Ashwagandha and Adderall: Can You Combine Them?

Ashwagandha has become a herbal supplement hit in recent years, with promising effects on stress and insomnia symptoms. Adderall, a prescription stimulant that increases dopamine in the brain, is used to manage Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy and binge-eating disorder. Adderall has many side effects, with recent research indicating Ashwagandha could help alleviate the Adderall side effects. Is this true, and is it safe to combine Ashwagandha and Adderall? We will explore the scientific evidence in this article.
Klara Hatinova

Klara Hatinova

Klara is postgraduate researcher in experimental psychology at the
University of Oxford.

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Ashwagandha's Impact on Mental Health and Stress

Ashwagandha is a popular herb with adaptogenic properties, beneficial across a spectrum of health conditions and biological functions [1]. It is believed to work by regulating the body's stress response through its adaptogenic properties, helping to balance stress hormone levels and reduce anxiety [2, 3].

Ashwagandha can modulate neurotransmitters, including serotonin and GABA, the inhibitory neurotransmitter, contributing to relaxation and mood improvement [4]. This modulation of neurotransmitters can have a positive impact on mental health symptoms such as anxiety, low mood, stress, sleep, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) [5, 6].

To date, only a small number of clinical studies have examined the pharmacological effects of Ashwagandha [1]. The scientific study of Ashwagandha is further complicated because it contains up to 35 distinct chemicals, which are difficult to isolate and vary depending on the growth conditions and extraction of the herbal supplement [6].

Adderall's Role in ADHD and Cognitive Function

Adderall is the brand name for amphetamine, a compound that elicits the release of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin throughout the brain. It does this by interfering with the packaging vesicles that store these amine compounds in the neurons [7].

Dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, also known as monoamines, are critical for pleasure, attention, mood regulation and arousal [8]. Due to this, amphetamines are potent and tightly controlled substances, and it is easy to overdose on Adderall or become dependent on Adderall.

In the non-medical market, Adderall is often abused as a study drug, due to its effects on arousal, cognitive performance and concentration [9]. Traditionally, amphetamines are the first line treatment for ADHD, but some antidepressants can be used to tread ADHD.

Utilization of Ashwagandha and Adderall

Adderall is a tightly controlled drug which acts on the monoamine system in the brain [10]. Therefore, Adderall prescription is avoided in many countries around the world. In the US, it is prescribed for ADHD, narcolepsy (sleepiness disorder) and binge-eating disorder. This is because Adderall can increase alertness, improve attention and reduce caloric intake.

Ashwagandha has been an essential herb in Ayurveda, a form of traditional Indian medicine, for thousands of years. Ashwagandha has primarily been used to reduce stress and anxiety, improve energy, reduce fatigue, ease pain, and decrease inflammation.

Ashwagandha has been reported to have similar qualitative effects to Adderall in a population of college students [11]. Adderall is known to increase alertness and mental clarity [ref], which are effects that were reported after 60 students took 700mg of Ashwagandha for 30 days [11]. This study suggests that Ashwagandha could provide benefits similar to Adderall when used in a non-clinical or sub-clinical population.

Nonetheless, Ashwagandha is not an FDA-approved treatment for any of these indications. This is because it is an herbal supplement not regulated by the FDA [12].

Despite not being FDA-approved, the indicated benefits of Ashwagandha are highly relevant to Adderall treatment of ADHD. Common side effects of Adderall in ADHD include insomnia, elevated anxiety, and restlessness. Therefore, Ashwagandha, when used concurrently with Adderall, could increase the tolerability of Adderall in ADHD and improve learning [13]. Indeed, Ashwagandha has been reported to reduce the harmful effects of MDMA, a stimulant with similar actions to Adderall, sometimes marketed as Tesla pills, in a mouse model [14].

Ashwagandha is also beneficial in OCD, a mental health disorder overlapping with ADHD.

Ashwagandha could also supplement Adderall in the treatment of binge-eating disorder through the effects of Ashwagandha on blood sugar and stress. Binge-eating disorder is a multifactorial illness [15], but spikes in blood sugar and chronic stress are two of the many causes of binge episodes. Reduction of blood sugar spikes by Ashwagandha could thereby reduce symptoms of binge-eating disorder independent of Adderall [16].

Ashwagandha and Adderall Side Effects and Interactions

There isn’t yet sufficient evidence to determine exactly whether Ashwagandha and Adderall pharmacologically interact [17].

Ashwagandha affects a spectrum of neurobiological systems, including serotonin, GABA and dopamine, which are modulated by amphetamines such as Adderall. It can be expected that there is a biological interaction between Ashwagandha and Adderall, although whether this is beneficial or harmful will be individual and dependent on the dose of Ashwagandha and Adderall.

The first potential interaction between Ashwagandha and Adderall is a reduction of the stimulant properties of Adderall by the GABA-induced sedation of Ashwagandha. This can reduce the benefits of taking Adderall but also reduce its side effects, such as insomnia. This point demonstrates the complicated interaction between the drugs, which can be both beneficial and harmful.

The second interaction between Adderall and Ashwagandha can be in the sympathetic nervous system. Adderall acts on norepinephrine, which increases the activity of the fight-or-flight sympathetic nervous system. Ashwagandha, on the other hand, reduces the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, which accounts for its anxiolytic properties. Therefore, Ashwagandha can help reduce anxiety when taking Adderall [18].

Due to the dose-specific effects, you must consult your healthcare provider when considering Ashwagandha supplementation in Adderall treatment.

For individuals without ADHD, Adderall is a legally controlled drug and so should not be taken unless prescribed by a medical professional.

Summary: Weighing the Pros and Cons of Ashwagandha and Adderall Together

To summarise, there is limited evidence to conclude that Ashwagandha is beneficial in reducing the side effects of taking Adderall.

There is good evidence to indicate that in healthy college students, Ashwagandha can confer some of the cognitive boosting benefits of Adderall alongside Ashwagandha’s anti-inflammatory benefits. However, precisely how this works has not yet been elucidated.

Whether Ashwagandha and Adderall interact will depend on your individual situation and the dose of Ashwagandha or Adderall taken.

It's critical to consult a healthcare professional before combining Ashwagandha with Adderall or any other medication. Likewise, if you experience symptoms of ADHD, consult a medical professional, as Ashwagandha could potentiate your symptoms.

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Klara Hatinova

Klara Hatinova

Klara is a postgraduate researcher in experimental psychology at the University of Oxford. She has worked across a spectrum of hot topics in neuroscience, including her current project measuring reinforcement learning strategies in Parkinson’s disease. Previously, she studied the efficacy of psilocybin as a therapy for critical mental health conditions and examined molecular circadian rhythms of migraine disorders. She completed her undergraduate degree in Neuroscience at the University of Glasgow and participated in a year abroad at the University of California, where she worked on a clinical trial for spinal cord injury.