Adderall vs Ritalin: Which is Better for Studying?
Benjamin Martin - 1 December 2022
Adderall and Ritalin are both medications that many students and working professionals use as smart pills to improve their performance.
We asked our experts to discuss the similarities and differences between Adderall and Ritalin as two of the world's most popular nootropics. They look into what each drug is, how they both work, their side effects and if Adderall or Ritalin is better for studying.
Their answers may surprise you.
By the end of this article, you will also have a working knowledge of Adderall and Ritalin and discover a natural alternative for studying that works just as efficiently and costs less.
- What are Adderall and Ritalin?
- How do Adderall and Ritalin Work?
- Adderall vs Ritalin for Studying
- What are the Side Effects of Adderall and Ritalin?
- What are Alternatives to Adderall and Ritalin?
What are Adderall and Ritalin?
Adderall is an amphetamine prescribed for treating disorders such as ADHD and narcolepsy.
Medical professionals first used it in the 1990s to treat ADHD and continue to this day to prescribe it medically.
More generally, amphetamines have been used since the 1930s for numerous purposes. They are potent stimulants.
To learn more about Adderall as a nootropic, check out our Ultimate Guide to Adderall for 2022.
Ritalin (also known as concerta or methylphenidate) is a widely used prescription drug. Some students and professionals use it as a smart drug to boost their performance.
It's more popular in the US than in the UK, but many students in Great Britain use Ritalin as a study drug.
Ritalin is the brand name for methylphenidate. Methylphenidate was first synthesised in 1944 and has been used medically since the 1950s.
It was initially 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, some people also use it as a smart drug.
Ritalin, Adderall and Concerta have the same active ingredient, but each gives different results.
Check out our Ultimate Guide to Ritalin 2022 to learn more about this popular nootropic.
It is important to note that both Adderall and Ritalin are Class B drugs in the UK, which means it is illegal to sell or possess them without a prescription.
Check out our quiz below to see which smart pill is right for you
How do Adderall and Ritalin Work?
Ritalin works primarily by increasing dopamine levels in the brain by blocking dopamine dissipation.
Dopamine is the 'pleasure neurotransmitter' and has numerous effects on the body, mainly increasing feelings of pleasure.
It can also boost executive function and has numerous other effects.
It also works in a similar, less potent way with the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, blocking its uptake in the brain so the neurotransmitter builds up more.
Norepinephrine promotes alertness and vigilance, contributing to the ‘fight-or-flight’ response.
Ritalin increases wakefulness and can help people concentrate on their work. This is because a dopamine boost can drive you to focus 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.
Effects tend to last around 2-3 hours, and reviews of Ritalin suggest it is similar to other pharmaceutical nootropics.
Adderall works in a similar, though not identical, way to Ritalin.
Adderall increases the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. Primarily, it increases the amount that is released as well as inhibits their dissipation.
This means that Adderall might decrease your neurotransmitter stores more promptly than Ritalin.
Adderall can help people with ADHD or narcolepsy overcome their disorders by improving their focus and wakefulness. Adderall may also be used in 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 are longer-lasting than Ritalin's, often persisting for 4 to 6 hours.
Did you know you don't have to take Adderall or Ritalin to get these effects?
Especially if you haven't been prescribed either drug and are looking for a nootropic to help you study. You can easily buy natural (and legal) alternatives, such as Brainzyme® FOCUS PRO™, which is made and regulated in the UK.
Adderall vs Ritalin for Studying
It is common for those who have taken Adderall or Ritalin to feel energetic and able to focus much better than usual.
Adderall and Ritalin's mechanism of action is (by a large degree) to act on the brain neurotransmitter ‘dopamine’, of which one pathway has a major motivational component. It can, for some, also increase wakefulness and decrease appetite.
Some users may experience an Adderall or Ritalin high - a euphoric feeling that some people experience when taking a high dosage of these drugs.
The combination of these three things (energy, focus, and euphoria) are the main reasons why such a high volume of people abuse drugs like Adderall or Ritalin.
Watch: Does Adderall (& Stimulants) Improve Student GPA?
Having more energy means staying up for longer doing work, and being more focused means being more productive and getting more things done in that time. The euphoria makes you excited, making it easier to do tasks you usually find boring.
What are the Side Effects of Adderall and Ritalin?
Adderall reviews are mostly positive - but a fair number of users report issues and side effects that can be severe.
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 issues caused by 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 the use of Adderall.
Regardless of whether or not you suffer from psychiatric or cardiovascular problems, speak with a doctor before using Adderall for either prescribed or ‘off-label’ use.
Most studies into Ritalin's side effects are on people with ADHD, meaning they might not apply to people using it as a smart drug.
As they do not have a cognitive 'need' for Ritalin, there may be different negative effects if it is used by people who do not suffer from a disorder Ritalin was designed to treat.
Ritalin's common side effects include headaches, decreased appetite, stomach ache, nervousness, trouble sleeping and nausea. More severe issues might include seizures, vision, cardiovascular, or circulation problems.
The NHS also prescribes methylphenidate (Ritalin) as an ADHD treatment.
Other studies have found that Ritalin can rarely cause psychological problems.
It can activate or exacerbate pre-existing mental issues and precipitate hypomanic or manic symptoms and paranoid psychosis. While relatively uncommon, it's nevertheless essential to bear these symptoms in mind as potential adverse effects of Ritalin.
Like with Adderall, consult your doctor before using Ritalin for either prescribed or ‘off-label’ use if you suffer from psychiatric problems, heart issues or problems with your vision. Of course, different people can experience different side effects, and some people won't experience any at all.
What are Alternatives to Adderall and Ritalin?
Before trying something like Adderall or Ritalin, or any other pharmaceutical nootropic, it may also be prudent to examine why you feel you need it in the first place.
Many of the problems people try to combat with Adderall or Ritalin as a study drug are associated with fatigue and overworking, so it might be wise to try a lifestyle change before self-medicating.
Taking more personal time to de-stress, exercise and eat well are effective ways of promoting a better sleep schedule. If this isn't an option, mindfulness and meditation can improve mental well-being with minimal time investment.
If your work or study schedules are taking their toll, it might be worth speaking with your manager, professor or another appropriate figure regarding a change you could make to improve your well-being.
Recently, in the UK, there has been a surge of other nutritional cognitive enhancers (also known as natural nootropics) that can produce similar effects to pharmaceuticals but with fewer risks.
These enhancers use superfoods, herbals, amino acids, vitamins and minerals to bolster your brain instead of containing pharmaceutical drugs.
Their impact is more subtle than a pharmaceutical smart drug, which is a good thing if you want to avoid a sense of nervousness or nausea and loss of appetite from something like Adderall or Ritalin.
Brainzyme® FOCUS PRO™, for example, uses tyrosine, which has been found to boost dopamine in the brain similarly to Adderall or Ritalin. However, as it's from a naturally occurring protein rather than a synthetic pharmaceutical, it causes fewer side effects than either drug.
Furthermore, natural options are legal, better for you, and will work more synergistically to nourish your body. This means there will be a longer-term positive benefit and less chance of a tolerance forming.
Many of them have been designed to work as alternatives to pharmaceuticals. The best ones are fully regulated by British organisations like the MHRA, meaning that there's a far lower risk to your health from trying a natural nootropic.
So if you want to try a natural nootropic, we suggest Brainzyme® FOCUS PRO™ as a safer, natural and more cost-effective alternative to Adderall or Ritalin.
As this article has illustrated, Ritalin and Adderall have some marked differences. Both drugs are pretty 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, it may be less likely to damage or deplete your brain's dopamine or norepinephrine systems. Conversely, Adderall is, by many reports, more potent and can cause some more severe problems.
Adderall's primary ingredient - amphetamine - has existed for longer than methylphenidate, meaning that it may have more research on it and might be more well-understood by doctors.
That said, amphetamines can cause real problems such as addiction - they certainly aren't less dangerous even if more is known about them.
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 the possible negative effects. Adderall is a composite drug of several amphetamines, while Ritalin only contains methylphenidate.
Ritalin seems to have the potential to cause vision problems compared to Adderall. However, Adderall generally appears more potent in its effects and side effects. As mentioned earlier, Ritalin may also wear off faster than Adderall.
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 for those looking for a studying aid. 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.
We strongly recommend natural alternatives over Ritalin and Adderall as nootropics for studying, because they are fully legal in the UK and come with much less risk. We suggest trying Brainzyme® FOCUS PRO™ as a safer, more affordable, and 100% plant-powered alternative to Adderall or Ritalin for studying.
(2018) What is adderall, is it illegal to buy in the UK and what are the side effects of the class-B 'study drug'?, The Sun. Available at: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/5768323/what-adderall-illegal-uk-side-effects-class-b-study-drug/ (Accessed: November 11, 2022).
Kim, M.G. et al. (2020) Twitter analysis of the nonmedical use and side effects of methylphenidate: Machine Learning Study, Journal of Medical Internet Research. JMIR Publications Inc., Toronto, Canada. Available at: https://www.jmir.org/2020/2/e16466/ (Accessed: November 11, 2022).
Kim, H.K. and Lee, T.K. (2018) Curious or afraid of using study drugs? the effects of self-referent thoughts and identification on anticipated affect, International Journal of Communication. Available at: https://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/view/7387 (Accessed: November 11, 2022).
Benjamin Martin is a nootropic and brain supplement enthusiast who has tried every type of performance-boosting supplement under the sun. He uses his expertise to produce educational content for the Brainzyme® blogs.
Based in Edinburgh, Benjamin loves spending his free time in nature whenever he gets the chance.