My Electric Kool-Aid Adderall Test

At 56, I wanted to find out just what cognitive-enhancement drugs feel like. I got high. Man oh man, did I get high.

One of the best parts of being a writer is that the job lets you be nosy professionally. If I’m curious what all those new buildings are going up in West Philly, I can call the president of Penn or Drexel and say: “Hi, this is Sandy Hingston from Philly Mag. Um — what are all those new buildings you’re putting up?” If I’m wondering what Marjorie Margolies, the Penn prof who’s running for the U.S. Senate, is like, I can ring her up and get an interview. If I want to know why so many American kids are taking ADHD drugs, I can call a Penn neuroscientist, like Anjan Chatterjee, and say: “What exactly is the deal with ADHD drugs?”

But sometimes, hearing somebody else explain something isn’t enough.

I’ve been curious about ADHD for a long time. How come I only started to hear about attention deficit disorder in the ’90s? Did nobody have it before that? Or did we just not have a name for it? What did kids with ADHD do before there was a diagnosis—and drugs to treat it? Why don’t kids have ADHD at anywhere near the same rate in, say, France? Is there something about the way we lead our lives now — our frantic, fractured, 10-things-at-once lives — that puts kids more at risk for ADHD? Or is it, conversely, that today’s put-upon American parents are the ones with the attention deficit — that with the demands of our jobs and our families and an ever more hectic world, we no longer have the patience to just let our kids be their moseying-along, stop-and-look-at-that-bug selves anymore? That we’re the ones who need them to focus in?

I was thinking about all these things a couple of months ago when I got curious about something else — what do ADHD drugs feel like? Twenty percent of American male high-school students are now diagnosed with ADHD. Off-prescription use of ADHD drugs is so rampant on college campuses that Duke University wrote a ban against them into its honor code. In February, the New York Times ran a terrifying story on a young medical student who started taking Adderall in college and saw his life spiral downward into psychosis and suicide. Yet parents are giving that same pill to four-year-olds. What, I wondered, does Adderall do? What would it do to me?

Luckily, I have an editor here at Philly Mag, Tom McGrath, who’s curious about the same things. When I told Tom I wanted to take Adderall for a week — use it at home, at work, when I went to the gym — his eyes lit up, and he told me to go for it. So I did. For the first time in 25 years, I took illegal drugs. I got high. Man oh man, did I get high. You can read all about my Electric Kool-Aid Adderall Test here. You’ll also get to read what Anjan Chatterjee said when I asked him: “What exactly is the deal with ADHD drugs?” I don’t know which was more scary — the way Adderall made me feel, or the fact that Chatterjee says it’s only a matter of time before employers start insisting that everybody take it. My Adderall experiment raised as many questions for me as it answered. But as Chatterjee says, for better or for worse, it and other cognitive-enhancement drugs are a part of our culture, and we’d better start talking about exactly what that means.

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  • A Quantum Computer

    Have you also tried modafinil or armodafinil? In my opinion, they’re better than adderall — less “bodily” side effects but still provide enhanced motivation and willpower and lazer-like concentration.

    • Sandy Hingston

      It was the “bodily” side effects I liked!

      • A Quantum Computer

        I kind of did, too, when I tried adderall. However, modafinil and armodafinil increased my ability to concentrate just as effectively, still made me feel good (without the feeling being too “bodily”), and “felt safer” to me (though I don’t know whether they genuinely are safer in the long-term). I think you can get a free prescription for armodafinil (Nuvigil) before the end of the year if you go to their website and print out a coupon (just in case you want to try it). If you’re really interested in researching and trying out cognition-enhancing pharmaceuticals, you might also try to get in touch with Dr. Lynch at the Univ. of California, Irvine. He studies a class of drugs called ampakines (e.g., CX717), some of which have been shown to be effective at improving long-term memory and other aspects of cognition. Lastly, and most importantly, don’t forget to hook me up after you get some!

  • Duncan20903

    Wow, why play on the second level when you can have the real thing? Desoxyn is the brand name of another drug which is distributed to school children as young as age 6 for ADHD. I guess people might not be so surprised if you report that methamphetamine gets you high.

    • Duncan20903
      • Andrew Thompson

        No one prescribes Desoxyn, let alone to children.

        • Duncan20903

          Denial of reality doesn’t change anything. The target patient is between 8 & 12 years old.

  • laura

    When children (and adults) that truly need it take it as prescribed, it provides the benefit of any other necessary medication. When someone that doesn’t need it (like you) takes it, it will make them high. I am disappointed that you decided to make a mockery of it. Disgusting.

  • critical mass

    The shallowness of what passes for “reporting” really comes through here with someone who wishes he were Wolf but he’s really a sheep in polyester clothing. So, if you’d done a little research you’d realize a couple of things: 1) where are those people who had ADD or ADHD and didn’t get treated when you were young? Well, according to the statistics on persons with ADD/ADHD, the chances are that your afflicted schoolmates are in prison, drug-addicted, homeless, or underemployed.

    2) That is because people who actually *have* ADD/ADHD struggle profoundly with the following: short term memory dysfunction (thus forgetting to turn in homework, forgetting to do bills, forgetting appointments, etc); poor executive judgment (unlike neurotypicals, ADD/ADHD people will act on impulse and not be aware they are acting on impulse: see Tony Soprano and his son AJ for television representations of the classic ADD/ADHD lack of impulse control); 3) argumentativeness (goes with impulse control issues) 4) extreme, deflating hypersensitivity 5) extreme difficulty with organization (can’t use an organizer because they lose the organizer, if they remember to write anything in it); and difficulty focusing or alternately overly focused to the exclusion of everything around them. The most frustrating part is that many if not most ADD/ADHD people also have high IQs and creative minds, which, combined with their other qualities, makes them the target of much anger by teachers, parents, and their colleagues, who think that the ADD person is disrespecting them or blowing things off or an argumentative jerk.

    People who have ADD/ADHD undiagnosed often try to self-medicate: hence, drug addiction. They feel terrible about themselves, thanks to jackasses like you.

    If you had ADD/ADHD, which you clearly don’t–you’re too stupid; you didn’t even research it–you wouldn’t have felt high. As another poster noted, you’d feel “normal,” like a neurotypical person. That’s how medication works (duh!). Similarly if you are not suffering from hypothryoidism and you take Synthroid, it will drive your metabolism into overdrive and you’ll feel high from that. You cannot deduce from this that nobody has hypothyroidism. Instead, what you deduce from this is that you are an idiot who takes medication that hasn’t been prescribed for you and then makes idiotic unfounded generalizations about people who are prescribed the medication.

    Meanwhile, know that proper diagnosis and treatment helps to save kids who would otherwise be failures, drop-outs, and victims of bullying by other students, teachers, and their own parents. Eventually, we’re going to figure out that all the “weirdos” and “troublemakers” were just kids who were not born neurotypical. And then we’ll have to stop feeling superior.