As students struggled to study for their final exams before the holidays, I noticed that news reports about Adderall use in campus began to appear more frequently. Adderall is a long-acting amphetamine used to treat ADHD, with effects that last up to 10 hours. It’s ability to boost focus, concentration, memory, and energy levels make it a popular drug among young professionals and college students, who need them to enhance performance. But does Adderall really work for this purpose?
Probably not, says findings from a study done by the University of Pennsylvania. The paper, which was presented at the Society of Neuroscience’s annual conference last month, discovered that Adderall doesn’t always provide the effects desired by the user.
This study recruited the participation of 47 people, all in their twenties and without an ADHD diagnosis. Various cognitive functions were tested, from raw intelligence, to memories of specific events, to working memory (the ability to hold information needed for tasks like reasoning and comprehension). Every subject received a placebo and an Adderall, and they did not know which pill they were taking.
The results were very fascinating to say the least. Previous research has nothing but glowing things to say about Adderall’s effects on cognitive performance; effects include improved focus and alertness, even better judgment. However, the University of Pennsylvania study reports that while most participants felt the inflated sense of productivity, others did not experience this boost. In fact, many of the smarter participants showed reduced performance in some cognitive tests. On the tasks that involved impulsivity and working memory, Adderall leveled the playing field, allowing the below-average performers to perform just as well as the others.
The most interesting finding was the final question they asked the participants – “How and how much did the pill influence your performance on today’s tests?” Those who took Adderall were more likely to say that the pill made them do better on the tests, even though the actual test scores do not reflect an improvement over the placebo score.
It is not known why Adderall benefits some and does not work for others, but the bottom line remains – do not take Adderall, Ritalin, or other ADHD medications unless prescribed by a doctor, especially if you suffer from high blood pressure, mood disorder, or psychosis.