ADHD Myth: The Paradoxical Stimulant Effect

The "Paradoxical Effect" Is Actually a Dose Effect

The typical effects of stimulants in general, not just ADHD stimulants, are well known. Stimulant drugs and substances increase wakefulness and activity, essentially "speeding up" the body. Heart rate and blood pressure may rise, and high doses can produce agitation, hostility, panic, and aggression. When a person with ADHD is given a stimulant, however, many opposite effects are seen. A calming effect will be seen, along with an improved ability to focus and think.
It is understandable why people, including doctors, initially thought that this was a paradoxical effect. However, studies have shown that almost anyone, including children and adults, with or without ADHD, given a low dose of a stimulant will experience a calming effect, with improved focus and thinking. It is the low dosage that makes a difference, not whether or not a person has ADHD.
Why does a low dosage of a stimulant cause a calming, focused effect, while high doses have the opposite effects? It appears that stimulants affect different receptors (and different areas of the brain) in varying ways, depending on the dosages.

Stimulant Abuse for Academic Performance

Stimulants are often abused by students without ADHD for the purpose of improving academic performance. Similar abuses may occur outside academic settings as well, with adults without ADHD inappropriately using the drugs to enhance work performance. 
There are other reasons stimulants are abused. For instance, some people abuse stimulants to get "high" or to lose weight. However, in these cases, typically these abusers prefer higher doses, which may impair academic performance, compared to the low doses that can enhance performance.
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