Adderall has a reputation for giving people a feeling of euphoria, increasing energy levels and enhancing abilities to focus and concentrate. And coincidently, so does meth. As it turns out, Adderall, also known is d-amphetamine, is strikingly similar in chemical structure to methamphetamine, known as meth or “crystal meth” in a more distilled form, an illegal and highly addictive drug.
When looking at the chemical structures of both Adderall and meth, Adderall is only one methyl group, a carbon atom bonded to three hydrogen atoms, away from meth (Rainoshek: 2016). Although it was initially thought that Adderall’s extra methyl group made it slower to enter the brain, and thus less addictive than meth, recent research has shown otherwise.
On a study of 13 men, in a double-blind trial, researchers dosed each with either meth, Adderall or a placebo over several days. They noticed that those who took meth or Adderall had strikingly similar symptoms; increases in energy, reduced feelings of tiredness, increased blood pressure and heart rate. Moreover, when asked to choose between a hit of either drug or varying amounts of money, participants chose to take Adderall on a similar number of occasions as those who chose to take meth, with regular meth users being unable to distinguish between the drugs (Hart: 2016).
Although the differing methyl group between Adderall and meth is likely to lead to some variation in the speed at which the drugs reach the brain, this experiment showed that its effect is negligible, making Adderall just as addictive as meth. Thus, given their structural and operational similarities, what’s the problem with meth?
Although certainly addictive, it seems that meth’s bad reputation is largely due to its public perception: usually depicted alongside prostittion and crime. The presumption that taking meth must lead to a fate of harmful addiction however may not be true. For example, although in one study users of meth prefered taking a small hit of meth (10 mg) over one dollar in cash almost half the time, in another study in which the cash alternative was raised to as little as five dollars, users almost consistently took the cash (ibid.).
This shows that, although “feel good” incentives certainly exist for taking meth, it may not be as addictive as previously thought. In turn, this means that, if taken under the right circumstances, meth also needn’t be as dangerous. For example, a study has shown that doses of 40-60 mg of meth are effective in treating people with narcolepsy, a sleep disorder, allowing them to achieve healthier sleep cycles and to be more alert during waking hours (Mitler: 1993). However, despite its utility in some medical situations, like Adderall, it is still generally not recommended for non-medical use due to its addictive properties, and inefficacy in meaningfully improving cognitive function among healthy people (Lennon: 2019).
To conclude, although Adderall has earned a reputation as a “study drug” and meth as an enabler for crime, both have similar effects and are similarly addictive. Having shown some effectiveness in treating certain conditions such as attention deficit disorder and sleep disorders while under supervision of medical professionals, both drugs are generally not recommended for healthy individuals due to risks of addiction and their inefficacy in improving cognitive abilities.
Rainoshek, David: Medium
Hart, Carl L.: Vice
Mitler, Merrill: Research Gate
Lennon, Annie: LabRoots