Adderall and crystal meth are the “same drug,” Columbia University neuroscientist and professor of psychology Carl Hart said in a quickly forgotten MSNBC news interview last year:
“It’s the exact same drug,” he said of Adderall. “The only difference is that methamphetamine has a methyl group attached to it.”
Hart and his colleagues did a study testing the effects of Adderall and methamphetamine. He says the two drugs produced identical effects and have almost identical chemical structures.
“Amphetamine (Adderall) and methamphetamine produce identical effects on blood pressure, heart rate, temperature and all other important physiological measures,” Hart said in a college lecture titled Meth is Not More Toxic Than Adderall, it only Metabolizes Faster.
During his career, Hart has studied nicotine, morphine (which he calls “the same as heroin”), cocaine, marijuana and amphetamines. The last is a drug class that includes MDMA (Ecstasy), methamphetamine and dextroamphetamine, the main ingredient in Adderall.
Adderall is widely used in the treatment of ADHD and is also popular among college students trying to stay focused and awake during all-night cram sessions before finals.
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Another common drug prescribed to children diagnosed with ADHD is Desoxyn, which is straight methamphetamine.
Methamphetamine’s short-term effects include improved attention, response-speed and visuospatial perception, Hart says.
While giving kids the equivalent of crystal meth to “chill them out” is an obviously questionable practice, Hart’s main purpose in pointing out the similarities between the two is to destigmatize the recreational use of methamphetamines.
He says the war on crystal meth has become political equivalent of the war on crack cocaine in recent decades, a campaign that frequently targets poor, rural whites the same way the legal system used to target poor blacks for crack. We are basically punishing poor people for doing the exact same thing wealthy white people do recreationally and/or legally by their doctor’s prescription.
In a 2015 Ted Talk, Hart said 80-90 percent of illegal drug users are not “addicts” and do not have a “drug problem.”
“The notion for this one hit and your hooked idea comes from experiments in the 1960s and 70s when lab animals were given unlimited access to drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine,” he said.
The animals would repeatedly press a lever to receive intravenous injections of these drugs until it killed them, Hart said.
“But that’s not the whole story,” he said. “The cages in these experiments contained nothing else but a lever leading to drug injections.”
Of course they pulled it. What else were they going to do?
But when the animals were presented with an attractive alternative to the lever like a sexually receptive mate, they usually chose the non-drug option.
Hart performed follow-up experiments with humans.
“We recruited crack cocaine addicts from New York City and gave them a choice between $5 and a hit of crack cocaine worth more than $5 and repeated it many times over several days.”
Participants chose the drug half the time. When they raised the cash reward to $20, meth users almost always chose the money.
“Attractive alternatives dramatically decrease drug use,” Hart said.
For this reason, Hart no longer wants to eradicate drugs from society.
Instead he wants to help people with actual “drug problems” by providing them viable economic opportunities and protect recreational users from laws that could destroy their lives.
“The drugs themselves are not the problem,” Hart says. “The real problems are poverty, unemployment, selective drug law enforcement, ignorance and the dismissal of science.”