Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is an apparent mental disorder that usually occurs in children. As reported by Healthline, 6,400,000 children in the United States have been diagnosed with ADHD, many of whom received it as early as 7-years-old.
Parents and educators alike are extremely concerned about the rate at which doctors are diagnosing children with ADHD – especially so young. Some are even of the school of thought that professionals are outright misdiagnosing children. After all, not sitting still, short attention spans and hyperactivity are all normal parts of growing up.
However, an even greater concern has arisen regarding a popular medication that doctors prescribe people with ADHD – Adderall.
Adderall and Methamphetamine: What’s the Difference?
Amphetamine or dextroamphetamine (d-amphetamine), known commonly as Adderall, is used to treat ADHD. In 2012, however, a study published in Addiction suggested that Adderall and meth are basically identical. Methamphetamine, also known as crystal meth, has been used medically to treat obesity and even ADHD, but is avoided due its high-risk and addictive nature.
Obviously, for parents whose kids are taking Adderall or have had a doctor suggest it, that’s an absolutely terrifying thought. But, let’s dive into the science behind this claim.
Carl Hart, a Columbia University psychiatry professor and neuroscientist, is an expert on amphetamines. Interestingly, though, he had never taken one – a methamphetamine pill – until his 40th birthday back in 2006. After a rather enjoyable experience, Hart wondered: Why is it, then, that the general public has such a radically different view of this drug?
Taking an amphetamine like Adderall can have varying effects depending on the dosage. People use the central nervous system stimulant, both medically and recreationally, to temporarily enhance mental alertness as well as stamina and performance.
Methamphetamine, on the other hand, is a highly addictive neurotoxic drug that can elevate the mood, increase energy, and increase sexual desire. But, the question remains: which drug is truly worse?
What Carl Hart Found in His Adderall & Methamphetamine Study
It’s safe to say that both Adderall and methamphetamine are undesirable. However, Hart makes a poignant observation about North American society. People condemn meth users but, strangely, widely accept the use of Adderall (two closely linked drugs).
“In the interest of full disclosure, I too once believed that methamphetamine was far more dangerous than d-amphetamine, despite the fact that the chemical structure of the two drugs is nearly identical,” said Hart. “In the late 1990s, when I was a PhD student, I was told—and I fully believed—that the addition of the methyl group to methamphetamine made it more lipid-soluble (translation: able to enter the brain more rapidly) and therefore more addictive than d-amphetamine.”
Hart admits he was swayed by misinformation and deceptive media campaigns.
“Swayed by this messaging, the public remains almost entirely ignorant of the fact that methamphetamine produces nearly identical effects to those produced by the popular ADHD medication d-amphetamine (dextroamphetamine). You probably know it as Adderall®: a combination of amphetamine and d-amphetamine mixed salts.”
Carl Hart Is Right About the Similarities Between Adderall and Methamphetamine
There are studies to prove it, too. On a molecular level, methamphetamine and Adderall are quite similar. However, it’s the behavioral evidence that’s quite shocking.
In Carl Hart’s 2013 study, he and his team brought in 13 regular methamphetamine users. Depending on the day and under double-blind conditions, researchers gave the participants either methamphetamine, d-amphetamine (i.e., Adderall), or a placebo.
Between taking hits of methamphetamine or d-amphetamine, participants behaved almost identically:
- Increased energy
- Enhanced focus and concentration
- Reduced feelings of tiredness and fatigue
- Increased blood pressure and heart rate
What intrigued Hart even more is that “when offered an opportunity to choose either the drugs or varying amounts of money, our subjects chose to take d-amphetamine on a similar number of occasions as they chose to take methamphetamine.
These regular methamphetamine users could not distinguish between the two. (It is possible that the methyl group enhances methamphetamine’s lipid-solubility, but this effect appears to be imperceptible to human consumers.).”
What Every Parent Should Know Before Medicating Their Kids for ADHD
In his article for VICE, Carl Hart says, “[this] is not to suggest that people who are currently prescribed Adderall should discontinue its use for fear of inevitable ruinous addition.”
However, there are things parents need to be aware of and questions they should ask their doctor.
13 Side Effects of Adderall
The first eight are the most common side effects, and may include:
- Trouble sleeping
- Dry mouth
- Loss of appetite
- Increased heart rate
- Heart rhythm problems
- Raynaud’s syndrome
- Slowed growth in children
6 Questions You Should Ask Before Putting Your “ADHD” Child on Adderall
Don’t be so quick to fill out that Adderall prescription; ask these questions first.
- Am I sure my child really has ADHD, rather than some other problem which is causing him to be inattentive?
- Has my child had problems in elementary school, or did teachers only start talking about attention in middle school?
- Is my doctor suggesting we try medication even though he or she is not 100% that ADHD is the problem?
- Am I comfortable with the risks of giving my kid ADHD medication?
- Is it my child who needs to change, or the way he or she is taught?
- Are we using the safest form of the medication?
Some children have legitimate issues while others are simply acting as a child should. So, we hope this helps put your concerns at ease and allows you to treat your child – if needed – as best and safely as possible.
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and is for information only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition and/or current medication. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here.