While Adderall is similar to “meth,” they aren’t identical chemicals. Methamphetamine can be used to treat ADHD but only under careful doctor supervision.

Prescriptions for drugs to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are on the rise in the United States.

According to the data, amphetamines have become one of the most prescribed drugs in the United States — with more being prescribed each year.

A commonly prescribed drug for ADHD is Adderall, a stimulant that aids in enhancing attention and focus.

However, it’s sometimes confused with methamphetamine (also known as “meth”), which is another type of stimulant. So how do they vary?

While Adderall and methamphetamine are two different drugs, some of their differences are more pronounced than others.

“Adderall is an amphetamine drug that is related in structure to methamphetamine but is not specifically the same product,” says Dr. Zishan Khan, a psychiatrist with Mindpath Health.

“You can think of them both chemically as cousins,” he continues. “The main difference between the chemical structure of amphetamine and methamphetamine is a single methylation, which is why the name is essentially the same except with the prefix ‘meth.’”

An illustration of the chemical structures of Amphetamine and Methamphetamine. Share on Pinterest
Illustration by Alyssa Kiefer

However, it’s vital to understand that not all methamphetamines are created equal.

First, there’s meth in its illegal form: the type made and sold illegally and often misused as a recreational drug.

“Illicitly obtained methamphetamine should not even be called ‘methamphetamine,’” states Dr. David Brody, clinical president at Done, an ADHD treatment service. “It has intentional or accidental impurities, some of which have been demonstrated to increase (the) toxicity of the methamphetamine itself.”

On the other hand, there’s a legal form of meth that’s prescribed for ADHD treatment.

“Many will be shocked to learn that there is a Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved medication for the treatment of ADHD that is, in fact, methamphetamine,” reveals Khan.

This type of meth is found under the brand name Desoxyn “and is the only legal meth product (available),” he adds.

Compared with illegal meth, Brody explains, prescribed stimulants such as Adderall and Desoxyn are:

  • can be taken legally
  • are taken with the intent to treat a condition diagnosed by a qualified clinician
  • are controlled by a practitioner (in cooperation with the person) with regard to timing, mode of administration, dosage, and other crucial parameters
  • are taken in a stable pattern over an extended period of time
  • aren’t taken in very large doses during a short time span or stopped abruptly

Adderall, Desoxyn, and illegal meth all have side effects — although these can vary depending on the length of time they’re taken.

Some potential side effects arising from Desoxyn (as well as Adderall) are similar to those seen with meth. However, Brody explains it’s essential to understand that the safety and tolerability of legalized prescription ADHD medications are miles apart compared with illegal meth.

“To emphasize this, I will compare it to the degree to which the distance to the moon dwarfs the distance to the local supermarket,” he states.

The following are the side effects of Adderall/Desoxyn and illegal methamphetamine:

When taking Adderall or Desoxyn, “moderate or severe adverse effects are uncommon,” states Brody. He notes that, in clinical trials, “only 10% of adults treated with stimulant medications discontinued the medication due to adverse events.”

Some people are reluctant to take Adderall because they think it’s the same as meth or similar illegal drugs we see in shows such as “Breaking Bad.” But why might this be?

Khan believes it’s largely because of their names being very similar.

“When a patient picks up their prescription from the pharmacy, and it has ‘dextroamphetamine/amphetamine salts’ listed instead of ‘Adderall,’ it can be a bit jarring to see,” he explains.

Furthermore, Brody says: “They are very similar medications. Their chemical structure is almost the same.” While these small differences are important in how they affect us, without a degree in chemistry, they can be difficult to discern.

Is Adderall safe?

“In appropriate doses and under a doctor’s supervision, Adderall is certainly safe for those with ADHD to take,” states Khan.

Both he and Brody emphasize the importance of remembering that no medications are 100% safe, and all have the potential of side effects. And just like illegal meth, Adderall can be misused, illegally obtained, or used as a recreational drug.

However, continues Brody, “The deleterious effects of untreated moderate or severe ADHD far outweigh the relatively mild (if any) adverse effects of (prescription drug) treatment.”

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Methamphetamine in its illegal form is never a suitable alternative to Adderall.

However, “for certain patients, there is undoubtedly a safe dosage of Desoxyn to replace Adderall,” states Brody. “But it is impossible to say which patients and what dosage that would be unless one is the prescribing clinician.”

Desoxyn tablets come in standard doses of 5 milligrams and can be multiplied if considered necessary by a doctor or healthcare professional. However, a dose that works for one person might not be suitable for another. Therefore, it’s critical to work with a healthcare professional to determine what’s best for you.

Getting support for severe ADHD

If you’re experiencing severe ADHD symptoms, you don’t need to face them alone. These resources offer guidance, support, and the chance to connect with other people with ADHD.

  • ADDitude: Attend expert-led webinars and access recordings of previous sessions for free.
  • Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD): Find which of its nationwide in-person support groups are closest to you.
  • Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA): If there’s no in-person group nearby, there are online support groups and webinars you can join.
  • ADHD Online: Have questions about ADHD? This site runs free webinars with expert advice and question-and-answer sessions.
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The FDA announced in October that supplies of Adderall were facing a shortage. It’s thought that increased demand and supply chain issues are behind the shortfall.

Stock levels aren’t expected to return to normal until early next year. So what medications can people with ADHD look to instead?

Brody says that potential alternatives include:

“Many of the medications in this list are available in immediate-release, intermediate-release, and extended-release forms,” Brody adds. Some are also classed as stimulants, while others aren’t.

Talk with a doctor

If you can’t get Adderall or are looking to switch to an alternative ADHD medication, it’s vital to speak with a doctor before doing so. All drugs come with different side effects and can also interact with other medications — meaning certain ones may not be suitable for you.

“Adjustment of any medication, for any reason, must be individualized by a practitioner with knowledge of the patient and their history,” states Brody.

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Essentially, there are two types of methamphetamine: the illegal variety and the FDA-approved legal medication in the form of Desoxyn. While the illegal type should never be used as an alternative to Adderall, Desoxyn can be used to treat ADHD.

Adderall and Desoxyn are similar in chemical composition and side effects, and their generic names (amphetamine and methamphetamine, respectively) are also alike — meaning they can sometimes be confused.

Just like methamphetamine, Adderall has the potential for misuse and addiction. Both Adderall and Desoxyn are Schedule II stimulants under the Controlled Substances Act, which means “they have a high risk for abuse, addiction, and the development of dependence,” explains Khan.

“With any medication, there need to be precautions taken,” says Khan, who added that people “must continue to be monitored during follow-up visits with their doctors,” whether taking Adderall or Desoxyn for ADHD.