Drugs have always been abused and used recreationally by millions on a daily basis, and one of the most popular drugs used amongst university students is Adderall. Adderall is a prescription drug medication used commonly to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. It’s core ingredient, amphetamine, was discovered in 1887, and the first pharmaceutical adaptation of the drug, Benzedrine, was available on the market by 1933.
However, Adderall in itself by the name and drug we know today, hit the market in 1996. Because of its effects, Adderall has become overwhelmingly popular amongst students to help them study. In fact, researchers have begun calling these groups of young people “Generation Adderall” as we see Adderall and other amphetamine drugs becoming a whopping 9 billion dollar industry, with 16 million prescriptions written by 2012. Adderall takes from 20 minutes to an hour to kick in and is very effective in treating the illnesses it is intended to treat, but like all drugs, it’s the dosage that determines whether it is beneficial or harmful to your body.
Adderall is made of 25% levoamphetamine salts and 75% dextroamphetamine salts, and it is classified as a central nervous system stimulant. What that means in terms of function is that when Adderall is ingested, the amphetamine easily crosses the blood-brain barrier and three main neurotransmitters are enhanced: dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.
Those with ADHD have low amounts of dopamine which causes their brain to constantly seek out stimulants and to counter that, Adderall is taken so that when it reaches the brain, the amphetamine attaches itself to monoamine transporter proteins and is taken up into neurons. This causes the storage of monoamines (like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine) to be disrupted in the synaptic vesicles and the transporter flow can be reversed to cause the neurotransmitters to be pushed out by Adderall.
Amphetamine work to both increase dopamine presynaptic release as well as replace these monoamines for reuptake into the neuron. Monoamine oxidase activity is blocked and thus cannot chemically breakdown monoamines. This results in the build up and abundance of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine in an active state outside of neurons. Dopamine then works as an excitatory and inhibitory transmitter to triggers feelings of pleasure and reward in nucleus accumbens. Serotonin, an inhibitory transmitter influences mood, appetite, blood pressure, and sleep cycles, and norepinephrine, an excitatory transmitter, activates the sympathetic nervous system to trigger the body’s “flight or fight response”. This increases the heart rate, which in turn increases the blood pressure, and releases more glucose – all of which increases energy for the individual, treating narcolepsy and ADHD
Some side effects of Adderall include euphoria, increased alertness and energy, insomnia, dry mouth, loss of appetite, and irregular heartbeat.
When looking at how Adderall causes a loss of appetite, we start by looking at the increased monoamines caused by Adderall. Dopamine is responsible for sending the signal indicating satisfaction (reward), which includes satisfaction of appetite, and so an increase of dopamine appetite and other cravings by inducing a sense of satisfaction even if your body is starving. Moreover, dopamine causes blood flow to move to core organs and away from digestive system. Norepinephrine affects hunger in that when the fight or flight response is triggered, anxiety increases and appetite is decreased. The hypothalamus is an important player as well since amphetamine inhibits the hypothalamic neuropeptide Y, orexigenic peptides that functions to increase food intake and reduce anxiety and stress. On the other hand, another side effect can be explained by the monoamines in Adderall that cause an increase in adrenergic outflow as the norepinephrine acts on the alpha 2 receptors to decrease saliva gland secretion, thus causing dry mouth.
The main alternative to Adderall is Ritalin, a prescription medicine used to treat the same two illnesses (ADHD and narcolepsy) as Adderall. Ritalin works faster to enter the brain but lasts a shorter amount of time (2-3 hours) compared to Adderall (4-6 hours). Another popular medicine that provides as a weaker alternative to Adderall is Modafinil (under the brand Provigil) which is used to mainly treat narcolepsy. As a UC Berkeley student, it seemed necessary to explore more about the famous “study drug” that many of my own friends seem to take.