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How Does Adderall Work?

A Closer Look at Amphetamine

Hannah Nielsen
Chemistry 1010
December 10, 2017
Often used to treat narcolepsy, depression, and ADHD, Adderall contains a small portion

of the active ingredient, amphetamine. Amphetamine, a synthetic stimulant, was first synthesized

in 1887 by Lazr Edeleanu, a Romanian chemist. The drug didnt actually hit the pharmaceutical

market until 1933 and, at the time, was called Benzedrine. In 1943, the U.S. and British Armys

shipped an estimated 150 million used pep pills, or pills of straight amphetamine, to make troops

more awake, focused, and encourage higher moral (Tien Nguyen, 2015). With such great

popularity, the question becomes, how/why is the drug so effective in making a person more alert,

focused, and awake?

Amphetamine works in the bodys central nervous system by boosting the production of

dopamine in the brains reward center (Tien Nguyen, 2015). Adderall is a combination of two

stereoisomers of the chemical amphetamine (Meyers, 2013). Stereoisomers are two molecules

made up of the same combination of atoms differing only slightly in the arrangement of the atoms

in space (Chemicool Dictionary). The chemical structures of these amphetamine stereoisomers

closely resemble the catecholamine family of neurotransmitters in the brain including epinephrine

and dopamine (otherwise known as the feel-good hormones in the brain). This close resemblance

allows Adderall to act as these chemicals would in the brain (Meyers, 2013). Adderall works by

being the catecholamine agonist (or the thing that, when combined with a receptor, initiates the

preferred physiological response), binding to dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine receptors

to create the sensations associated with the reward center of the brain. This binding, for example,

can promote satisfaction, arousal, and the fight-or-flight response (Meyers, 2013).

When the brain has an underproduction of dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, it

constantly seeks stimuli (Tien Nguyen, 2015). A person who seems overstimulated (is constantly

seeking stimulation), or experiences hyperactivity, has what is known as ADHD, or attention

deficit hyperactivity disorder. Scientists have concluded that people with ADHD do not have an

adequate amount of dopamine produced in the brain, causing them to constantly search for outside

stimuli (which would result in the dopamine production that person is lacking) and ultimately lose

focus (Tien Nguyen, 2015). By increasing the production of dopamine in the brain, Adderall helps

the person with ADHD maintain better focus by not needing outside stimulants to receive an

adequate amount of dopamine. With an adequate amount of dopamine the persons brain no longer

needs excess stimuli, and is therefore not bothered by minor distractions. A person who takes

Adderall, even without ADHD, can experience euphoria, heightened alertness, more focus.

On the tail end of the amphetamine molecule, you will find CH4 otherwise known as a

methyl group. Interestingly, with the addition of just one more methyl group, the relatively

harmless, and only potentially addictive, amphetamine becomes the infamous recreational drug,

methamphetamine (Tien Nguyen, 2015). Though both amphetamine and methamphetamine,

effectively identical in atomic makeup, have been found to be addictive, scientists have found that

methamphetamine users have a greater risk of addiction. Why? Scientists have found that the

additional methyl group in methamphetamine increases the chemicals fat solubility and is

therefore more addictive. (Meyers, 2013)

Amphetamine V. Methamphetamine
Difference of just one methyl group (CH4)

Chemicool Dictionary :

Meyers, E. (2013, March 13). How Does Adderall Work?: A PSA. Columbia Science Review.

Tien Nguyen, P. E. (Writer), & Seward, E. (Director). (2015). How Does Adderall Work?

[Motion Picture].