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Nicotine vs. Adderall: Stimulant Comparison

The majority of people living in modern society can’t go a day without consuming one kind of stimulant or another. For many of us, they take up the form of a pack of cigarettes. Their key active ingredient, namely nicotine, is what propels us to reach for another cigarette time and time again. 

Adderall, on the other hand, is a popular pharmaceutical stimulant with significant potential for addiction and abuse. While it certainly has therapeutic properties, its long-term effects and recreational use pose major health risks. But how does it compare to nicotine? Are these two stimulants equally harmful? 

Stimulants: What Are They? 

Stimulants are a class of substances that significantly increase neuron activity in the brain, resulting in greater alertness, attention, and energy. They work by enhancing the effects of certain neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that transmit signals between brain cells. 

It is a very wide category, as the stimulant class encompasses drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamine, but also perfectly legal recreational substances such as caffeine or nicotine. There are also pharmaceutical stimulants, like Adderall, which are used to treat and manage a wide myriad of conditions. 

How Stimulants Affect the Brain 

Stimulants exert their impact on the brain by enhancing the activity of several neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters play a crucial role in increasing focus, alertness, and energy levels. 

The heightened activity of these neurotransmitters increases blood pressure and heart rate, contracts blood vessels, increases blood glucose, and opens up breathing pathways. All of these physical interactions leave you feeling more energetic, attentive, and ready to take on demanding tasks at work, school, or in your personal life. 

Nicotine: Sources, Uses, and Stimulant Properties 

Nicotine is a naturally occurring alkaloid found in the nightshade family of plants (Solanaceae), with tobacco plant being its richest source. It is an addictive substance primarily consumed through smoking cigarettes, but it can also be found in some e-cigarettes, chewing tobacco, nicotine gum and patches.

Traditionally, nicotine has been used primarily for recreational purposes; its use is widespread through smoking cigarettes or cigars or inhaling it through pipes. People often turn to nicotine due to its temporary mood-enhancing and stress-relieving properties. 

Perhaps surprisingly, it also has some medicinal uses. Nicotine patches or gums are used in nicotine replacement therapy to help people quit smoking. Numerous studies have also revealed the alkaloid’s potential for treating certain neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. 

How Nicotine Functions as a Stimulant 

Nicotine functions as a stimulant by binding to nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in the brain. This action releases a range of neurotransmitters, including dopamine, leading to feelings of gratification that usually accompany smoking. The release of these neurotransmitters results in enhanced arousal, locomotion, and cognitive functions such as attention and memory.

Adderall: Sources, Uses, and Stimulant Properties 

Adderall is a combination of amphetamine salts – dextroamphetamine and levoamphetamine. Amphetamines were first developed in the late 19th century, but Adderall itself was approved by the FDA in 1996. The actual manufacturing involves a complex process, transformation from raw materials to active pharmaceutical ingredients, which are then combined in specific proportions. 

Primarily used in modern medicine for the management of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Narcolepsy, Adderall increases the amounts of certain chemicals in the brain. These chemicals help increase attention span, focus and impulse control. In narcolepsy patients, it aids in regulating the sleep cycle and preventing unexpected bouts of daytime sleepiness. 

How Adderall Functions as a Stimulant 

Adderall stimulates your brain by increasing the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, neurotransmitters associated with attention and alertness. The drug works within the brain’s reward centre to produce satisfying feelings of accomplishment, thus facilitating focus on tasks and goals. Despite its medicinal uses, it’s noteworthy that Adderall usage can lead to physical and psychological dependence, making it prone to misuse and addiction.

Nicotine vs. Adderall: Similarities, Differences, and Addiction Potential 

As we already touched upon earlier in this article, the stimulant class is a very wide one. This means that not all of the substances within it will have the same effect on your body or pose the same threat to your health and mental well-being. 

With that being said, Adderall and nicotine do share certain similarities. For example, both of them promote cognitive function, improving your focus and attention span while you’re under the influence of either one of these substances. They also increase the amount of dopamine released into the brain, “hacking” its reward centre, which is what makes nicotine and Adderall addictive in the first place. 

But that’s where the similarities end. Adderall is much more powerful than nicotine in that its psychoactive effects are much more pronounced, especially if taken recreationally. It makes users more talkative and hyperactive, instilling a sense of grandiosity within them. 

Nicotine, on the other hand, reduces one’s perception of stress and anxiety, as well as briefly increases your heart rate and blood pressure. As far as stimulants are concerned, it can be considered pretty mild in terms of the immediate effects. 

Nicotine and Adderall Addiction 

Addiction to nicotine is considered to be one of the strongest dependencies a person can develop. However, its negative consequences tend to develop over long periods of time. In most cases, they start impacting one’s day-to-day life after decades of usage. 

That is not the case with Adderall. Seeing as it has a very similar chemical structure to methamphetamine, both the physical damage caused by Adderall addiction and its withdrawal symptoms become apparent much faster than in the case of nicotine. They include: 

  • Peeling or blistering skin 
  • Pounding heartbeat 
  • Uncontrollable shaking 
  • Sleep difficulties 
  • Psychosis 

The Bottom Line 

Nicotine and Adderall are both powerfully addictive stimulants. Once you get hooked on either one of them, quitting can become a nearly impossible task to accomplish. Contrary to the negative consequences of nicotine addiction, which progress quite slowly throughout the years, Adderall dependence due to misusing the drug often results in significant mental and physical health impairments after a shorter period. 

Due to the severity of withdrawal symptoms, quitting Adderall without medical help is often advised against. This is not the case with nicotine. There is a wealth of nicotine replacement products available on the market nowadays, which can help you drop the habit more easily. One of them is NEAFS. Our tobacco-free cigarette sticks are a reduced-harm alternative to cigarettes, which come in low-nicotine (1.5%) and nicotine-free variants, allowing you to steadily wean yourself off this substance. 

References 

  1. https://americanaddictioncenters.org/adderall/long-term-effects 
  2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/nicotine-dependence/symptoms-causes/syc-20351584 
  3. https://digitalcommons.denison.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1038&context=synapse 
  4. https://www.ucsfhealth.org/conditions/nicotine-dependence
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