This post is the first in The Granular, a series which will detail my experience with drugs, medical appointments, and related incidents since becoming ill with a flu-like illness in 2014.
Please note that any information found on this site does not constitute medical advice. I can only speaks to my individual situation; there is no substitute for visiting your own healthcare professionals.
Judging from the Netflix documentary Take Your Pills, Adderall needs no introduction. Apparently it’s everywhere on college campuses – either I’m extremely sheltered, or its usage is a facet of American culture that has yet to make its way to Canada. I was broadly aware of Adderall before being prescribed it, but I had no idea how many people without ADHD or any sort of medical diagnosis use it as a cognitive enhancer.
I had actually forgotten about my own brush with Adderall until recently. It was kind of funny listening to the multitudes of people in the documentary rave about it, meanwhile thinking, “Hah, that wasn’t my experience at all.” I wish I could say that it was the wonder drug it is largely portrayed to be, but that wasn’t the case for me.
It was February 2016 and by this point I had been visiting a family doctor at my university’s health clinic for the past half year. She had been very compassionate—listening to my complaints about fatigue and cognitive problems, sending me for an MRI, and arranging consultations with some specialists—however, we had made no real progress over the months and my condition was continuing to deteriorate.
This was a considerable time of desperation for me, and any spare moment I had in between my university studies was spent searching the internet trying to figure out what was happening to me. I can’t say it was the most fruitful endeavour, both because there wasn’t (and still isn’t) a ton of quality information out there, and because my ability to comprehend what I was reading was pretty atrocious.
As a side point, during this time I remember trying to read Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls at the same time as my friend, but giving up because I couldn’t get to the second page without forgetting what I had just read on the first. That is a level of disorientation I hope never to have to experience again.
Regardless, I stumbled across some anecdotal reports of people with myalgic encephamyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) finding some relief with Adderall. So I shared this discovery with my doctor, wondering if she would let me try it. She was (understandably) pretty apprehensive at first, because:
- a) ME/CFS is barely a recognized diagnosis,
- b) Adderall is not something you normally prescribe to people without ADHD, and
- c) as a doctor, are you really going to trust the words of people on an internet forum?
But to her credit, she did some investigating of her own and found a small study that cited Ritalin (a similar drug; also a central nervous system stimulant) may have reduced symptoms for people with ME/CFS. And after some more discussion, she sent me off with an Adderall XR prescription.
My experiment with Adderall XR lasted for about 6 weeks. I had been most hopeful about the potential of shaking some of my brain fog, but I didn’t notice the drug have any effect whatsoever on my cognition (unlike the countless stories you hear from others). Where the drug did have an impact was on my sleep.
I was able to stay up longer, but I wouldn’t describe the drug as giving me extra energy. Taking it just meant being fatigued but conscious for more hours out of the day. At the time I was doing 8 hour shifts at clinical sites, with extra studying required in the evenings, so I used the increase in raw hours spent awake to my advantage. More time to cram facts I didn’t actually comprehend into my brain. Looking back at my health journal, I see on one day I had even gone so far as to state that “Adderall is pretty necessary to keeping me alert/awake enough to function.”
But the more memorable part to me is how it eventually gave me insomnia (roughly the last two weeks of taking it). Oversleeping had been a problem for me for months (12 hours of sleep per night with naps during the day was pretty normal); having the opposite problem made me really appreciate the ability to fall asleep and have an escape from the world. Eventually I stopped taking the drug altogether when I realized I was able to cope okay on the days I went without it (a story for another time), and the need to be awake diminished because the school semester was winding down. I also wanted to stop the extra sweating it caused.
One other point worth noting is that Adderall seemed to change my hunger signals. They didn’t register in my brain as readily, so I ate less. But I didn’t actually lose any weight. At the same time, I had inexplicably gained some weight in the months prior; it’s possible that without Adderall I may have gained even more.
Why I took Adderall XR:
- To deal with extreme cognitive dysfunction and fatigue.
Duration of use/timeline:
- Week one: 10mg in the morning, three days out of seven.
- Week two: 20 mg in the morning everyday.
- Weeks three to six: 10 mg in the morning off and on, roughly 50% of the days.
I didn’t want to build up tolerance to Adderall, so I only took it the days that I thought I would really need it.
- It helped me to stay awake so I could get through my shifts and studies without needing to nap as much.
- It did not help my cognitive functioning.
- I still felt extreme fatigue.
- I eventually developed insomnia.
- I found myself sweating more.
- It was worth a shot but it didn’t address my symptoms. I would not take it again unless I were to be back in school, desperate, and had no other way to stay awake.
- In my experience, Adderall does not live up to its hype.