The Power of Smart Pills – Brain Supplements like Adderall

Best Adderall Alternatives

Smart Pills Similar to Adderall

Kevin is a business major at UCLA. Last weekend, he decided to go to Alpha Chi’s Hawaiian themed party instead of studying for his calculus midterm on Wednesday. His roommate, Matt, tells him he score him a smart pill for a pretty penny, $20 for 30mg of Adderall which could help him cram for that grade-determining midterm.

Sound like a familiar story?

Approximately 4.4% of adults have attention deficit disorders.

One of the most commonly abused “study drug” in college dorms is Adderall, dextroamphetamine, which has a high potential for abuse.

Adderall is, at the very basic, a psychostimulant, that that is legally prescribed for the treatment of attention-deficit disorders (ADD) or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Attention deficit disorder is one of the most commonly diagnosed and expensive neurodevelopmental disorders affecting kids in the U.S. More so, it is a lifelong condition that can extend into adulthood.

Untreated, ADD or ADHD can cause significant challenges in academic and work performance.

One common drug used to treat ADHD is Adderall. Adderall can increase focus on single tasks, enhance learning and memory and increase concentration for extended periods of time. Sounds great? Well, there’s a lot of potential side effects with Adderall. These include increased blood pressure, anxiety, sweating, palpitations.

Weight loss is also a concerning side effect of adderall since it could hinder growth in kids.

Due to the varied side effects and addictive potential of Adderall, many medical practitioners, researchers, and individuals alike are searching for smart pills similar to Adderall but without the side effects mentioned above. Non-stimulant medications on the market for the treatment of ADHD include Strattera (atomoxetine) and Kapvay (clonidine extended-release).

To keep in tip-top shape, the brain needs high-quality fuel.

The brain needs an optimal balance of essential fatty acids to maintain cell membranes, vitamins, and minerals to produce neurotransmitters, and a continuous supply of glucose. Your diet should provide your brain with optimal fuel. However, if you have a poor diet, supplements might be needed.

Despite only weighing 5%, the brain uses 20% of the total energy supply.

Cognitive-enhancing drugs or brain supplements aka “nootropics” are a quickly growing market with high demand. Is there a perfect “smart pill” on the market that is safe and effective? Here are the top legal brain supplements that are being studied.

Top Brain Supplements Similar to Adderall

1. Modafinil

Modafinil – a psychostimulant studied in US AirForce soldiers found that modafinil 400mg can counter cognitive impairments in sleep-deprived soldiers similarly as taking 20mg of Adderall. They were able to maintain wakefulness, memory and executive functions after being awake for 44 hours.

Researchers found that rats performed significantly better in memory tasks when given modafinil.

These rats were placed in a maze and had to rely on their working memory learned 1.5 mins previously to escape the maze. The rats who performed better? You guessed it – the rats on modafinil. Modafinil works similarly to psychostimulants but has different neurotransmitter binding sites in the brain than Adderall.

In addition, Modafinil raises glutamate in the memory centers of the brain, the thalamus, and hippocampus.

Since it has a lower binding affinity to dopamine receptors, it has a lower potential to become addictive. Lastly, it’s a promising cognitive-enhancer since it’s well tolerated and has a low side effect profile (insomnia is the most common).

2. L-acetyl-carnitine

L-acetyl-carnitine – is a potential “smart brain” drug with little to no side effects. It is a neuroprotective compound that can potentially protect the brain and mitochondria from damage. L-acetyl-carnitine is an essential compound for your body to produce energy. It can repair damaged neurons in diseases such as diabetic neuropathy.

When taken orally, it can increase glucose and creatine to brain regions such as the hippocampus in mice. They are also studying carnitine as a supplement to improve cognitive function in Alzheimer’s dementia.

Not surprisingly, taken as a supplement it can increase alertness and attention.

In a study of carnitine on 24 school-aged boys, researchers found a significant improvement in attention problems and hyperactivity in 13 of the boys when supplementing 100mg/kg carnitine (maximum of 4,000mg) daily.

However, other studies have found that carnitine did improve the symptoms when added as a supplemental treatment for ADHD in school children. More studies are concurrently being done to see the value of L-acetyl-carnitine on attention-deficit disorders.

The recommended dosage of L-acetyl-carnitine is up to 3g daily (a dosage level that was studied in 21 healthy men). Little side effects of L-acetyl-carnitine have been reported for that dosage level.

3. L-Theanine + Caffeine

L-theanine is mainly found in green tea. It has a synergistic effect when taken with caffeine. L-theanine is known to produce relaxation without sedating qualities and can improve concentration and focus when taken with caffeine. The reduction of stress is an important quality of L-theanine since because less stress can help with memory.

Relaxation = increased attention.

L-theanine can cross the blood-brain barrier when taken orally and increased levels have been found in regions the brain important in learning and memory such as the hippocampus.

L-theanine has been shown to improve concentration, reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality.

Many studies show that 2.5 mg/kg body weight of L-theanine and 2.0 mg/kg body weight of caffeine improves concentration in adults and when taken together, there is an additive effect or synergistic effect.

More so, L-theanine is very safe at even high doses and no toxicity in animal studies have been found.

Learn more about L-Theanine health benefits

The Takeaway

These brain supplements are certainly promising for those who are diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But what about those who want to increase their memory and concentration just because it is possible. No doubt, most of us want to become a better version of ourselves – smarter, faster, prettier, successful. But at what point do we say enough is enough and give ourselves a pat on our back for just being enough. That is for you to decide.


  1. Abbasi S.H., Heidari S., Mohammadi M.R., et al: Acetyl-L-carnitine as an adjunctive therapy in the treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescents: a placebo-controlled trial. Child Psychiatry Hum Dev 2011; 42: 367-375
  2. Killgore, W., et al. Restoration of Risk-Propensity During Sleep Deprivation: Caffeine, Dextroamphetamine, and Modafinil. Aviation, Space and Environmental Medicine. 2008;79(9): 867-874
  3. Murphy, H., et al. Modafinil as a cognitive enhancer of spatial working memory in rats. Physiology and Behavior. 2015; 142:126-130
  4. Swani, A. and Kemper, K. Attention Deficit Disorder. Integrative Medicine. 2018; 7: 53-63
  5. Van Oudheusden L.J., and Scholte H.R.: Efficacy of carnitine in the treatment of children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 2002; 67: 33-38

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