“Adderall and other stimulants […] are the perfect chemical accomplice in a society that prizes productivity above all else,” notes a short article that featured last year in The Lancet.
Adderall is an amphetamine-based drug that doctors prescribe to individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or narcolepsy — a condition that causes people to fall asleep suddenly, even in the middle of the day.
The manufacturers of this drug created it to allow people with these conditions to remain alert and focused. Increasingly, however, healthy young people have started procuring and using this and similar drugs as a way of “hacking” their brains to enhance performance while working or studying.
A 2016 study by researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, MD, found that in the United States, the nonprescribed use of Adderall had increased by 67%among young adults over approximately 6 years.
Yet, according to a new study by researchers from the University of California, Irvine, the nonmedical use of psychostimulants such as Adderall only brings short term benefits. The team found that in the long run, these drugs, in fact, negatively affect the focus, working memory, and sleep quality, creating a vicious cycle.
“Healthy individuals who use psychostimulants for cognitive enhancement may incur unintended costs to cognitive processes that depend on good sleep,” warns lead author Lauren Whitehurst.
“Our research shows that while psychostimulants may mildly curb natural attentional deterioration across the day, their use also disturbs sleep and post-sleep executive function.”
The researchers recruited healthy adult participants and conducted two sets of experiments. The first was to assess the effects of psychostimulants on cognitive performance, particular focus, and the second was to see how these drugs would affect sleep and working memory, which is the type of memory that we use daily to make decisions.
All the participants received memory and attention tests at the beginning of the study so that the researchers could see how these baseline measurements would compare with the results at the end.
The researchers gave the participants either a placebo or 20 milligrams of the psychostimulant dextroamphetamine, a substance that is present in Adderall. A week later, they switched the treatments so that each participant had received both.
The team published their findings in two separate study papers. The first, in the journal Cognition, focuses on the effects of dextroamphetamine on attention span, while the second, in Behavioural Brain Research, discusses the drug’s effects on sleep and working memory.
Writer: Sakshi Gupta