As shortages of certain medications used to treat ADHD continue, advertisements for alternatives to medications have been making waves on social media. Parents and adults desperate to get prescriptions filled may be tempted to try these advertised products, but doing so could put you or your child at risk.
When looking for alternative or complementary interventions to prescribed ADHD medication, you should always talk with your doctor or your child’s doctor. Approach with caution any medications or supplements advertised online that claim to cure ADHD or to be an alternative intervention to ADHD medications.
Fake medications and supplements
Some adults and parents who have not been able to get Adderall or its generic forms in the United States have turned to pharmacies located in Mexico. A recent report found that bottles from these pharmacies labeled Adderall were actually methamphetamine (a dangerous street drug) or a mixture of caffeine, painkillers, and other medications. Filling a prescription in another country does not guarantee that you will receive the proper medication. In some cases, the medication may be mislabeled and harmful, especially in countries with more lax regulations than in the United States.
Nutritional supplements that make claims toward ADHD intervention or improvements in memory and attention have also increased their advertising during the shortage. These ads claim their supplements are an alternative intervention and just as effective as commonly prescribed ADHD medications. Some products are marketed specifically toward college students and claim to help improve focus. One particular supplement company claims a study by the Cleveland Clinic confirmed the effectiveness of its product. However, the study only looked at the experiences of college students ages eighteen to twenty-five who did not have an ADHD diagnosis. In other words, this product has never been evaluated as a treatment on people who actually have ADHD.
The main ingredient in many of these products is a form of caffeine. Caffeine can temporarily boost focus, but use in large amounts (more than what is generally in a cup of coffee or a bottle of cola) can have harsh side effects, can be addictive, and is not recommended as a treatment for ADHD. Other ingredients are often “brain boosting” nootropics or memory enhancers. None of these types of supplements have been approved by the US Federal Drug Administration or have been proven effective in the treatment of ADHD.
“I’m so tired of people pushing the narrative that medications are terrible for you, are actual meth, or that taking an expensive supplement that you don’t know what’s in it, is better,” says a woman with ADHD who recently expressed her frustration on social media. “I wish people knew how to use more critical thinking when looking at these things.”
Her comments make an important point: You should do your research and talk with your doctor before trying any medication, especially since some supplements can interfere with other medications.
Ads on TikTok and other social media sites claim microdosing with psychedelic mushrooms can help alleviate the symptoms of ADHD. A preliminary study did find that microdosing increased mindfulness in some adults with ADHD. However, this study did not include a placebo control group, which is a group of participants who don’t receive the medication being studied but receive a sugar pill that has no effect. This type of control group is an important part of quality scientific research.
Phyllis Anne Teeter Ellison, EdD, a former CHADD president, recommends looking closer at the research studies that supplements and other alternatives reference. Quality research, she says, includes “studies [that] are repeated a number of times; participants are carefully screened before entering the study; participants are randomly assigned to a treatment; placebos or other interventions are included as a comparison to the new treatment; participants and researchers are not told which treatment is administered.”
These things can help you determine whether the studies referenced are quality studies. Another important factor to look for is whether the individuals included in the research study have a diagnosis of ADHD. If a product claims to help with the symptoms of ADHD but doesn’t reference research studies that include participants with ADHD, it’s a good indicator that the product won’t help lessen ADHD symptoms.
Next time you scroll through your social media feed and an ad for a new medication or supplement to treat ADHD interests you, look more deeply into the product. If you do consider adding a supplement or trying a medication that you learned about online, talk with your doctor or your child’s doctor before trying or adding any new treatment.
“Although the internet has become a frequently used resource for medical information, it is also a low cost and global marketing place that is, home to unreliable health information,” says Dr. Teeter Ellison.
Learn more on alternative and complementary interventions:
- Complementary and Other Interventions
- Assessing Complementary and Controversial Interventions: Tips for Parents
- ADHD Quick Facts: Complementary Interventions for ADHD
- Why Do People Seek Complementary Treatments
- Colorful Spice Shows Promise for ADHD Treatment in Research
- A Fishy Idea: Omega-3 Supplements as a Replacement for Medication