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Stimulants for ADHD Side Effects, Examples, Types & List of Names

What are stimulants?

Stimulants are medications or other compounds (including caffeine, cocaine
and nicotine) that stimulate the central nervous system (CNS) in most
individuals. Stimulants can be addictive and often are abused. Stimulants have similar effects as amphetamine. They stimulate the brain by
increasing the level and effect of the natural neurotransmitters, dopamine, and
norepinephrine in the brain (neurotransmitters are chemicals produced by nerves
that are released and attach to other nearby nerves as a means of communication
among nerves).

The effects of stimulants on the body may include

  • increased attention,
  • alertness, and
  • energy in many people without

In people with ADHD,
stimulants produce a paradoxical calming effect. This results in a reduction in
hyperactivity and an improvement in attention span in many patients. Apart from
form their effects on the brain they also increase blood pressure, heart rate,
blood glucose, and open up breathing airways. Their exact mechanism of action in
treating ADHD is unknown. This article will focus on those stimulants used to
treat ADHD.

What are the medical uses for stimulants?

Approved medical uses for stimulants include

  • attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),
  • narcolepsy, and
  • treatment resistant depression.
  • Some formulations are used for treating obesity.

Because of their addictive potential some stimulants are no longer recommended for treating asthma and other nervous system disorders.

What are examples, types,
and names of stimulants used to treat ADHD?

Methylphenidate and or amphetamine derivatives are the two types of
stimulants (phenethylamine and piperidine classes) used for treating ADHD.
Medications used for treating ADHD are available only by prescription. There are
no OTC (over-the-counter) stimulants approved for treating ADHD. The
following is a list of many brand and generic names of stimulants used for
treating ADHD in children and adults:

What are the side effects of stimulants used for treating ADHD?

Common side effects of stimulants used for ADHD management include:

Other side effects of stimulants medications for ADHD include:

Serious side effects of stimulants used for treating ADHD include:

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What drugs interact with stimulants used for
treating ADHD?

  • Amphetamines should not be taken with monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitor drugs
    including phenelzine (Nardil), tranylcypromine (Parnate), and Zyvox.
  • Antacids may increase absorption
    of amphetamine salts and increase their effectiveness and side effects.
  • The effects of stimulants on the CNS can be additive when used with other
    chemicals and medications that stimulate the CNS, such as caffeine (found in
    coffee, tea, or cola drinks), and pseudoephedrine or phenylpropanolamine (found
    in many cough-and-cold preparations).
  • The combination of stimulants and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), for
    example, isocarboxazid (Marplan), phenelzine (Nardil), tranylcypromine
    (Parnate), and procarbazine (Matulane), should not be taken with a stimulant
    since a hypertensive crisis (severely high blood pressure) may occur.
    Use of
    amphetamine within 14 days of using MAO inhibitor drugs should be avoided. 
  • The blood pressure lowering effects of medications used to treat hypertension
    may be reduced by stimulants. As a result, blood pressure should be monitored
    when starting or stopping stimulants in patients who are receiving blood
    pressure medications.


Who is at greater risk for developing ADHD?
See Answer

What formulations of stimulants are available
for treating ADHD?

Stimulants are available as immediate acting or long acting formulations and
are available in the following formats:

  • Tablets (for example, Adderall, Concerta)
  • Capsules (for example, Adderall XR, Ritalin)
  • Chewable tablets (for example, Quillichew ER, Methylin)
  • Oral solution (for example, Methylin)
  • Transdermal Patch (for example, Daytrana)

Are stimulants safe to take during pregnancy or while breastfeeding?

  • Stimulants have not been adequately evaluated in
    pregnant women. Available
    evidence suggests that amphetamine type stimulants do not increase the rate of
    birth defects when used at recommended doses. However, decreased birth weight
    has been seen in infants whose mothers received dextroamphetamine for weight
  • There are no controlled studies of stimulants in women who are
    breastfeeding. There is every little information on the effect of
    methylphenidate on the developing fetus. Stimulants should be used during
    pregnancy only if the potential benefit justifies the potential risk to the

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