Ritalin Vs Adderall
We asked our team of experts to discuss the effects, side-effects, legality and safety of two of the world's favourite nootropics, Ritalin and Adderall.
By the end of this article, you will also be an expert on all things Adderall and Ritalin.
Ritalin is a widely-used prescription drug, which might also be used as a ‘smart drug’ by students or other individuals. Its popularity is greater in America than the UK, but many students in Great Britain do use Ritalin as a 'study drug'.*
What is Ritalin?
Ritalin is the brand name for methylphenidate. Methylphenidate was first synthesised in 1944, and has been used medically since the 1950s. It was originally marketed as a ‘pep pill’, to boost energy and productivity. Today, Ritalin is used as a treatment for ADHD, narcolepsy, and other disorders. As mentioned, it’s also used as a ‘smart drug’ by some people.
How Does Ritalin Work?
Ritalin works primarily through increasing levels of dopamine in the brain, by blocking dopamine dissipation. Dopamine is the ‘pleasure neurotransmitter’, and has numerous effects on the body, chief amongst which is increasing feelings of pleasure. It can also boost executive function, and has numerous other effects.
It also works in a similar, though less potent, way with the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, blocking uptake in the brain so the neurotransmitter builds up more. Norepinephrine promotes alertness and vigilance, as it contributes to the ‘fight or flight’ response.
Is Ritalin Legal In The UK?
No. Ritalin is a Class B drug in the UK, which means it is illegal to sell or possess without a prescription. The maximum penalties for possession are a 5 year prison sentence, an unlimited fine, or both, and sellers risk 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both. However, it is available on prescription from the NHS.
If you want a legal alternative to a 'smart drug' like Ritalin, then you might want to try a natural nootropic. Learn more about natural nootropics.
What Are Ritalin's Effects?
Ritalin increases wakefulness, and can help people concentrate on their work. This is because a boost to dopamine can drive you to concentrate more. As a result, Ritalin is prescribed for people with ADHD, narcolepsy or other conditions associated with fatigue or lack of concentration. Ritalin may also be prescribed for depression in some instances. Ritalin’s effects tend to last for around 2-3 hours.
What Are Ritalin’s Side-Effects?
Most studies into Ritalin’s side effects are on people with ADHD, meaning they might not be applicable to people using it as a ‘smart drug’. As they do not have a cognitive 'need' for Ritalin, there may be different side effects if it is used by people who do not suffer from a mental disorder.
Ritalin's common side effects include headache, decreased appetite, stomach ache, nervousness, trouble sleeping and nausea. More serious side effects might include seizures, problems with vision, cardiovascular issues or circulation problems.
The NHS also prescribes methylphenidate as an ADHD treatment. They say that increases in blood pressure, increases in heart rate, loss of appetite (which can lead to weight loss or poor weight gain), trouble sleeping, headaches, stomach aches and mood swings are among the common side effects associated with the drug.
Other studies of Ritalin's side effects have found that it can, rarely, cause psychological problems. It can activate or exacerbate pre-existing mental issues, and precipitate hypomanic or manic symptoms and paranoid psychosis. While quite uncommon, it's important to bear these symptoms in mind as potential side effects of Ritalin nevertheless. Consult with your doctor prior to using Ritalin, prescribed or off-label, if you suffer from psychiatric problems, heart issues or problems with your vision.
Natural nootropics can be as effective as smart drugs, without the same side effects - learn more about natural nootropics here.
Adderall is a medication, used to treat similar disorders to Ritalin: frequently, ADHD or narcolepsy. However, Adderall is also used quite often as a ‘smart drug’ or ‘study drug’ by people without a prescription for it.*
What Is Adderall?
Adderall is an amphetamine, and is prescribed for the treatment for disorders such as ADHD and narcolepsy. It was first used in the 1990s to treat ADHD, and continues to be used medically. More generally, amphetamines have been used since the 1930s for numerous purposes, and are powerful stimulants.
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How Does Adderall Work?
Adderall works in a similar, though not identical, way to Ritalin. Adderall increases the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, but primarily by increasing the amount that is released as well as inhibiting its dissipation. This may mean that Adderall might deplete your stores of these neurotransmitters more readily than Ritalin.
Is Adderall Legal In The UK?
Like Ritalin, Adderall is a Class B drug in the UK, which means it is illegal to sell or possess without a prescription. The maximum penalties for possession are a 5 year prison sentence, an unlimited fine, or both, and sellers risk 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both. Again, it is available on prescription from the NHS as a treatment for ADHD and other disorders, though it seems to be very rarely prescribed. Dexamphetamine, a primary ingredient in Adderall, is also prescribed on its own by the NHS.
What Are Adderall’s Effects?
Adderall is able to help people with ADHD or narcolepsy overcome their disorders, by improving their focus and wakefulness. Adderall may also be used in some rarer cases to treat chronic pain or depression. As an amphetamine Adderall can cause weight loss, and in very rare cases it might be prescribed as an extreme treatment for obesity. Adderall’s effects tend to be longer-lasting than Ritalin’s, often persisting for 4 to 6 hours.
What Are Adderall’s Side-Effects?
Adderall can often cause decreased appetite, stomach aches, or nervousness. Other side-effects include (but aren't limited to) nausea, diarrhoea, and vomiting.
Adderall use can cause or exacerbate psychiatric problems, and can also cause heart issues that could be very severe. This is admittedly rare: Adderall most commonly causes hypertension or tachycardia, which are generally minor unless a pre-existing condition results in complications. Studies indicate that side effects from chronic use of Adderall may include ‘psychosis, seizures and cardiovascular events’.
Other common side effects of Adderall are insomnia, emotional lability, nervousness, increased body temperature (potentially developing into hyperthermia) and fever. Most of these are described as ‘time limited’, meaning they disappear soon after discontinuing use of Adderall. Regardless, if you suffer from psychiatric or cardiovascular problems, speak with a doctor before using Adderall either prescribed or off-label.
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Alternatives To Smart Drugs: Natural Nootropics
If you want to take a 'smart drug' like Ritalin or Adderall, but would also like to avoid the potential for side effects, then consider a ‘natural nootropic’.
'Natural nootropics' are fast growing in popularity among both experienced nootropic and new users. Why? Because they can deliver similar results but by using natural, herbal or protein based ingredients.
For example, the leading natural nootropic BrainZyme uses Tyrosine, which has been found to boost dopamine in the brain in a similar way to Adderall or Ritalin. But, as it's from a naturally occurring protein rather than a synthetic pharmaceutical, it can arguably cause less of the side-effects associated with either of these drugs.
Conclusion & Differences
As this article has illustrated, Ritalin and Adderall have some marked differences. Both drugs are quite similar in their mode of action and effects. However Ritalin’s effects tend to be more short-lived and might be less intense, but in turn Ritalin may be less likely to damage or deplete your brain’s dopamine or norepinephrine systems. Conversely, Adderall is by many reports stronger but can cause some more severe problems.
Adderall’s primary ingredient - amphetamine - has been in existence for longer than methylphenidate, meaning it may have more research done on it, and might be more well-understood by doctors. That said, amphetamines can cause real problems such as addiction for people who take them - they certainly aren't less dangerous even if they are more well-known. If you suffer from a disorder for which you might be prescribed Ritalin or Adderall, and want to find out more about the options regarding medication, please speak with your doctor.
The primary differences seem to be in chemical composition and side effects. Adderall is a composite drug of several different amphetamines, while Ritalin contains only methylphenidate. And, Ritalin seems to have the potential to cause vision problems, compared with Adderall. However Adderall generally seems to be stronger, both in its effects and side effects. And, as mentioned earlier, Ritalin's effects may also wear off faster than Adderall's.
Nevertheless, both drugs have the potential to cause numerous side effects, and both are illegal to possess without a prescription in the UK. This makes them risky to take as ‘smart drugs’, and there are both legal and physical risks to their off-label use.
This makes natural nootropics an attractive alternative, as they provide a similar degree of effectiveness as 'smart drugs', while avoiding the majority of their side effects, particularly on the more severe end of the scale. As a result, the need to use Adderall and Ritalin as ‘smart drugs’ lowers tremendously.