SEP 14, 2019 3:25 PM PDT

Does Adderall Really Work for People without ADHD?

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

Adderall is a popular stimulant. Known to treat Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD), those without the condition also use it to increase attention, focus and to lengthen waking hours. In fact, estimates say that 20% of  Ivy League college students use the drug at least once during their college years (Loria: 2015). But does it really work for people without ADHD?

Despite Adderall’s reputation for “enhancing performance” research suggests that it instead only corrects deficits. For example, a study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania found that although led to some improvements for those who otherwise scored lower on cognitive ability tests, particularly in word recall, shape recognition and perception and abstract reasoning, its usage led to no improvements in cognitive functioning for already high-performing individuals (Ilieva: 2013). 

Similar results were found in a study measuring how Adderall affects people’s creativity: although there was some evidence that it may improve some areas of creativity for typically less creative people, for those considered more creative, Adderall either had no effect on their abilities, or even impaired them(Farah: 2008). But how? 

As people with ADHD tend to have less neural activity in areas of the brain responsible for executive function, such as working memory, attention and self-control, Adderall, Adderall alternatives, and similar medications work by increasing activity in these regions to recreate normal functioning. According to Lisa Weyandt, who has researched the neurocognitive effects of the drug, “If your brain is functioning normally in those regions, the medication is unlikely to have a positive effect on cognition and may actually impair cognition. In other words, you need to have a deficit to benefit from the medicine (University of Rhode Island: 2018).”

During research conducted in 2018, she found similar results when looking at the neurocognitive effects of Adderall in healthy people. A double-blind placebo-controlled study, 13 healthy college students aged 18- 24 were measured for cognitive ability both on Adderall and using a placebo. 

Although usage of the drug did tend to improve attention and focus, Weyandt and her team found that this did not lead to improved performance on tests for cognitive functioning, including short-term memory and reading comprehension, when compared to usage of a placebo. In fact, they found that it may have instead worsened their ability to recall lists of numbers and reduced their ability to self-regulate (ADHD Editorial Board: 2018). 

To conclude, Adderall may improve some elements of brain function for low-performing individuals even if they don’t have ADHD. Yet, for those who score higher on cognitive tests, Adderall is likely either have no effect, and may even impair their functioning. Thus, while taking it may somewhat help people who score low on cognitive tests to perform certain tasks, for those who already score relatively highly, the drug is likely to fail in meeting any expectations of improved cognition. 

 

Sources 

 

Loria, Kevin: Business Insider 

Ilieva, I: Pub Med

Farah, Martha J.: Psychopharmacology 

University of Rhode Island 

ADHD Editorial Board, Additude Mag

About the Author
University College London
Annie Lennon is a writer whose work also appears in Medical News Today, Psych Central, Psychology Today, and other outlets. When she's not writing, she is COO of Xeurix, an HR startup that assesses jobfit from gamified workplace simulations.
You May Also Like
MAY 09, 2022
Health & Medicine
How Adult Acne Affects Women
MAY 09, 2022
How Adult Acne Affects Women
Although commonly thought of as a disease of adolescence, acne is said to affect nearly 50% of women in their 20s and ne ...
MAY 15, 2022
Microbiology
A Virus Was Used to Cure an Antibiotic-Resistant Lung Infection
MAY 15, 2022
A Virus Was Used to Cure an Antibiotic-Resistant Lung Infection
In a clinical first, reported in Cell, researchers used viruses that infect bacteria, called bacteriophages or phages fo ...
MAY 23, 2022
Drug Discovery & Development
A Possible Therapy for Infantile Spasms
MAY 23, 2022
A Possible Therapy for Infantile Spasms
Researchers at Texas Children’s Hospital have identified a possible cause of infantile spasms (IS) as well as a po ...
JUN 21, 2022
Cell & Molecular Biology
From sample collection straight to RT-qPCR
JUN 21, 2022
From sample collection straight to RT-qPCR
Skip the nucleic acid purification step in your cancer detection workflow. Learn more about how Thermo Fisher Scientific ...
JUN 06, 2022
Microbiology
Light-Activated Nanoscale Drills Can Penetrate Bacteria
JUN 06, 2022
Light-Activated Nanoscale Drills Can Penetrate Bacteria
In 1999, a miniature rotor that could be moved reliably was attached to a molecule. Researchers have come a long way sin ...
JUN 13, 2022
Microbiology
Mucus Contains Fungus-Fighting Molecules
JUN 13, 2022
Mucus Contains Fungus-Fighting Molecules
The human body plays host to a variety of microorganisms, including fungi like Candida albicans. Some strains of Candida ...
Loading Comments...