Nootropics are often recommended as a way to manage ADHD symptoms. This article explores how they work to help you learn if they might be right for you.

If you’ve met one person with ADHD, you’ve met one person with ADHD. It’s a complex condition and individuals experience it differently. This can make it challenging for health professionals to manage it adequately.

Nootropics are drugs that improve your mental performance. They include ADHD drugs like Ritalin and Adderall, plus substances like caffeine and nicotine.

ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It’s also known as attention-deficit disorder (ADD). Those with the condition may feel like they:

  • are unable to focus
  • miss small details
  • rush through tasks
  • procrastinate
  • avoid tough projects that take mental effort

These are just a few of the many varying symptoms sometimes associated with ADHD.

Of course, it’s natural to want to try anything and everything to better handle your daily activities. Still, it’s important to remain cautious and curious about any possible treatments to ensure your health and safety.

When managing ADHD, health professionals look for options that improve attention, working memory, and overall mental performance. One way they may accomplish this is by prescribing nootropics.

Nootropics are substances meant to improve mental performance. You can find them in prescription medications and dietary supplements.

Nootropic drugs

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved prescription nootropic drugs to treat certain conditions, including ADHD. The FDA has deemed them safe for use under the supervision of your doctor.

Prescription nootropic drugs include:

  • modafinil: treats daytime sleepiness to keep you alert
  • methylphenidate (Ritalin): stimulantapproved to treat ADHD and a sleep disorder called narcolepsy
  • amphetamines: the active ingredient in certain medications, such as Adderall. They increase dopamine and norepinephrine to improve alertness

In the United States, you can also buy nootropic stimulants over-the-counter and without a prescription. For example, a product named NoDoz (a caffeine pill) helps some individuals with ADHD stay alert and is available without a doctor’s order.

Even though the FDA approves these drugs, it’s important to take them with caution and chat with your healthcare professional before starting.

Nootropic supplements

Some nootropic supplements for ADHD are marketed as being “natural” or “herbal.”

You can find natural nootropics in certain foods, herbs, and plants marketed to improve brain health and ability to think (cognitive functioning).

Below are some natural nootropics and what recent research says about their use for ADHD:

  • Caffeine. Children and teens with ADHD consume more caffeine than their peers during later times of the day because it may improve attention and alertness.
  • Ginkgo Biloba. The extract from ginkgo leaves may improve ADHD symptoms and causes fewer side effects than medications like methylphenidate, but is also less effective.
  • Nicotine. Young people with ADHD are 2–3 times more likely to smoke or vape nicotine products, possibly as a way to self-medicate.

The packaging and marketing of some nootropics claim to improve brain health and enhance mental performance in those with ADHD and ADD. However, according to the FDA, dietary supplements cannot claim to treat or prevent a medical condition.

Plus, even though these compounds are natural, it’s important to proceed with caution.

The FDA doesn’t need to approve dietary supplements, so some of these products may not be safe. Therefore, it’s best to speak with your doctor about any ADHD nootropics that spark your interest as a possible treatment.

Whether a nootropic is created in a lab or occurs naturally, they have similar methods of action.

Nootropics can boost blood circulation to the brain increases, meaning it receives more oxygen and nutrients. One of these nutrients is glucose.

Glucose is essential for energy generation. Your brain and nervous system cells rely on this energy to send messages, enabling you to better focus your attention and face challenges.

Ultimately, this means that nootropics may:

  • increase brain activity
  • enhance thinking
  • improve memory
  • boost adaption skills

Based on research on their effectiveness and safety, the best nootropics for ADHD management include:

Regardless of what piques your interest, it’s important to speak with your doctor before taking any of these, no matter if they’re natural or in drug form.

Methylphenidate (Ritalin)

Methylphenidate, also known by the brand name Ritalin, is often the first-line drug treatment for children with ADHD. Studies show that it’s highly effective, even after long-term use.

If you take the drug as directed, the risk of dependence is low. However, higher or extra doses may increase the risk, so speak with your doctor before changing how much you take.

Having trouble sleeping or feeling overly nervous are common side effects of methylphenidate. If you experience this, consult your healthcare professional to potentially explore alternative drugs or dosages.

Dextroamphetamine sulfate (Dexedrine)

Another stimulant, dextroamphetamine sulfate, decreases your impulsiveness while increasing your attention.

Some people develop a tolerance after long-term use, so after taking Dexedrine for a while, your doctor may ask you to stop taking it to monitor your symptoms. You may then need to switch to a different nootropic.

Ginkgo Biloba

This natural supplement promotes blood flow to your brain to improve memory. Although it’s less effective than prescription medications, it may improve ADHD symptoms.

However, you should use it with caution since it’s speculated to increase the risk of bleeding.


When you take in caffeine, you might expect:

  • increased attention
  • improved learning
  • improved memory

Caffeine accomplishes this without causing unwanted side effects associated with some prescription medications.

A 2020 study on U.S. soldiers reported that using caffeine appeared to reduce ADHD symptoms and may have improved cognitive performance.

The goal of effective ADHD treatment is to address and improve all aspects of your functioning. Medication alone likely can’t do this.

Other steps to take include:

Stimulants help around 70% of those with ADHD. Some people use nootropics alongside other methods.

A stimulant that works for one person won’t necessarily work for you. That’s why it’s best to work with your doctor who can help you identify which treatment or treatments work best for you — even if it takes a little trial and error.

It can help to speak with your healthcare professional if you aren’t seeing benefits while on your current medication.

Effective ADHD management generally includes prescription medication therapy. In addition, nootropics are often prescribed to help manage symptoms.

You can find nootropics in prescription, over-the-counter, and supplement forms.

Whichever option you’re interested in, it’s important to discuss it with your doctor before trying it. They can help monitor the effectiveness of any drug or supplement and make adjustments as needed.

Although nootropics are sometimes referred to as “brain boosters” since they’re believed to improve memory, thinking, and focus, they may not be enough to treat your ADHD.

It’s also worth exploring ADHD management tools, podcasts, and other options to help you live a fulfilling life with ADHD.