Adderall is a prescription medication typically used to treat people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The drug is a mixture of amphetamine salts that work by manipulating dopamine receptors in the nervous system. Long term and recreational use of the drug can have some notable side-effects. Recently, the drug has grown in popularity on college campuses. Adderall’s ability to increase focus, motivation, and energy makes it an ideal pill for all-nighters and finals studying.
Keywords:Adderall, Amphetamines, Study Drugs, ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Isomers, Stereochemistry, Dopamine, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering
Bio: Garrett Peters is a sophomore studying chemical engineering at USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering. Currently, he is conducting research on campus on the hydrogen storage capability of carbon nanotubes and aspires to work in the pharmaceutical industry after college.
Finals season is one of the most stressful periods for college students. Finding the drive to study hours on end for multiple classes is challenging, to say the least. For some, finding the energy and focus is as simple as popping a pill. Adderall, a mixture of amphetamine salts, provides many students with the ability to stay energized and motivated to study . Many of these students lack a prescription for the drug and obtain the medication from a friend or another student. The use of Adderall has become ubiquitous around college campuses, causing worry amongst parents and administration. Understanding the mechanisms behind how these amphetamines work provides a glimpse into organic chemistry and how our nervous systems operate. Although the side effects of the drug are mostly harmless, the morality and implications of Adderall use in academia are questionable.
Attention Deficit Disorder
Adderall’s primary intended use is to treat ADHD. Attention Deficit Disorder is a condition in which “a person has trouble paying attention and focusing on tasks, tends to act without thinking, and has trouble sitting still” . These symptoms are not ideal in a classroom setting, especially during long lectures. Students and children suffering from this condition may find it hard to perform well in school regardless of adequate effort. Doctors are unsure of the causes of the condition, but there are several treatment options available. The first option is usually behavior therapy in which parents and children learn strategies to improve focusing power. This therapy is typically coupled with the use of medicine such as Adderall. Adderall improves symptoms for 70% of ADHD sufferers and makes classroom education possible .
Chemistry of Adderall
Adderall is effective at treating ADHD because it is composed of a mixture of amphetamine salts. Each pill is made of a quarter of the following compounds: dextroamphetamine, saccharate, dextroamphetamine sulfate, amphetamine aspartate monohydrate, and amphetamine sulfate. The driving forces behind the mechanism of Adderall are the actions made by these amphetamines. Amphetamines have the chemical formula C9H13N, meaning they have 9 carbon atoms, 13 hydrogen atoms, and one nitrogen atom . The structure of an amphetamine can be seen Figure 1.
Figure 1: Chemical Structure of Amphetamine 
Each bending point between the line segments represents a carbon atom. The lines themselves represent a bond between the atoms while the double lines in the ring represent a double bond between carbons atoms. Chemical bonds are simply the sharing of an electron between two atoms. Although Figure 1 appears flat, the carbon and nitrogen bonds outside the ring lie in a 3 dimensional plane. A hydrogen atom is also bonded to the carbon that the arrow points to (the lack of the hydrogen atom is merely a shortcut that chemists use for these types of pictures; the hydrogen atoms are “implied” in the drawing). This formation creates a tetrahedral shape for that section of the compound. There are two different molecules depending on the orientation of the tetrahedral even though the molecular formula is the same. This concept is the same idea behind your left and right hand. Although they are pretty much the same composition and structure, your left hand and right cannot be superimposed onto each other. You cannot flip around a right –handed glove in any way to make it fit on your left hand. Figure 2 shows tetrahedral compounds displaying this concept. If you try to spin one of the compounds, it will never match the other.
Figure 2: Mirror Image Isomers 
In chemistry, these structures with the same chemical formulas but different structures are called isomers . Amphatemine has two isomers. If the hydrogen is sticking into the paper, it is dextroamphetamine. Looking back to Figure 1, if the hydrogen is sticking out of the paper, it is levoamphetamine . Adderall has a dextroamphetamine to levoamphetamine ratio of 3:1 . Many of the negative peripheral side effects of Adderall come from levoamphetamine such as high pulse, headaches, and depression. Dextroamphetamine, on the other hand (literally and figuratively), provides most of the positive mental side effects of Adderall and is responsible for the sense of euphoria and other mind effects. Mirror image molecules, known specifically as enantiomers, have all the same physical properties as their partner molecules such as boiling point and melting point due to their similar spatial arrangements. However, this makes them difficult to separate, especially because most production methods will produce these enantiomers in equal amounts . Leaving a little levoamphetamine in Adderall actually does provide some positive effects in addition to saving money for pharmaceutical companies through incomplete purification. The enantiomer helps to improve poor sustained attention, which in layman’s terms is the pill’s ability to physically lock people into what they are focusing on . People who have trouble with the negative side effects of Adderall can try out Dexedrine, which only has the dextroamphetamine isomer of amphetamine that is easier on the body.