If you frequent r/nootropics as I have over the past several years, you’re plenty familiar with just how difficult it is to discover which nootropics work best. It’s almost entirely based on trial-and-error, reading second-hand accounts, and buying sus products from dodgy sites.
And as someone who struggles with ADHD, navigating that world can be a bit of a nightmare. Luckily, I’ve been prescribed Adderall for years, which does make things easier. But it goes without saying that I do NOT want to be dependent on Adderall for many more years. And I have felt a surprising amount of help from nootropics, which makes me optimistic. 🙂
This article will consist of me sharing a bunch of research I’ve done over the past couple of years in an effort to find the best nootropics for my ADHD. I’ll also share my personal recommendations on what works best for me today, at a reasonable price point.
Lastly, I’ll touch on why I legitimately believe the new kid on the block, Thesis, is completely taking the burden of research off our hands.
As we covered in our deep dive, “Are Nootropics Legit?”, there’s a relatively substantial amount of evidence that nootropic drugs can improve cognitive function in varying ways. Some natural supplements seem to improve focus, decrease memory and fatigue, and have a long list of other positive benefits.
But are they as effective as prescription drugs at treating ADHD? And effectiveness aside, do the perks of going “the natural route” outweigh the cons of prescription meds like Adderall?
One of our most popular articles, “How to get an Adderall prescription online,” outlined why stimulant-based prescriptions aren’t for everyone (like those with underlying heart conditions).
So for a lot of folks out there, that’s exactly where natural supplements can come in. While various nootropics have different goals/purposes, effects on the brain, and varying degrees of efficacy, it’s clear that interest in nootropics is on the rise. If there’s a natural alternative to taking Adderall that’s still effective, then you better believe people are going to flock to it.
Okay, let’s get into it. We’re going to start off with a quick refresher on ADHD, then move on to look at which nootropics have evidence for being effective at treating ADHD symptoms. From there, I’ll also share some recommendations on what’s been most effective for me along my journey to find the best nootropics for my ADHD. Feel free to skip ahead if I’ve already lost your attention.
Table of Contents
🐿 A quick refresher on ADHD: Symptoms and treatment
Doctors typically use the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) to diagnose ADHD. Their criteria break ADHD down into two main categories: Inattention Type and Hyperactivity/Impulsivity Type.
So what does this actually look like in everyday life? Take a look at some of the more common ADHD symptoms of the inattention half. Any of ’em seem familiar?
- An inability to hold attention
- Trouble concentrating on or finishing tasks
- A lack of focus
- Constantly getting sidetracked or distracted
- A lack of mental “sharpness”
- Difficulty following directions
- Frequently losing items
Oof. I feel attacked rn. But we’re not done yet. Here are several common ADHD symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity:
- Excessive talking
- Interrupting others
- Trouble waiting their turn
Not fun. But we’re not living in the Stone Age anymore, so there IS still hope for us.
So what do ADHD medications do, exactly?
“👋 Hey it’s me, your doctor/psychiatrist. I heard you have some chronic mental issues that seem awfully like ADHD. That sucks! Well, cheer up bucko, because I brought you some low-dose Adderall to see if we can get you feeling better.”
Oh, uhh… thanks, Doc. I guess let’s give it a shot?
The arguments FOR using stimulants to treat ADHD 🏃♂️
Let’s start by talking about three of the most common ADHD medications: Adderall, Dexedrine, and Ritalin.
These medications are all considered stimulants. They work by giving ADHD patients a low, controlled amount of amphetamine. Sounds kinda sketchy, right? If it works, it works, I guess…
Stimulants are thought to work because they increase dopamine levels in the brain. AKA that happy chemical. The thing is, dopamine’s also associated with your attention, movement, pleasure, and overall motivation. So if your brain’s not producing enough dopamine, it can have some pretty brutal effects on other aspects of your life.
For people with ADHD, stimulants can help improve focus and concentration, while lowering impulsive behaviors and hyperactivity. And for folks like me, it works.
Those are the pros of using stimulants to treat ADHD. But it’s not all 🌈 and 🦋.
The arguments AGAINST using stimulants to treat ADHD ❄️
For starters, stimulants are addictive. Caffeine’s the most common example of this playing out in the real world. Caffeine make brain feel good and run fast; me want caffeine… need more… OOPS! accidentally got addicted to caffeine.
And Adderall isn’t much better. In fact, the side effects often include:
- Appetite suppression
- Trouble sleeping
- Mood swings
- Upset stomach
So it shouldn’t really come to a surprise that a lot of people are looking for Adderall alternatives. Well since stimulants certainly aren’t for everyone, you can certainly look into non-stimulant ADHD medications, like Atomoxetine, Clonidine ER, Viloxazine, or Guanfacine ER.
The upside of these non-stimulant medications is that they often feel smoother. They don’t affect sleep and appetite in the same way as stimulants. And crucially, they’re not addictive.
But they don’t come without side effects:
- Mood swings
- Upset stomach
- Dry mouth
Crap. Soooo… still not a perfect treatment for ADHD. If going the prescription route isn’t necessarily the move, what can natural supplements and nootropics bring to the table. Ladies and gentlemen, let’s get into the fun part.
What are the primary benefits of nootropics (AKA brain health supplements)?
Nootropics, or “smart drugs” are different substances that aim to promote cognitive benefits. Basically, they’re vitamins, flowers, and mushrooms for working out your brain. The term “nootropic” has been used since the 1970s to discuss a range of supplements for focus, memory, and overall brain function.
Believe it or don’t, there’s a decent amount of research that supports the use of nootropics for memory, focus, and other cognitive benefits. Some of the most interesting research has examined nootropics’ ability as a cholinergic drug. (A cholinergic is any drug that inhibits, enhances, or mimics the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.) This neurotransmitter acts on the autonomic nervous system, a big part of your fight-or-flight mechanism.
These days, the definition of nootropics is quite broad. It can mean any natural or synthetic supplements for brain health (some of which are more effective than others). Some of the more common ingredients you’ll see included in most nootropics, though, are:
- Rhodiola Rosea (more on that in a sec)
- Ginkgo biloba (also more on that in a sec)
Lo and behold, the brain is still a mystery. So it’s hard to say precisely how various nootropics work. However, it does help to break ’em down into six major categories.
- Support brain energy by increasing uptake of oxygen and nutrients
- Balance dopamine and norepinephrine
- Increase blood flow and oxygen to the brain
- Boost brain waves, like alpha waves that reduce stress.
- Support neuroprotection. Think of this as buffering the defenses of your nervous system and cells.
- Support neuroregeneration. Think of this as the actual regeneration and repair of cells and nervous tissues
Sorted by ADHD symptom: What are the best nootropics to take for ADHD?
For each of the aforementioned symptoms of ADHD, the team and I dug through a LOT of research to identify which nootropic supplements have the most evidence for cognitive improvement.
Whether you’re planning on buying each in bulk and dosing them out on your own or you choose to go with a company like Thesis (whose blends already contain all the best ones) is up to you. It’s still cool to learn about each nootropic’s superpower(s). 🙂
Attention and Processing
NALT is a more soluble version of L-Tyrosine: An amino acid that’s used to produce noradrenaline and dopamine. You’ve probably taken this if you’ve ever taken pre-exercise (pre-workout) supplements in the past.
It can help with alertness, energy, and brain function. Per examine.com, it also appears to reduce stress and prevent stress-induced memory and attention deficits. Thanks, NALT!
Chances are you’ve heard of this adaptogen. Rhodiola Rosea is an herb that has been shown to have positive effects on attention and alertness in clinical trials. Most of its cognitive benefits result from its impressive antifatigue effects.
And in a double-blind clinical trial, supplementation with 170 mg of rhodiola for 2 weeks significantly reduced fatigue in otherwise healthy physicians during night duty. It was also “able to improve performance on work-related tasks by approximately 20%.” (Pubmed)
Sounds scary, right? It’s not.
Phosphatidylserine works because catecholamines neurotransmitters help to trigger brain cell membranes. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study revealed some super promising results: Phosphatidylserine supplementation showed “significant improvements” in ADHD, short-term memory, inattention, and impulsivity.
In the above study, children were given a dosage of 200mg. In other studies done on adults, we’ve seen an increase to 200-400mg effective.
Choline is another popular nootropic whose name you see thrown around in the forums a lot. And deservedly, so.
Naturally, choline is a molecule that’s found in high amounts in eggs. When your body processes it, it turns into acetylcholine, which is a neurotransmitter associated with learning. This neuroprotective effect helps with learning and memory.
And if you don’t like eggs, you can find Choline online relatively easily. A typical dose of 1-2g is used, but it’s often advised to start out taking 50-100 mg daily, and then tapering up, to avoid headaches.
Methylliberine is a molecule that’s naturally found in coffee, tea, yerba mate, and cocoa. Studies have shown that it can increase alertness, mood, and energy.
Chemically, its structure is actually quite similar to caffeine – and so are its effects.
Of all the nootropics you’ll find thrown out there, Ginkgo Biloba is the most common herb. Aaaand unfortunately, it may also be one of the more misunderstood, overhyped nootropics.
Now, on one hand, studies have shown that Ginkgo Biloba improves short-term memory and slows down cognitive decline. On the other hand, most (if not all) of these findings have been found in studies testing Ginkgo’s effects on respondents 55 years old and up.
Sooo take that how you will. It’s definitely effective at improving cognition, but it does seem as though there’s a lack of studies conducted on younger people.
All things considered, it’s fairly cheap. So if you do want to give it a shot, it’s generally advised to take 120-240mg with one to four hours of lead time.
🧠 Memory and Learning
Bacopa monnieri (Synapsa®)
Bacopa monnieri has been thoroughly studied and shown to improve shorter-term memory. It may also point to some more general mental health benefits and cognitive improvements.
If you choose to take it in a powder form, you’ll need a dose upwards of 750-1,500mg, due to lower bacoside content (the active compound in Bacopa monnieri).
If you get your hands on an extract, this dosage decreases to around a 300 mg dose – as long as 55% of the overall extract is bacoside. Reputable nootropic brands like Thesis check this box. ✅
Alpha GPC provides the brain with a source of choline, which can be used to make the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Not only is it used for cognitive benefits, but it’s also got the added benefit of improving power output in athletes.
While there’s a general lack of studies conducted on younger people to try and gauge Alpha GPC’s impact on cognitive enhancement, there are plenty with older adults. In fact, there is an impressive amount of evidence that Alpha GPC (400mg, 3x a day) can improve memory and attention impairment for adults with mild to moderate dementia.
⚡️ Energy and Fatigue
Vitamin B12 can be natural or synthesized and can boost nerve health and energy levels. You’ll find it in any multivitamin out there. Some even get monthly B12 injections for improved efficacy. But its importance to the body is not to be ignored.
While the effects of citicoline on cognitive performance are pretty well-studied, the reasons WHY it works are still kind of a mystery.
🔪 Mental Sharpness
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is important for neurological development and brain health. There’s no shortage of studies proving that a deficiency in DHA is directly correlated to cognitive decline in healthy adults and patients with Alzheimer’s. Others also show that it improves reaction time and mental sharpness.
Worth noting, though, that there haven’t been all too many studies done that directly aim to draw a correlation between DHA supplementation and cognitive performance. But hey, why not try.
Mangifera Indica fruit extract
Mangifera indica comes from mango leaves and helps with energy, performance, and alertness.
In a 2014 study conducted on mice, Mangifera indica was found to have a preventive effect on mild cognitive impairment. Several years later in 2020, another study demonstrated that it may also give a faster reaction time and reduce fatigue.
🙂 Mood and Stress
You probably know it as a spice, but recent evidence proves that saffron also has some pretty awesome anti-depressive and anti-anxiety effects.
Considering how damning the evidence for such great benefits is, saffron might start sounding like a no-brainer addition to your stack. But there are two main drawbacks to consider before you go eating saffron rice with dinner every night:
- Saffron is pretty expensive. A standard dose of 15mg of saffron extract, taken twice daily, equates to 900mg a month. This costs around $15. That may not seem like much, but remember it’s only one nootropic that you’ll want to be taking.
- As with other active nootropic chemicals found in herbs, the effects of saffron may counteract those of other nootropics you may be taking. So we have yet another example of why you can’t just chuck all the most promising nootropics into one pill and take it every day. Careful consideration needs to be given toward what you’re taking (with what) – which is why brands like Thesis are so game-changing. Their researchers do it for you.
May work, may not – but an extremely promising research chemical nonetheless.
When L-Arginine breaks down in your body, Agmatine is produced. This amino acid holds a lot of evidence for alleviating neuropathic pain and addiction. It also shows promise toward improving cognitive function and potentially protecting against strokes.
While it’s true that there’ve been plenty of studies that show agmatine plays a major role in healthy cognitive function, there haven’t been any that directly prove that agmatine supplementation improves it.
But yet again (as with SO many nootropics), it seems to come down to: this chemical shows a ton of exciting promise in one area, but we simply lack enough studies (performed on humans) that are directly looking at the results of supplementation.
🏆 Best nootropic brands for ADHD
I’ve already expressed my frustration over the fact that for years, the nootropics game looked like this:
- Do a bunch of thorough online research to try and uncover the most promising supplements for brain health. Dig through academic studies, read others’ experiences, and hope you were learning about something that’s actually legal to buy and safe to take.
- Try and find a place to buy the right nootropics, at the right dosage, that are actually from a reputable lab.
It sucked. Like, really bad.
But that was years ago. And while still in its relative infancy, the nootropics industry has come a long way. By no means have I tried every single nootropic on the market, but there are a few standout options that our team is happy to recommend as a launch point.
🥇 Best Overall: Thesis personalized nootropic blends
🔗 Link to get started: TakeThesis.com
Price: $79/mo (or $71 with code ZENMASTER)
Best for people who:
- Want a more tailored approach to nootropics
- Want to track the effects of nootropics on their brain to gain real insights over time
- Are new (or new-ish) to the space and are excited by the idea of speaking to one of Thesis’ nootropic experts (for free)
Thesis does things differently than other competitors. They provide customized, personalized blends that each address unique purposes. And while I won’t get into every single one of them here, I do want to point out just how focused they are on creating the perfect blends for improving attention, focus, memory, energy, and stress. In other words: some of the major areas that folks with ADHD need help in.
By no means are these nootropics AS effective as say, Adderall, but they’re absolutely helpful and (IMO) feel very promising for treating the symptoms of ADHD.
Thesis also claims that it has the largest nootropics dataset in the world, with over 120 ingredients and 30,000 users. Judging by how effective their stuff is and how robust the science on their website is, I wouldn’t doubt that claim.
Overall, the approach is unique and straightforward. Just start by filling out a survey that’ll help define your goals, then on to some other questions about memory, mood, and general psychology. They’ll run your responses through their huge dataset, compare to what’s worked for other folks with similar responses, and will ship over a starter kit that contains different weekly blends. Again, each one is uniquely designed for a specific purpose. It’s extremely legit, and turns the entire concept of “one-size-fits-all” nootropics completely on its head.
Thesis understands that certain nootropic ingredients can enhance or subtract from the overall effect. By taking time to put together a personalized combination of ingredients, Thesis claims they can more effectively target each person’s problems. I’m buyin’ it.
⭐️ Most Popular: Onnit Alpha Brain
Best for people who:
- Are on a tighter budget
- Are happy to try a one-size-fits-all approach
- Aren’t trying to figure out which specific ingredients work best for them. They just want to be told what to take
- Want to do whatever Joe Rogan does (I’m a JRE fan btw)
Onnit Alpha Brain is a supplement for brain health, memory, and focus. The brand is one of the biggest players in the game, thanks in part to promotion from co-founder Joe Rogan.
The Alpha Brain formula consists of all-natural ingredients and a mix of herbs, vitamins, and organic products. Some of the main ingredients include Alpha GPC, Huperzia Serrata, L-Theanine, and Bacopa Monnieri. Each of these supplements for brain health is thought to exhibit various improvements in attention, focus, cognition, memory, and reaction time.
My main drawback (which I know a lot of others have, too) with Onnit’s Alpha Brain is their one-size-fits-all approach. While their formula is made to help as many people as possible, it lacks the personalization of the Thesis approach. And the nootropics they include don’t necessarily work synergistically; you should have separate occasions for taking a nootropic for focus and one for say, stress relief.
Another negative of Alpha Brain is the dreaded proprietary blend. Onnit isn’t very clear about how much of each active ingredient their product contains. The result is that you’re left in the dark and have no idea of which nootropics worked well or not. We also don’t know if the ingredients they include are of sufficient dosages to actually work on our brains.
That said, Alpha Brain is well-regarded, competitively priced, and offers a free 15-day sample.
💰 Most Budget-Friendly: Creating a custom nootropic stack for ADHD
We all know that buying from established brands isn’t the only way to get your hands on an effective nootropic stack. Personalization is a significant benefit, so buying your own ingredients to whip up a custom nootropic stack allows you to have an unmatched level of control over which ingredients you wanna include.
Benefits aside, though, I should note that it’s not for everyone.
You can read all you want on the internet, but the fact is that most of us don’t have the knowledge or experience to start producing a better product than what legit nootropic experts have to offer. Even if you’ve identified the ideal ingredients and doses, you don’t really know which ones work synergistically or not.
The game-changing realization for me, personally, was when I realized that the reputable nootropic brands have access to knowledge, research, and massive datasets that kinda just do a lot of the research legwork for you. Then they’ve built a business around it. Yeah, some brands may just sell BS products at high prices, but the legit ones (Thesis!) are delivering optimal product, and making a living doing so.
And hey, if giving Thesis just a month of your time works really well, maybe you’ll have enough attention and focus to read all the materials, ingredients, and research papers you’ll need to make something even better in the future. 😉
tl;dr: What are the best nootropics for ADHD?
Nootropics really do hold a lot of promise for dealing with ADHD. Lack of focus, poor memory, inattentiveness, and fatigue can all be (surprisingly) effectively treated with readily available supplements for brain health. Not to mention they don’t come with the same side effects as ADHD medications like Adderall or Vyvanse.
But what works for me might not work for you, and vice versa. Personally, Thesis is (far and away) the most effective nootropic brand I’ve taken to date. They’re built off an insane amount of research and data, are carefully crafted into unique blends, and allow for actual firsthand decisions to be made to further perfect things. But I’ll also acknowledge that not everyone is willing or able to pay the premium. (I’d still argue that giving their starter kit a shot is wise in the long-term, but I digress…)
Of course, Onnit’s Alpha Brain is a good alternative in the nootropics for ADHD space. Premade blends can work for many people, making them a worthwhile option to try. And let’s not forget that free 15-day bottle. 😉
Finally, if you’re the adventurous kind, you can also go down the route of making your own stack. It takes time, knowledge, and a bit of trial-and-error, but you could end up making something that is perfectly tailored for your set of symptoms.
I also can’t speak to which online supplement depots are reputable. Quality control, when it comes to supplements, vitamins, and nootropics, is so important – yet often we’re left in the dark. So if you do choose to go down this road, be careful with your body and your wallet. 🙂
I know I keep harping on it, but: Because brands like Thesis are so transparent about what goes into each blend, you can start to build your own knowledge base about what works for your symptoms, which is an excellent jumping-off point for anyone who wants to make their own vitamins for brain health in the future. I can’t say it’s the only option out there, but it’s what I recommend to my friends and family.