Here at Brainscape, we like to believe that our scientifically proven web and mobile “smart flashcards” tool is the best natural way to improve your concentration and help you learn more with less study time. But often, students turn to drugs like Adderall to give them an additional academic edge. Considering the potential health risks, one might wonder if caffeine is a safer and comparable learning aid.
Doctors prescribe Adderall to patients with difficulty maintaining focus and alertness — specifically those with a diagnosed abnormality in daily function. The active ingredients are psychostimulant amphetamines, and the drug looks and acts similarly to MDMA and methamphetamine (neither of which would be taken to study!). How does caffeine compare? Let’s talk Adderall vs. caffeine.
Stimulants with Different Side Effects
Adderall vs. Caffeine: Which is a Better Learning Aid?
While its popularity grows by the semester, the repercussions of using amphetamines like Adderall often evade its users. In addition to the risk of hypertension and seizures, Adderall causes the brain to stop making dopamine over time, which can result in severe depression, aggression, and psychosis. Adderall is also a Schedule II drug, meaning it has a high risk for addiction and dependence — further increasing the likelihood of negative effects.
Caffeine is also a drug, and while you can find it on almost every corner, its effects are powerful. Caffeine is the most commonly and widely consumed psychoactive drug. It is a stimulant of the central nervous and metabolic systems — and causes alertness, wakefulness, and focus. Naturally, a downside exists: irritability, restlessness, insomnia, and heart palpitations are not uncommon symptoms of use. The Food and Drug Administration recognizes caffeine as safe since toxic doses (>1g) are significantly greater than doses normally found commercially (<500mg).
So, how do Adderall and caffeine size up as learning aids? Adderall causes a longer-lasting, non-jittery period of focus; however, the dangers and illegality of Adderall far outweigh its advantages as a learning aid. But these drugs don’t make you smarter. They let you productively hone already existing knowledge despite prior sleep or wakefulness. They don’t even necessarily make you a better learner! Caffeine is a safer, more easily accessible alternative that can truly help you study and learn in a productive, yet less physically taxing, manner.
Sources of Caffeine
Below are options that DO NOT include study drugs, but will give you just the boost needed to keep you successfully powering through your work. Safe studies!
Soda may not provide the energy or attention boost that Adderall does, but it is inexpensive and tasty. Some high-caffeine options are below!
• Dr. Pepper 12 oz. can: 36 mg of caffeine
• Coke Classic/Zero 12 oz. can: 35 mg
• Mountain Dew 12 oz. can: 55 mg
Energy drinks contain ingredients like guarana, a caffeinated berry, and ginseng, a stimulant, which can power you through fatigue.
• Red Bull 8.4 oz.: 80 mg of caffeine
• 5-Hour Energy 2 oz.: 207 mg
• NOS 16 oz.: 260 mg
• Monster 8 oz.: 80 mg
If you’re happy with your coffee fix, you may be interested in the different caffeine contents depending on how the coffee is made.
• Brewed: 1 cup (7 oz.): 80–135 mg of caffeine
• Espresso: 1 shot (2 oz.): 100 mg
• Drip: 1 cup (7 oz.): 115–175 mg
Most importantly, stay hydrated with WATER. Research suggests that feelings of fatigue may indicate dehydration. It’s easy and healthy to drink — at the very least eight 8oz. glasses of water a day — and who knows, it may even be the energy fix you need to study and learn better.
Editor’s note: another great study aid (that doesn’t have any side effects) is Brainscape flashcards — an adaptive platform for learning languages, sciences, mathematics, and more (you can even make your own cards). Check out the Brainscape flashcard decks and iOS apps at Brainscape.com.
This post was written by Elizabeth Gjersvik, a Biological Basis of Behavior student at the University of Pennsylvania. Elizabeth has worked as a research assistant in both cognitive science and general surgery and joined the Brainscape team in 2014.
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