Everything You Need To Know About Focalin


When you hear the term “smart drug”, Focalin probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.

But did you know it’s actually one of the most powerful smart drugs out there?

In terms of it’s ability to treat ADHD, it’s on par with Adderall.  It’s also similar to Adderall in terms of abuse potential.

In other words, this is some powerful stuff!

In this article, we’ll answer some important questions like:

  • What Is Focalin?
  • How Does It Work?
  • What Can You Expect When Taking Focalin?
  • What Are The Side Effects?
  • What’s The Difference Between Focalin And Adderall?

And I’ll tell you all about my personal experience taking Focalin for completely off-label purposes.  The good.  The bad.  Everything!

So, if you’re ready to learn just about everything you could ever want to know about Focalin, let’s get to it…

What Is Focalin?

Focalin Capsules

Focalin® is the brand name for Dexmethylphenidate Hydrocholirde (Hcl).  Chemically, it is the D-threo form of methylphenidate, so it is sometimes referred to as D-threo-methylphenidate.

In terms of it’s chemical structure, it’s extremely similar to Ritalin (methylphenidate).

Focalin Molecule

Like it’s cousin Ritalin, Focalin is a prescription medication which is usually prescribed as a first-line treatment for ADHD.

But make no mistake, Focalin is A LOT stronger than Ritalin!

Think of it as super-Ritalin.

As is the case with many other psychoactive medications, tons of people without ADHD use Focalin to help them focus, stay awake, and get things done.

Taking Focalin generally results in:

  • Better ability to focus
  • Mood improvements
  • Motivation to get things done
  • Appetite suppression
  • Not being tired

As you can imagine, it appeals to a wide base of people.  Whether for better or for worse, it’s a safe bet that much of the Focalin that’s consumed in the US is for off-label purposes in people without ADHD.

From students to nurses to pilots to truckers to…pretty much anyone who has a lot to get done in a limited amount of time.

Now, we could get into the economics of prescription drugs and talk about why drug companies actually love the fact that their drugs are used for off-label purposes, but maybe we’ll just save that for another time.

Let’s keep going.

How Does Focalin Work?

Focalin Receptors

Focalin works exactly the same way it’s cousin Ritalin (but better) and similarly, in part, to Adderall.

It’s a Central Nervous System (CNS) stimulant which inhibits the reuptake of both Dopamine and Noradrenaline, thereby increasing their activity in the brain.

The diagram below shows how Focalin blocks the reuptake of Dopamine specifically.

Dexmethylphenidate blocks Dopamine reuptake

Whether Dopamine and Noradrenaline are directly increased or indirectly increased (reuptake inhibition) is pretty much irrelevant.  The impact is the same.

  1. Increased Dopamine
  2. Increased Noradrenaline

Although each of these neurotransmitters has it’s own unique functions in the brain and body, they exert similar and complimentary effects on cognitive function.

Increasing Dopamine and Noradrenaline activity in the brain typically enhances/improves:

  • Focus
  • Mood
  • Motivation

The effects of taking Focalin are pretty similar to other CNS stimulant “smart drugs” such as Adderall.  It just works differently.

Adderall triggers the release of Dopamine and Noradrenaline.  Focalin blocks the reuptake of Dopamine and Noradrenaline.

Different route, same destination.

We’ll talk more about the difference between Focalin and Adderall later on…

What Can I Expect When Taking Focalin?

What To Expect With Focalin

Here’s the thing about “smart drugs”…

They don’t actually make you smarter.

They can make you more focused, energized, and motivated though.

If you have ADHD–meaning you have an inability to pay attention which is detrimental to your life, work, education, or whatever–you may notice that Focalin allows you to function better in general.

If you don’t have ADHD–meaning your life isn’t compromised in any way by an inability to focus–taking Focalin is not going to magically make everything great.

You may feel more alert.  You may be able to focus better.  You may feel more motivated in general.

These things may cumulatively make you more productive, but they’re not going to dramatically improve the quality of your life.

Why?  Because if you actually don’t have ADHD, those things weren’t holding you back to begin with.

This is the major difference between people with ADHD taking these types of drugs and people without ADHD taking them.  If you don’t have ADHD, they’re not going to completely change your life.

In fact, if abused too much, Focalin can be downright detrimental to your long-term productivity.

What Are The Side Effects Of Focalin?

Focalin Side Effects

Since it’s a CNS stimulant, and fairly powerful one at that, some people will experience a ‘ crash’ from Focalin.  It’s also prone to a handful of other side effects including:

  • Jitters
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Dry Mouth
  • Loss Of Appetite

Some of the much more serious, albeit rare side effects include:

  • Seizures
  • Rapid, Uneven Hard Beat
  • Psychosis
  • Heart Palpitations
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Sudden Death

It’s not likely that you’ll experience side effects like these, but it’s definitely possible.  You should at least be aware of the worst possible scenario.

Most people won’t experience much more than trouble sleeping, some jitters, and maybe some anxiety.

Focalin Dosing

Focalin comes in 2.5, 5mg, and 10mg tablets.  If you’ve never used Focalin before, it’s recommend that you start with a low dose, like 5mg.

If you’re a fully grown adult, you may require a higher dose than 5mg to really feel the impact, but it’s always a smart idea to start low.  You don’t want to take too much Focalin by accident!

Focalin Legality

Is Focalin Legal?

Focalin is a Schedule II controlled substance.

This classification is reserved for drugs which have legitimate, recognized medical uses, but for which the abuse potential is relatively high.

What does this mean?

It means you need a prescription if you want to legally obtain Focalin.

No, although Focalin is only approved for treatment of ADHD, plenty of prescriptions get written for off-label purposes.  I’s really up to your doctor.

If you don’t have a prescription, you can get in fair amount of trouble for possessing Focalin.  And in case you’re wondering, saying you’re friend left their script in your car doesn’t work.

If you don’t have a script, don’t walk or drive around with Focalin on you!

Focalin Vs Adderall

Focalin Vs. Adderall

When it comes to smart drugs, Adderall is by far the most popular.  Everyone has at least heard of Adderall and tons of college students have tried it (or use it regularly).

So, it makes sense that most people’s first question when considering Focalin is “what’s the difference?”.

They’re Entirely Different Substances

Focalin is dexmethylphenidate, a chemical relative of methylphenidate (Ritalin).  Adderall is a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine.

They Work Differently

Although the end result is similar (increased levels of Dopamine and Noradrenaline), Focalin works differently than Adderall.

Focalin blocks the reuptake of Dopamine and Noradrenaline.  Adderall triggers the release of Dopamine and Noradrenaline while also acting as a reuptake inhibitor to some degree.

Adderall also interacts with Serotonin to some degree, while Focalin does not.  This is why Adderall tends to induce some Euphoria and has a greater overall impact on mood for most people.

Adderall Is More Popular

Adderall is by far the more popular of the two.  Way more prescriptions are written for Adderall than Focalin.  This is partially because Adderall is legally allowed to be prescribed for more than just ADHD.  Focalin is only prescribed for ADHD.

Focalin Is Abused Less

Perhaps this has to do with the fact that less prescriptions are written for Focalin than Adderall.  There’s no doubt that Adderall is more widely used for off-label purposes, such as studying or staying away on a road trip.

Most people have never even heard of Focalin.

Focalin Has Less Side Effects

Although they are both CNS stimulants which can potentially have negative consequences, Focalin is more mellow than Adderall.

Many users of Adderall report a “crash” or depression-like state after coming off Adderall.  Focalin can still potentially cause the same, but not as bad.

Focalin XR

Focalin XR

Focalin XR is simply the extended release (the “XR” part) version of Focalin.  It’s a once daily formula whereas the instant release version (regular Focalin) is supposed to be used twice daily in most cases.

Focalin XR comes in capsules which are full of tiny beads that contain the active chemical in it.  Some of the beads dissolve quickly and release the active chemical while some of the beads resist being broken down until several hours later.

Since it delivers two controlled doses of Dexmethylphenidate several hours apart, taking Focalin XR is a bit like taking two separate doses of regular Focalin throughout the day.

Contrary to popular belief, extended release (XR) medications are not “stronger” but they can be better for some individuals.

Taking 10mg of Focalin XR is like taking 5mg of Focalin now and 5mg later.  People looking for a euphoric high may be disappointed with Focalin XR.  People who actually need to focus and pay attention for long periods of time, however, may like XR better.

My Personal Experience With Focalin (No, I Don’t Have ADHD)

Say what you will, but if you were trying to balance a full course load in your last two years of college while getting a business off the ground single-handed, you might feel like you could use some help too.

The truth is, most college kids can easily get these types of smart drugs whether they have a prescription or not.

It’s estimated that at least 1/3rd of college students have used smart drugs like Adderall or Focalin to study.  If you ask me, it’s more like 50%, but maybe that’s just because I went to a business school where the workload was enough to keep you up all night most nights if you really wanted an A.

For me, college was a constant juggle between business and school work.

I didn’t care about my grades as much as most of my peers probably did because I knew I probably wasn’t going to actually get a job after I graduated.  Still, I don’t like to fail at things so even though launching a business was my highest priority, I made sure I got pretty good grades too.

Needless to say, there were some times when there just weren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done…


So sometimes, I turned to “get it done” drugs like Focalin.  Adderall too, but since Adderall is more well known, it fetches a much higher price.  I found Focalin to be reasonably priced and quite effective for my purposes.

Here’s how it affected me:

Focus To The Max!

I can stay intensely focused on one thing for at least a few hours without taking a break or subconsciously seeking a distraction, but on Focalin I could focus on anything all night.

There were plenty of nights where I would start working at 8pm or so and the next thing I knew it would be time for my morning classes.

I don’t recommend staying up all night on jacked up on stimulants and then going to class, but I definitely did it.

Better Mood

Part of what makes drugs like Adderall and Focalin so effective for getting things done is the fact that they make you slightly happy about whatever it is you’re doing.

It’s tough to explain in a way that would make you grasp it if you never tried it, but with Focalin I would be happy to dig into a grueling pile of work that ordinarily would make me sick.

Unfortunately, the euphoria tends to fade the more you use it.

No Desire To Eat

Depending on you’re body composition and/or fitness goals, this could be either good or bad.  For me, a college kid with no money, it worked out.

Focalin absolutely crushed my appetite.  It would only be after several hours of not eating that I would eventually feel like “I should eat”, but I didn’t feel like I needed to.

Having done a lot of research on nutrition, I knew that eating would supply my brain with the sugar it needed to function, so I would make myself eat a little something at least every few hours.

The Downsides I Personally Experienced

I’m well aware that Focalin can cause a ton of side effects.  Some can be pretty serious.  Technically, sudden death is one of them!

For me, side effects included:

  • Irritability
  • Sleeplessness
  • A Crash At Some Point

Not too bad, but enough to make me realize that I should limit my use as much as possible.

The truth is most people will probably be okay on drugs like Focalin.  Serious side effects are rare and death is rarer.

However, what usually gets left out of the discussion is the long-term impact on your mind and body.

Focalin definitely isn’t as harsh as Adderall in this respect, but whenever I took it for too many consecutive days and then stopped, I’d notice that I would have trouble focusing on pretty normal tasks.

My normal ability to focus would return within a few days of non-use, but even that was enough to scare me away from abusing Focalin to the extent that many others did.

My Thoughts On Focalin

I’ve taken tons of Focalin.  While I never experienced any horrible side effects, I can clearly see now why it’s not such a great idea to abuse these drugs.

They’re not as dangerous in the short-term as the media would have you believe, but in the long-term, they can mess you up.

You don’t want to be dependent on a substance to get things done.  The more you rely on drugs like Focalin to be productive, the more dependent you’ll become.

Eventually, you may reach a point where you feel like you can’t be productive without them.  That’s what happened to me and it’s the reason why I strongly urge anyone who is considering using this medication for off-label purposes (like work or school) to keep it to a minimum.

Everything in moderation…Especially Focalin!

The Bottom Line on Focalin

Focalin is one of the lesser known “smart drugs”, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.  It’s just as effective for treating ADHD as Adderall and has similar off-label abuse potential as well.

It may be especially tempting for students who need to study or people who work long hours, but there are serious draw-backs to using Focalin on a regular basis.

It may help you get some things done faster, but there’s always a cost.  It’s like a professor of mine used to say…

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch!”

…Thanks professor.

Got Anything To Add About Focalin?  Comment Below…

I’m Matt Theis, founder of SuppWithThat, Momentum Nutrition, and Singular Sport. I created SWT to separate the science from the hype and publish accurate, research-based information on supplements. If you like what I have to say here, feel free to check out my supplements at and

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