Because I’m a snooty nerd & resentful of Bradley Cooper’s blue-eyed good looks (consider me his blue-eyed neckbeard counterpart), I prefer the literary inspiration to Limitless (titled The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn) over the movie.
Another reason for this: The book’s ending is better.
Or rather it’s “more realistic” — which, I know, don’t even say it. (I already disclaimed my snootiness.) It’s more realistic because it upholds an important Newtonian concept, Newton’s Third Law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, occasionally rendered as the more dooming What goes up must come down.
Adderall, like the Limitless pill, definitely lifts you up and, unfortunately, comes with an equal and opposite reaction: A crashing return to reality, or The Adderall Comedown.
Fortunately, there are means to lessening that blow: Nootropics.
What Goes Up…
Let’s get something straight: I’m not here to finger-wag or lecture or really even instruct, i.e., prescribe methodology — although I do hope that my readers (you) find this information as useful as it was/is for me. Clearly, I enjoy nootropics and aim to serve a co-authoritative role in the DIY nootropic community (as you may deduce from my calling myself the Nootropic Geek).
But I’m not the Adderall Geek.
And thus I claim no substantial authority on the subject.
This is partially because I fundamentally pivot on the differentiation between Adderallesque smart drugs, e.g., Adderall, Ritalin, Vyvanse, etc., and the Dr. Giurgean neuroprotective nootropics, e.g., citicoline, piracetam, L-theanine, etc., and mainly because I’m not a prescribed consumer of the drug: I’ve never been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, never clinically required pharmaceutical stimulation …which are, however, what I think prepare me to speak on a distinct yet related subject:
The off-label, non-prescribed supplementation of Adderall & other stimulant smart drugs for cognitive & recreational fun.
Let’s be mature about this: Off-label Adderall usage has ramped up in recent years and doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon, and this is a genuine problem, legally & otherwise. I’m not necessarily condoning the practice, but it is what it is — and it’s not good.
And to many, what it truly is is a major headache — literally. (Wah-wahh.)
Better known as:
The Adderall Comedown
Before we slay this dragon, let’s get our terminology straight:
- Adderall Comedown – The weaning & post phases of the drug experience.
- Adderall Crash – A negative comedown, marked by cognitive & physical side effects.
- Adderall Withdrawal – Cluster of symptoms provoked by abrupt cessation of long-term Adderall/stimulant use. (See sub.)
Not every Adderall experience ends in a crash.
In many cases, the user, e.g., pops a pill in the late-morning, goes about the day; gets work done, works out, etc.; comes down, chills and/or sleeps …and that’s it. Nothing to see here. Although, I’m sure if we lift the user’s cranial hood, we’d find an amalgam of adverse brain activity that, perhaps on a sparingly single-event basis, wouldn’t incur any long-term lasting effects — however, engage those amphetaminic pathways frequently & densely (i.e., in high doses), and you’re in: The Danger Zone.
Noo, that’s not neat, dogg: Adderall & other synthesized stimulants stimulate cognition to unnatural levels, flushing the brain with unnatural concentrations of catecholamines, e.g., dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine, etc. — the brain chemicals involved in fight-flight cognition. Flush the brain with too much stimulation, and eventually the catecholaminergic pathways fry, turning your brain into cold soup, evidenced by the following side effects:
- Anxiety & irritability
- Panic attacks
- Intense hunger*
- Intense crave for more Adderall†
Not to mention the bodily adversities of high blood pressure, heart rate, GI upset, etc.
*The intense hunger side effect is a conditional byproduct of Adderall’s inhibition of appetite, the conditional aspect hinging on your piggish ability to eat against the appetite loss. Piggishness turns out to be a semi-positive behavioral trait to frequent Adderall users.
†The intense crave for more Adderall is a direct product of Adderall’s dopaminergic reward activation, and acquiescing to the temptation heightens the crash risk with each submission. If the Adderall crash is the Danger Zone, consider the Adderall crave the Danger.
The dopaminergic motivational “reward” lessens with each crave acquiescence, resulting in a progressively higher demand for Adderall, paving an inroad to addiction. This is partly effected by dopamine’s auto-oxidation into 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA), a neurotoxic compound to the dopamine system that damages dopaminergic receptors via oxidative damage. The self-cannibalizing Ouroboric loop of chaos forms here: The dopamine system rewards Adderall consumption, which damages the dopamine system (via 6-OHDA), which thus requires more Adderall consumption to reach reward satisfaction, which rewards higher Adderall intake, which further damages the dopamine system, etc. Halting cold turkey amidst this process leads to a nasty withdrawal, which essentially manifests as a monstrous, migrainous Adderall crash fed for far too long. More on Addiction & Motivation.
The Nootropic Comeback
Similar to the alcohol hangover, the Adderall crash doesn’t reverse: You can lessen the pain, ease the comedown into a softer, gentler landing, yet the only 100% effective technique in avoiding (don’t say it) an Adderall crash is (DON’T SAY IT) abstinence. (Aughhh!)
This point is so annoyingly obvious & didactic that I won’t even go there.
Instead, I’ll simply go over the nootropic methods to alleviating the Adderall crash, mechanisms that I’ve simplified into two categories:
i. Nootropic Mediation
Instant release (IR) Adderall stimulates cognition for an average 6 hours, while the drug lingers in the body for much longer. In other words, the subjective comedown begins earlier than the actual amphetamine comedown, preventing your unconscious mechanisms from relaxing. This underlies the wrenching experience of feeling t’wired, or tired & wired, when all you want is to sleep. Some nootropics may help with this, easing the mind & body from catecholaminergic stimulation to GABAergic relaxation, whilst also salvaging catecholamine levels for post-Adderall normal cognition.
ii. Neurotoxic Mitigation
These aren’t nootropics per se, at least not in the cognitive enhancing sense, but rather antioxidant neuroprotectors against Adderall’s neurotoxicity. These substances reduce Adderall neurotoxicity through various pathways: 6-OHDA attenuation, NMDA receptor inhibition, toxin clearance, & more. Timing is important as some nootropic enthusiasts claim these substances may weaken the Adderall experience. However, if utilized correctly, these neurotoxic mitigators may reduce tolerance buildup to the drug, maintaining Adderall’s potency while reducing the risk of addiction.
Due to the lack of research on this subject (nootropics + Adderall), there is no standard list on what/what not to stack with Adderall to optimize the experience. Neither do I have a quote-unquote standard list for myself — however, based on personal experience, other users’ anecdotal reports, & preclinical research, I’ve compiled a couple lists of Nootropic Mediators & Neurotoxic Mitigators, respectively. If you feel I’ve missed any, feel free to comment your what‘s & why‘s in the comment section below.
Until then, enjoy:
Emphasis on the bioactive N-Acetyl form for its enhanced potency (although, this isn’t necessary to achieve the Tyrosine + Adderall combo). The reasoning behind this stack:
- Tyrosine provides precursor support to dopamine/catecholamines.
- Adderall promotes dopamine/catecholamine release.
Some users enjoy mixing the two concurrently to maximize dopamine activity. I’m not the biggest fan of this due to the potential risk of excess dopamine, which is already excessive in the case of Adderall. Instead, supplementing tyrosine in the evening, or after the Adderall wears off, may help replenish depleted dopamine/catecholamine levels.
Interestingly, one rat study found tyrosine supplementation to reduce the “need” for amphetamine self-administration, evidenced by the tyrosine-fed rats’ reduction in amphetamine self-administration. This gives tyrosine a slight substitute status for Adderall. More on L-Tyrosine.
Pre-, intra-, or post-amphetamine usage — there really isn’t a “bad” time to supplement L-theanine in temporal relation to the Adderall experience. In the world of nootropics, L-theanine earns its positive reputation for “taking the edge off” of caffeine & other similar stimulants: L-theanine removes the jitters yet sustains the focus, awareness, etc.
L-theanine explains the relaxed wakefulness effects of green tea.
During the Adderall experience, L-theanine may mildly even out the stimulation to a more calm, focused state, although not as effectively as during the caffeine experience, obviously. During the comedown, L-theanine’s GABAergic support may help curb anxiety symptoms while easing the mind to sleep. More on L-Theanine.
Fun Fact: I’m sipping on ashwagandha-laden green tea atm.
Corollary Fact: Ashwagandha green tea goes great with vegan cookies & artisanal beets — #Fun.
Hipsters love ashwagandha because it’s so chill. Which is essentially why I like ashwagandha as well, except I ascribe ashwagandha’s “chill” to its adaptogenic activation of GABA receptors & potential antioxidant neuroprotection. Tyrosine may salvage mood & focus during high stress conditions and rhodiola may alleviate feelings of fatigue, but ashwagandha’s relaxation borders on sedation. And this turns out to be a good thing on the tail-end of an Adderall stint.
Ashwagandha rarely makes the “Adderall Comeback” lists, but I find its anxiolytic relaxation immensely helpful in the cool-down period. Also, I’m super hip and thus obliged to include non-conformist list items. More on Ashwagandha.
This is a hit-or-miss suggestion (for me: hit) as some users experience stimulation, not the expected sedation, with Valerian Root supplementation. My reasoning for including it on this list (other than that it works for me):
- Valerian potentially enhances GABAergic activation.
- Valerian potentially protects dopaminergic cells.
Needless to say, the potential combination of GABAergic relaxation & dopaminergic neuroprotection perfectly fits the bill for a post-Adderall comeback. However, before trying valerian to attenuate the Adderall crash, I recommend supplementing it independently, i.e. on a completely sober mind, for a few trial-runs to determine whether it stimulates or sedates your unique little brain. More on Valerian.
Naturally synthesized melatonin plays an important neurochemical role in sleep & circadian rhythms, whereas dietary melatonin acutely sedates the mind, shifting it to a “sleep” state, often to treat insomniac events. For the Adderall-harried brain, melatonin serves two functions:
- Enhanced sleep control.
- Reduced dopaminergic neurotoxicity.
The first benefit is obvious.
The second benefit bridges neatly into the next list of substances (Neurotoxic Mitigators): As this rat study shows, melatonin possesses significant antioxidant activity, inhibiting 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA), a toxic dopaminergic byproduct, thereby mitigating Adderall neurotoxicity. Two birds, one stone.
Memantine first made an appearance on this website on my Nootropics for ADD & ADHD article. As an N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor inhibitor, memantine has demonstrated significant neuroprotective effects in rat models of “amphetamine derivatives-induced neurotoxic damage” (the “amphetamine derivatives” being MDMA & methamphetamines). Despite the side effect risk inherent in memantine supplementation, the drug is believed to reverse (or at least lessen) tolerance build-up to Adderall & other stimulants — although, more human trials are required for further clarification on this point.
The Magnesium + Adderall dictum seems to originate almost entirely from anecdotal sources that claim the mineral alleviates Adderall tolerance. No clinical research supports this notion, yet magnesium deficiency has been linked to ADHD in children — a loose connection to Adderall.
For the record, I personally find the Magnesium reduces tolerance claim untenable, or at least overblown. Still it’s not a bad idea given that Mg seems to behave as a weak NMDA receptor inhibitor. Plus if it potentially helps ADHD symptoms, the official diagnosis that warrants Adderall prescription, then it’s worth consideration.
Emergen-C & grapefruits are a godsend for the Adderall-raddled brain. Ditto for the LSD-raddled brain, alcohol-raddled brain, & essentially any other drug-type-raddled brain. I say this for Vitamin C, a blood-brain permeable antioxidant that accomplishes two neuroprotective functions:
- The reduction of free radicals
- The acidification of urine
Acidic urine protects the brain? Yes, numb nutz — it does while on Adderall. This bio-effect expedites the clearance the Adderall from the system, potentially ameliorating Adderall neurotoxicity. Additionally, vitamin C may assist the synthesis of dopamine to normal levels.
This suggestion is predicated on the Wang JY et al study “Vitamin D(3) attenuates 6-hydroxydopamine-induced neurotoxicity in rats” in which the researchers concluded:
[O]ur data indicate that D3 pretreatment attenuates the hypokinesia and DA neuronal toxicity induced by 6-OHDA. Since both H(2)O(2) and 6-OHDA may injure cells via free radical and reactive oxygen species, the neuroprotection seen here may operate via a reversal of such a toxic mechanism.”
Hypokinesia, partial or complete lack of muscle movement due to a disruption in basal ganglia, is ascribed to 6-OHDA, the neurotoxic byproduct of amphetamine usage. However, take into consideration that the study evaluates D3’s effects on a rat model without the actual use of amphetamines.
The name NAC typically surfaces in alcohol hangover discussions, however the same idea applies to the Adderall crash: N-Acetyl-Cysteine is a precursor to amino acid L-Cysteine — is a precursor to antioxidant glutathione — and thus may enhance the body’s natural antioxidant defense against toxins, particularly in the liver.
Bodybuilders use cysteine to protect the liver against steroids & acetominophen.
Drinkers use cysteine to eliminate toxic ethanol levels from the body.
Likewise for the Adderall users, although this comes with a caveat: NAC is a vasodilator and can increase blood flow, influencing blood pressure. Due to this, concurrently supplementing NAC & Adderall requires caution. As a safety measure, some users wait until after the Adderall effects wear off, sometimes until next morning, before taking NAC.
To continue the Newtonian principle of actions & reactions, Adderall is an intense action. Countering with nootropics & other “natural” substances obviously doesn’t match Adderall with equal force. Which is why we need to also lend consideration to a more Darwinian viewpoint: Survive, damn you! Stay fit & survive!
Sterilizing the Adderall side effects with nootropic substances is one thing.
Fostering a healthy mind & body to reduce crash risk altogether is another.
Don’t forget about exercise, diet, sleep, etc. These help in most aspects of life — of course they help in dealing with Adderall as well. In many ADHD cases, they’re the first things modified upon diagnosis. (See, now I am finger-wagging.) If the crashes become that bad, take a look at your lifestyle routines and be sure to check with a bona fide Adderall Geek, i.e., your physician.
For more on the subject of positive life routines, check out my Best Nootropic Supplements to Buy in 2017 list. And be sure to comment any thoughts, questions, personal anecdotes, haikus, snafus, etc. down below!