been taking Adderall since the 8th grade (now 30) & really struggle…”

Like any drug, Adderall can be extremely addictive. Many people who use it for a long time find that stopping usage comes with irritability, headaches, brain fog, and many other negative symptoms.

Even in the long term, some people find Adderall to create worse problems with attention… the very drug that is supposed to help them focus and concentrate makes it worse long-term.

That is what Brandon struggles with to this day no matter what kind of foods he eats to try and heal his brain. It is something that he still struggles to overcome it.

If you are thinking about stopping (or you already have stopped), then one piece of knowledge is going to smooth the transition for you:

Adderall creates a lot of dopamine in the brain. It is so much, your brain stops receiving the dopamine because there is just too much. Your brain undergoes a process called “down-regulation”.

After taking such an impactful prescription drug like Adderall, here are some of the tools you might be able to use post-use:

Practices

  • Sweat – This is going to seem basic, but stick with me. Exercising produces a whole host of endorphins and brain chemicals that are helpful not just in general, but specifically for people who have downregulated dopamine receptors from Adderall.
  • Engage Socially – Another odd and basic practice, but having conversations with people you enjoy spending time with stimulates brain chemicals that are specifically useful for post-Adderall usage. Note: Make sure it is with people you feel 100% comfortable with or else engaging socially will prove more draining than anything.

Supplements

  • Rhodiola Rosea – This is an adaptogenic herb, which is going to help your brain get back on track after being “stressed” by Adderall.
  • Mucuna Pruriens – After dopamine downregulation, providing more dopamine isn’t necessarily going to make all the problems go away, but it can help. Bonus points for being a natural source, but don’t abuse it.

I’m imagining there is more than one person rolling their eyes right now. This might seem simple, but trying to reverse years (or even months) of Adderall use requires some tact…

If you have been struggling with your professional and personal responsibilities for many years after stopping Adderall usage, then it might be beyond something that I can help with… BUT…

…just keep in mind that visiting the doctor might end up in a similar recommendation that got you in your current predicament.

In short: I’d find another way.

After improving his diet and following some of my advice, Brandon got a lot better. He still somewhat feels the effects, but it is nowhere near as bad as it once was. That’s something you can achieve as well.

2.2. Modafinil

Some skeptics are probably thinking to themselves “okay, but I’ll lose my high-performance professional job if I don’t have Adderall”

I feel your pain. My friend Zac used to work on Wall Street making thousands of dollars every week (sometimes every day!). The money he was making kept him using Adderall…

…until he found an alternative.

Modafinil.

It’s been recommended (with caution) by people like Tim Ferriss and Dave Asprey. It has been a major tool for improving brain power for decades, but only recently has it stepped into the limelight.

Technically, modafinil is supposed to be a wakefulness-promoting agent, which is technically not the same mechanism as Adderall or many other stimulants. There are a decent number of studies regarding modafinil including two that really stood out for our purposes.

In one study, modafinil was given to people addicted to methamphetamine (worse than Adderall) and results showed that it could improve their cognition and working memory.

In another interesting study, modafinil was given daily to military personnel who were working for 64 hours straight (2 nights without sleep) and found that it could prevent mood and mental performance decline similar to higher doses of Adderall.

Is this a recommended alternative? No. This is a powerful drug that has a different impact on everyone and plenty of negative side effect potential. It also happens to be a prescription drug.

Though, there are some alternatives through “pro-drugs”, which are essentially nootropics that convert one substance to another (in this case into modafinil within the body) that are not prescriptions.

These include:

Here is the bottom line: this is still a powerful stimulant, it is still subject to abuse, and there are still negative side effects.

The only reason I bring it up is because so many of you have been asking how to get off of Adderall or find an alternative. For many, modafinil is not as life-changing or drastic as Adderall might be.

2.3. Phenylpiracetam

A couple of years ago I had a free batch of phenylpiracetam (suppliers try and send me things for free constantly) and sent it to my friend Kyle to try out. He was starting a new business and was working long hours writing and researching.

Previously I’d sent him nootropics before, but never got much of a response or enthusiastic reply… but this time was different.

Kyle called and seemed to be jumping out of his skin with excitement. We talked briefly and he explained how he had been taking it the entire week with tremendous results.

I did a little research, but couldn’t find a whole lot. Phenylpiracetam is a nootropic that is within the “racetam” family of drugs. It is synthetic and is definitely considered an “experimental drug”, but most experiences and results tend to be positive.

For someone who is used to taking a stimulant like Adderall, it might be even more useful…

  • Potent stimulation – the Olympic committee considers phenylpiracetam to be so stimulating, it is a banned substance… yet it is not a prescription drug.
  • Mood enhancement – this is one primary benefit. Considering Adderall users struggle with their mood, phenylpiracetam offers a great alternative
  • Mechanism seems safer – the mechanism of action for phenylpiracetam is still yet unknown, but most suggest it is increased blood flow to the brain. This is far better than large dopamine blasts in the brain.
  • Concentration – this may not be as high as some other alternatives, but this racetam derivative will have concentration and focus benefits for sure.

2.4. Coffee and Ephedrine

NO, this section is not about ways for combining coffee and ephedrine. While some people recommend this as a potent alternative to Adderall, it is a heavy load on the adrenal glands.

Caffeine alone is relatively safe. Most of the world uses caffeine in some way or another, but  one of the main problems (as we will address in Lesson 6!) is the tolerance build up.

Ephedrine affects dopamine in the brain in a similar fashion as Adderall, which offers feeling of euphoria and happiness in addition to focus and stimulation.

If you try either of these, be extra cautious so as to prevent long term damage. Some highly experienced nootropics users recommend balancing out the stimulants with other elements to prevent stress and / or heart issues.

One might look like this:

  • Ephedrine HCL
  • Caffeine (optional)
  • Taurine
  • L-Arginine
  • Ashwagandha

Doses will depend on your individual body type, but this is one example of a stimulating nootropic stack that (theoretically) combats the negative side effects.

But you need to keep in mind one thing…

…take every consideration with care and respect your unique individual brain chemistry. Really seek to understand why you are taking something, weigh the pros and cons, and then move forward.

Conclusion

Woo! Lesson 3 in the books! Congratulations on finishing yet another information-packed lesson.

We looked at stimulants and stimulation specifically from the angle of Adderall alternatives, post-use best practices to rebalance your brain, and a few words of caution.

With love,

Mansal