I experimented for a year by using nootropics in place of the 20 mg of Ritalin I had been using 3-times a day for several years. And for the most part, I was successful in taming my Adult ADD symptoms.
Adult ADD Nootropic Stack
The ADD/ADHD stack I use includes:
- Mind Lab Pro
- Performance Lab® Energy – twice per day
- ALCAR – 800 mg 1-time per day
- NALT – 800 mg 3-times per day
- Sulbutiamine – 400 mg twice per day
- Aniracetam – 800 mg twice per day
- Vinpocetine – 10 mg 3-times per day
- DHA (Omega-3) – 1,000 mg per day
- 1 tablespoon Coconut Oil – 3-times per day
- Performance Lab® Whole-Food Multi – twice per day
The ingredients in Mind Lab Pro along with NALT and ALCAR (included in Performance Lab Energy) kept my dopamine, norepinephrine, and acetylcholine levels high enough to maintain focus, motivation and improve my memory. Vinpocetine kept my brain blood flow at optimal levels. And Aniracetam and Sulbutiamine improved my mood.
But after a year I decided to go back to using 20 mg of Ritalin twice per day. Because my workload had me writing 10 hours per day. And maintaining working relationships with 2 or 3 clients at once.
By adding Ritalin back to my stack I was able to reduce the time it would take to complete a project from 3 days to 1 ½ days. Proof to me that my brain couldn’t make it with nootropics alone.
The beauty of continuing to use NALT and ALCAR even after I started using Ritalin again was that I avoided the stimulant “crash” that is so common late afternoon when using stimulants. And I was able to reduce the original 20 mg Ritalin 3-times per day down to only twice per day.
Your situation may be different, or ADHD symptoms not as severe. Only you can decide if nootropics can replace ADHD meds. And it comes by trial and error with different stacks And knowing as much as you can about what’s going on in your brain that needs to be fixed.
Prescription “Smart Drugs” vs. Nootropics for ADHD
So if you are dealing with ADHD, hopefully this post will help. Especially if you are using stimulants like Ritalin, Adderall or Vyvanse. Or trying to deal with ADHD naturally by avoiding prescription stimulants.
This information can also help if you are a student or executive who uses prescription “smart drugs” like Adderall or Modafinil to boost productivity.
Here we’ll dig into the causes of ADHD or ADD in your brain. Symptoms associated with ADHD. And what you can do using nootropics, or nootropics stacked with stimulants to correct ADHD symptoms.
I’ll also include ways to potentiate the effectiveness of prescription stimulants with nootropics so they work better.
If you’ve never ‘officially’ been diagnosed ADHD, but some of this resonates with you, you could be ADHD or ADD. And this may point you to some answers.
I’ve been ADD all my life. (ADD is ADHD without the hyperactivity). But it wasn’t until about 12 years ago, that a very wise psychiatrist identified what was going on. And why I had been struggling with focus and other problems with behavior. That no amount of self-help books on focus and management could ever correct.
Ritalin turned the lights on for me. And completely changed my life for the better. This was the seed that sprouted my interest in neuroscience and nootropics. And ultimately launching NootropicsExpert.com.
What is ADHD & ADD?
Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) are associated with attention and executive function in your brain.
Your prefrontal cortex directs behavior, thought and feeling which are all associated with working memory. These fundamental cognitive abilities that most take for granted, are what make up executive function.
This executive function and working memory give you the ability to:
- Regulate your attention
- Inhibit inappropriate behavior and thought
- Monitor your actions
- Plan and organize your future
If you can’t focus on the task at hand, blurt things out at inappropriate times, have little control over your emotions or actions, and can’t seem to stick to that careful set of goals you wrote down, you may be ADHD.
The Role of Norepinephrine and Dopamine in ADHD
The “inattentive” type of ADHD is related to issues with the norepinephrine, and the “hyperactive and impulsive” type of ADHD is linked to dopamine dysfunction.
These two neurotransmitters work in concert to maintain alertness, increase focus, sustain thought, effort, and motivation. The only difference between the two is the presence of a hydroxyl group. And dopamine is the precursor to norepinephrine synthesis in your brain.[ii]
Much of what we read about ADHD focuses on dopamine’s function in your brain. But norepinephrine (NE) plays a critical role in activating your reaction to events. And how you respond to the event.[iii] NE is essential for collecting information coming in through your senses. And then modulating your brain’s response.
Any disruption in this NE system can result in ADHD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), sleep disorders and more.[iv]
For example, NE working with postsynaptic α2-adrenoceptors (α2-AR) in your brain play an essential role in helping you focus and eliminate distractions when you’re paying attention to something.[v]
This is just one example of what goes wrong in the ADHD brain. My point in bringing this all up is not to overwhelm you with neuroscience. But to make clear that simply suggesting too much or too little of a single neurotransmitter like dopamine cannot explain the complexity of ADHD.
So using a nootropic like Mucuna Pruriens (L-Dopa) to amp up dopamine in your brain is often not enough to take care of ADHD symptoms. Or using Adderall with someone who has a problem with alpha2-receptor binding with norepinephrine may not get much benefit.
This is the reason that experimenting with various stimulants and/or nootropics is often the only way to find a long-term solution to keeping ADHD under control. And why some respond better to a drug like Ritalin and not as well to Adderall. Or vice versa.[vi]
Smart Drugs Used to Treat ADHD
The most severe forms of ADHD often benefit from using prescription medication. Otherwise known as “smart drugs” in some circles, these meds are typically amphetamines or methylphenidate.
The amphetamine-class of ADHD medications includes Adderall (75% dextroamphetamine salts and 25% levoamphetamine salts), Dextroamphetamine, and Vyvanse (Lisdexamfetamine).
The methylphenidate-class of ADHD medications includes methylphenidate (Ritalin) and its variants like Concerta, and Focalin.
Adderall and Ritalin both work with dopamine and norepinephrine in your brain. But through different mechanisms of action.
Ritalin is a pure uptake inhibitor of dopamine and norepinephrine without any other presynaptic activity.[viii] Adderall on the other hand, has additional presynaptic activity, releasing dopamine and norepinephrine from presynaptic neurons.
The idea for the last 50 years or so, has been if we could boost dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, ADHD symptoms would go away. As long as we’re taking the medication.
Why Prescription ADHD Meds Often Don’t Work
But real-world results often don’t work out as well as theory. For several reasons. For example, what if there’s not enough dopamine or norepinephrine in your brain in the first place? Then stimulants will not work as well as planned because they haven’t the neurotransmitters in place to work with.
You could also have problems with not enough or damaged neuroreceptors. Natural aging processes can slow blood flow or inhibit the production of neurotransmitters. A lack of acetylcholine could prevent your neurotransmitters from doing what they were designed to do.
This is where nootropics can help save the day in treating the symptoms of ADHD.
Optimizing Dopamine & Norepinephrine
Stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin work to boost levels of these two critical neurotransmitters.
Production of dopamine and norepinephrine in your body follows this metabolic pathway:
Phenylalanine → Tyrosine → L-DOPA → Dopamine → Norepinephrine
Dopamine is converted to norepinephrine by the enzyme dopamine β-monooxygenase, with O2 and ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) as cofactors.
Nootropics to boost dopamine and norepinephrine include:
- N-Acetyl-L-Tyrosine (NALT) – L-tyrosine is the precursor to producing dopamine in your brain. NALT enhances working memory, executive function, creative flow states, reduces stress, improves mood and is anti-anxiety.
Suggested dosage of NALT for ADHD is 350- 500 mg twice per day. I successfully stack 800 mg of NALT 3-times per day. Once each time I dose with Ritalin, and a last dose mid-afternoon to prevent a stimulant crash later in the day.
- Mucuna Pruriens (L-Dopa) – Mucuna works as an antioxidant and heavy metal chelator, improves memory & cognition, reduces depression and boosts libido.
L-Dopa is also the precursor to dopamine. Suggested dosage of Mucuna Pruriens is 250 – 500 mg per day.
- N-Acetyl L-Cysteine (NAC) – NAC is an amino acid that regulates the amount of glutamate and dopamine in your brain.
NAC can be used to treat the symptoms of ADHD. And even helps eliminate some of the negative side effects associated with prescription ADHD stimulants. Suggested dosage of NAC is up to 600 mg 3-times per day.
- NADH – NADH helps increase alertness, clarity, focus, memory and enhances mood.
NADH also helps stimulate the production of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin in your brain. Suggested dosage of NADH is 10 mg per day.
- Phosphatidylserine (PS) – PS can help improve alertness, attention, cognition, memory, recall and mood, and lower anxiety. All issues associated with ADHD.
Phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid component of the membrane encasing every one of your brain cells. PS helps maintain the fluidity and permeability of brain cells. Improving the flow of dopamine and acetylcholine. Suggested dosage of PS is 100 mg 3-times per day.
- Pine Bark Extract – Pine Bark extract helps prevent decreases in dopamine and norepinephrine. And the glutathione (GSH) and GSH-disulphide reductase (GSSG-R) ratio. Neurotransmitter problems which contribute to hyperactivity in ADHD.
Pine Bark extract helps boost blood flow in the brain by increasing nitric oxide which helps dilate blood vessels. And it helps with oxidative stress, membrane damage, DNA damage, inflammation, and glycation.
A word of caution here in boosting the catecholamines dopamine and norepinephrine. Too much of either is not a good thing. In fact, excess levels of either will throw your neurotransmitter levels out of balance. And can cause anxiety, insomnia and panic attacks.
The “H” in ADHD stands for hyperactivity. Boosting levels of dopamine and norepinephrine can help balance out hyperactivity. And help calm and focus your mind. But often simply boosting or balancing these neurotransmitters is not enough.
Recent studies show that serotonin and dopamine interaction also play a role in ADHD.[ix] Serotonin is involved in the uptake, synthesis and breakdown of dopamine in your brain. Problems with serotonin seem to contribute to behavior and impulse control.
Much more research needs to be done in this area of ADHD. But we can help control and balance serotonin with nootropics.
- 5-HTP – This amino acid is synthesized from the amino acid tryptophan. And 5-HTP is the immediate precursor to serotonin in your brain.
5-HTP can help relieve anxiety and depression, fibromyalgia, insomnia, migraines and likely the hyperactivity, depression and anxiety associated with ADHD. Suggested dosage of 5-HTP is 50 mg up to 3-times per day. Please see our dosage notes and warnings however on supplementing with 5-HTP.
- Ginseng – Ginseng helps calm anxiety, and boost attention, concentration and memory. Ginseng provides neuro-protective effects on the dopaminergic-pathway which can help with ADHD. And ginseng is a serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor.
Suggested dosage of Ginseng is 100 – 400 mg per day.
- L-Theanine – L-Theanine commonly found in green tea helps boost alpha and theta brain waves, is anti-anxiety, boosts cognition and memory and reduces insomnia.
L-Theanine also helps boost GABA, serotonin and dopamine levels in your brain. Suggested dosage of L-Theanine is 250 – 500 mg per day.
- Rhodiola Rosea – Rhodiola helps improve alertness, energy, memory and mood, is anti-anxiety and anti-depressant, reduces fatigue and boosts cognition and concentration.
Rhodiola influences serotonin and norepinephrine levels in your brain. Suggested dosage of Rhodiola extract is 150 – 200 mg per day.
- SAM-e – SAM-e helps in the process of cell division and repair. And the generation of dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine and melatonin.
Suggested dosage of SAM-e is 300 mg per day.
- Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) – Vitamin B6 helps your brain make serotonin, norepinephrine and melatonin. Suggested dosage of B6 is up to 100 mg per day.
- Vitamin B8 (Inositol) – Inositol as a nootropic can boost serotonin levels which results in feelings of calm, heightened mental energy, and easy thought flow.
Suggested dosage of Inositol is from 500 – 3,000 mg per day.
- Vitamin B9 (Folate) – Folate (not folic acid) as a nootropic helps your brain make dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine and serotonin. Suggested dosage of Folate is 400 mcg per day.
B-Vitamins are Critical in Controlling ADHD
Take note that several of the B-Vitamin group are involved in the production of the neurotransmitters involved in ADHD. I recommend adding a good B-Vitamin Complex well above the usual RDA levels that include folate (not folic acid) and methylcobalamin (not cobalamin) to your stack. Both in a pure nootropic stack as well as when stacking with any of the ADHD prescription stimulants.
But it’s not only the B-Vitamins that are required for a healthy, fully functioning brain. We also need each of the 13 vitamins and 13 minerals needed for everything from blood flow, neurotransmitter synthesis and release, brain signaling, and neuroprotection.
I’ve found the easiest way to make sure my ADD brain gets all the vitamins and minerals it needs every day is to also use a multivitamin/mineral supplement.
The best I’ve found so far is a new multivitamin called Performance Lab® Whole-Food Multi. It’s better than the “raw-food” multi I’ve been using for years. And makes a difference I can actually feel.
But please note that this multi is in addition to a B-Vitamin Complex because the ADHD brain needs more of these critical nutrients than what is normally in any good multivitamin.
The Role of Acetylcholine in ADHD
Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center discovered that there are three types of ADHD.
We’ve already covered the “inattentive” type that is related to issues with the norepinephrine transporter gene. And the link to the dopamine transporter gene in the “hyperactive and impulsive” type.
But the research team now report that a variation in the choline transporter gene is associated with a “combined” type of ADHD. Symptoms include both inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity.
If you have the “combined” type of ADHD it’s likely due to a mutation in this choline transporter gene variation.
Nootropics to boost acetylcholine include:
- ALCAR (Acetyl-L-Carnitine) – ALCAR donates a methyl group in the presence of Coenzyme-A for the synthesis of acetylcholine. And it’s also a shuttle transport for fatty acids through brain cell membranes. It shuttles fatty acids into mitochondria for fuel, and shuttles toxic byproducts out.
Research from the Linus Pauling Institute shows ALCAR will restore mitochondrial function, replenish age-related changes to mitochondrial structure, and replenishes acetylcholine levels to your brain and body.
And other studies show that ALCAR stimulates nerve growth factor. Helping support survival and growth of neurons. Which is particularly important for the ADHD brain and especially when using prescription stimulants that may be tough on neurons.
- Alpha Lipoic Acid (R-LA) – Alpha Lipoic Acid increases acetylcholine production by activation of choline acetyltransferase and increases glucose uptake. This process supplies more Acetyl-CoA for the production of acetylcholine.
Alpha Lipoic Acid enhances insulin-stimulated glucose transport and metabolism for better brain cell performance. And R-LA provides strong antioxidant support because it helps regenerate and recycle existing antioxidants in your brain including Vitamins C & E, glutathione, and CoQ10.
I’ve since switched the ALCAR supplement in my ADD stack to Performance Lab® Energy because this pre-formulated energy stack contains my preferred dose of ALCAR. But note that I also take another 800 mg of ALCAR with my NALT dose late afternoon to prevent a stimulant crash.
Performance Lab® Energy also contains Alpha Lipoic Acid which helps my ADD brain produce acetylcholine. And has helped reverse the ‘insulin resistance’ my doctor diagnosed me with a year ago.
- CDP-Choline (Citicoline) – Citicoline helps synthesize phosphatidylcholine (PC), a major phospholipid found in brain cell membranes. And provides choline for the synthesis of acetylcholine while providing antioxidant activity.
But a suitable alternative to MLP is the new Performance Lab® Mind which contains the branded form of citicoline called Cognizin®.
Performance Lab® Mind and Mind Lab Pro® also contain N-Acetyl-L-Tyrosine (NALT), Phosphatidylserine (PS), and Maritime Pine Bark extract.
Repairing Neuroreceptors Needed to Control ADHD
Once again, nootropics come to the rescue in helping control ADHD. You can add one of these nootropics to your stack to help boost receptor health.
- Ashwagandha – This adaptogen, Ashwagandha helps reduce anxiety and depression. And helps reconstruct axons, dendrites and synapses involved in neurotransmitter signaling in your brain.
Suggested dosage of Ashwagandha extract is 250 – 500 mg per day.
- Bacopa Monnieri – Bacopa helps boost memory and cognition, improves mood, and reduces stress. This adaptogen affects brain levels of acetylcholine needed to help neurotransmitter signaling.
And the two active components of Bacopa called bacosides A and B not only improves signaling of electrical impulses between neurons in your brain. Bacosides also help rebuild damaged neurons. Suggested dosage of Bacopa is up to 450 mg per day.
- Lion’s Mane – Lion’s Mane Mushroom is known for stimulating Nerve Growth Factor, improving cognition and memory, and relieving depression.
Lion’s Mane stimulates the repair and creation of neurons in your brain. Neurons needed for dopamine and norepinephrine to control ADHD. Suggested dosage of Lion’s Mane Mushroom is 500 mg per day.
- Noopept – Noopept helps boost cognition, memory, learning, perception, logical thinking and mood. Noopept increases Nerve Growth Factor, and Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) critical for neuroplasticity and Long-Term Potentiation critical for long-term memory.
Noopept also prevents the release of excess glutamate in your brain. Providing potent neuroprotection for neurons and reducing damage. Suggested dosage of Noopept is 10 – 30 mg per day.
Please note that I haven’t linked through to supporting clinical studies for each of the nootropics I listed above. But you can click through to each nootropic page for extensive research supporting each supplement.
Nootropics for Kids
ADHD and ADD is most often diagnosed in children. The latest statistics (2011) from the CDC in the USA shows about 11% of children 4 – 17 years of age (6.4 million) have been diagnosed ADHD.[x] And that’s just for the USA.
Although ADHD is usually first diagnosed in children, it often lasts into adulthood. I sometime wonder how my life would have been different if I had been declared ADD when I was a kid.
But it wasn’t until the late 1960’s that the American Psychiatric Association formally recognized ADHD as a mental disorder. I wasn’t declared ADD until much later.
The thing is many parents are wary about putting their children on powerful, prescription ADHD meds. Kids brains continue to develop until your early 20’s. So is it a problem messing with brain chemistry at such a young age? Only time will tell and if the benefits outweigh the costs.
Hence the reason why parents are looking for ‘natural’ alternatives like nootropics to treat ADHD in children. But are nootropic supplements any safer than prescription stimulants?
But many children with ADHD, natural supplements may not be enough. I’m not a doctor, and don’t even play one on TV. I’m an ordinary biohacker who has learned as much as I can to help myself. And fix my own cognitive issues. Including Adult ADD.
So I strongly suggest you find and work with an open-minded psychiatrist with your child. You may be pleasantly surprised to find you may be able to reduce or eliminate prescription ADHD meds altogether. And maybe not. But the long-term health of your child could be worth the time investment to find out.
I’ve been wanting to write this post since I started Nootropics Expert. If you are ADHD or ADD, I hope you found it useful. And I’d appreciate your feedback, and share your experience with treating ADHD with nootropics in the comments section of this post.
One final note. Neurotransmitter balance is key to taming ADHD. I strongly caution you to take it slow if you’re just starting out with nootropics. Carefully read each of the extended articles in the List of Nootropics you are considering trying.
You need to be careful about side effects, prescription drug interactions, dosages and how your body reacts to each supplement.
But I’m confident that with careful planning and a long-term commitment, you can be as successful as I have been in living and thriving with ADHD or ADD.
[ii] Pliszka S.R., McCracken J.T., Maas J.W. “Catecholamines in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: current perspectives.” Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 1996 Mar;35(3):264-72. (source)
[iv] Berridge C.W., Waterhouse B.D., “The locus coeruleus–noradrenergic system: modulation of behavioral state and state-dependent cognitive processes” Brain Research Reviews Volume 42, Issue 1, April 2003, Pages 33–84 (source)
[v] Franowicz J.S., Kessler L.E., Borja C.M., Kobilka B.K., Limbird L.E., Arnsten A.F. “Mutation of the alpha2A-adrenoceptor impairs working memory performance and annuls cognitive enhancement by guanfacine.” Journal of Neuroscience. 2002 Oct 1;22(19):8771-7. (source)
[vi] Zametkin A.J., Karoum F., Linnoila M., Rapoport J.L., Brown G.L., Chuang L.W., Wyatt R.J. “Stimulants, urinary catecholamines, and indoleamines in hyperactivity. A comparison of methylphenidate and dextroamphetamine.” Archives of General Psychiatry. 1985 Mar;42(3):251-5. (source)
[viii] Wilens T.E. “Effects of methylphenidate on the catecholaminergic system in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.” Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology. 2008 Jun;28(3 Suppl 2):S46-53 (source)