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Natural Stimulants Alternatives: OTC And Herbal Uppers

alternatives to stimulant drugs

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Natural stimulants alternatives are popular as the stimulant medicines are by prescription only. Over the counter stimulants alternatives can be legally obtained for a lesser cost. As a result, easy access to over the counter uppers alternatives has contributed to widespread abuse. Still, many people mistakenly believe that these stimulants are safer than prescription ones.

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Learn About Stimulants Alternatives:

OTC Stimulants Alternatives

Are OTC Stimulants Alternatives Available In The US?

Although most of the CNS stimulants are prescribed stimulants, there are still some OTC stimulants alternatives that can be obtained without prescription in the US. Some of these drugs can be purchased at a drugstore or online.

Many people know that ADHD and stimulants go hand in hand, boosting the dopamine level, therefore increasing concentration and focus. Similarly, it is expected that OTC stimulants alternatives have the same effects.

Over the counter uppers alternatives include:

  • cough and cold medicines (which contain Dextromethorphan)
  • caffeine-containing medicines
  • diet pills
  • motion sickness pills (which contain dimenhydrinate and diphenhydramine)
  • nasal decongestants (containing pseudoephedrine).
Many people consider OTC uppers alternatives as harmless, but most of them include compounds of great concern such as pseudoephedrine, phenylpropanolamine (PPA), or ephedrine. Many manufacturers producing and selling these drugs use claims that have not been researched and evaluated by the FDA. So, consumers are not adequately informed about the possible dangers of the product.

What Are The CNS Stimulants Alternatives Available OTC?


The common stimulants alternatives (containing pseudoephedrine) treat allergic rhinitis and asthma. In the past, pseudoephedrine was frequently used in treatments for depression, asthma, or hypotension. However, due to their serious toxicity and side effects, these OTC uppers alternatives have been replaced by more selective, safer agents.

allergic rhinitis in spring


Phenylpropanolamine or PPA is a sympathomimetic agent with anorectic properties, usually found in decongestants, appetite suppressants, and other over the counter uppers. Several case reports have shown that PPA can cause intracranial hemorrhage and that appetite suppressants containing PPA might cause hemorrhagic strokes in women. Due to these dangerous side effects, the FDA has issued a warning, and Phenylpropanolamine had been removed from the US market in 2000.


For many years, ephedrine was used as a decongestant and bronchodilator to treat heart block, asthma, hypotension, narcolepsy, and depression. Nowadays, ephedrine is chemically synthesized, but traditionally it was used in its plant form as an herbal stimulant. As it is an adrenergic agonist, ephedrine enhances norepinephrine release from sympathetic neurons, elevating mood, decreasing appetite, and increasing heart rate and blood pressure.

In 2004, the FDA prohibited the sale of supplements that contain ephedrine, since they pose an unreasonable risk because of their potential health hazards. However, ephedrine can still be legally obtained only in the pure form (pure herb or tea), putting the lives of the consumers in danger.

natural stimulants

Natural Stimulants

Natural stimulants alternatives are derived from plants and their roots. They are used to increase energy, reduce appetite, and improve mental clarity and focus. Although these stimulants are made from plants, when used in large doses or excessively, they can become dangerous, resulting in severe effects of stimulants. Unfortunately, these products can be purchased from the drug store, on the Internet, or even from the supermarket or grocery stores.


The most studied and most used among natural OTC stimulants is caffeine. It can be found in many products, such as coffee, tea, and medicine. Although caffeine has its benefits, the stimulants in coffee can adversely impact the body. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, an adult should not drink more than 400 mg of caffeine per day.

Because caffeine is a diuretic, it can cause severe dehydration of the body. When ingested in high amounts and for a long time, caffeine leads to caffeinism, a specific toxidrome. High doses of caffeine have been linked to deaths, specifically in people with existing heart disease.

Natural stimulants list:

  • Huperzine-A (also known as Hup-A) is an alkaloid nootropic extracted from the Chinese Club Moss. It is a reversible acetylcholinesterase inhibitor and an NMDA receptor antagonist, which promoted long-term brain health and boosted short-term memory.
  • Lion’s mane is the only mushroom proven to support brain health. It supplies unique nootropic support needed for the synthesis of Nerve Growth Factor. Lion’s mane is one of the natural brain stimulants alternatives, a nootropic that increases the use of nerve growth factor in the brain, promoting healthy mood balance, and cognitive function.
  • Chaga – this mushroom has adaptogenic properties, helping the body calm down and adapt to stress. Chaga tea is known for its ability to deliver a slight increase in energy.
  • Coconut oil – few people know that coconut oil is one of the natural stimulants that boost energy. The saturated fats in coconut oil go straight to the liver, boosting fat burning and providing the brain and body with quick energy. The coconut oil saturated fats contain MCTs or medium-chain triglycerides, which are very easy for the body to digest and turn into energy.
  • Gotu kola – the active ingredient in this plant is asiaticoside. It is reported that Gotu kola can improve mental clarity and focus, strengthen brain function, and decrease anxiety.
  • Kola nut contains caffeine, which stimulates the central nervous system. It is used to fight mental slowness and fatigue, making a person feel energetic and awake.
  • Rhodiola is one of the herbal stimulant alternatives that has been used for centuries in Siberia to deal with physiological stress during the cold winter season. Salidroside, the main chemical in the plant, is believed to reduce mental fatigue, improve mental performance, and physical capacity through free radical mitigation.
  • Guarana, being packed with caffeine, is used for its ability to reduce fatigue. It also contains theophylline and theobromine, which have relaxing and stimulant effects.
  • Mate – the leaves of this plant contain the same xanthine alkaloid compounds found in coffee. Therefore, Mate is known for its stimulating effects.
  • Oat straw – green oat grass can enhance mental function. It is one of the herbal stimulants for energy. Eating oat straw increases the electrical activity in the brain’s left frontal-temporal area, leading to mental arousal, alertness, and a boost in cognitive performance.
  • Ashwagandha – this adaptogen helps the body adapt to stress. It contains alkaloids, steroidal lactones, and saponins, which improve mental energy and reduce fatigue.
  • Bacopa is one of the herbal stimulant alternatives that has been used for centuries in Ayurveda to improve mental function, but also for poor memory, in treating anxiety disorders, ADHD, and Alzheimer’s. It works by inhibiting an enzyme that leads to the degradation of acetylcholine and by increasing cerebral blood flow.
  • Artichoke – the leaves of the plant contain PDE4 inhibitors, which stimulate the brain and help form stronger memories.
  • Ginseng – the plant stimulates mental and physical activity in people who feel tired and weak, as well as in cancer patients. It improves cognition and the thinking process.
  • Maca can increase performance, energy, and sexual desire. The plant contains amino acids and fatty acids, which improve memory, athletic performance, and energy.
  • Rhodiola Rosea stimulates the activity of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, being used to increase endurance, energy, mental capacity, and strength.
  • Cordyceps – this fungus can improve athletic performance, but it is also used as a tonic, stimulant, energy booster, and stamina enhancer.
  • Theobromine is the alkaloid that gives the cacao plant the bitter taste. It acts as a stimulant of the nervous system, boosting mood, brain function, relaxation, and giving a positive effect. It is also a more powerful cardiac stimulant compared to caffeine.
  • Yerba Mate – this evergreen tree is one of the natural brain stimulants alternatives which contain caffeine, stimulating the brain, muscles that line the blood vessels and heart, providing energy, enhancing memory, alertness, and mood.
  • Ginkgo Biloba contains antioxidants, such as terpenoids and flavonoids, which protect against oxidative cell damage. The plant improves memory and thinking, boost cognitive speed, and improves blood flow in the body.
Although these natural CNS stimulants alternatives offer many benefits when used for a long time or in excess, they can do more harm than good. That is why it is crucial to consult with a doctor before taking such stimulants, as they can also interact with other OTC drugs or prescription medicines.

Stay Aware Of Stimulant Alternatives

Although stimulant alternatives are considered safer compared to prescription stimulants when used repeatedly and for a long time, they can become addictive. Even herbal stimulant alternatives can lead to dependence issues. There are many drug addiction centers and rehabs which offer professional help in the case of addiction, helping patients get through the detox process safely. That’s why it is important to contact the rehab facilities as soon as any signs of abuse or addiction are noticed. With timely treatment, many severe side effects of abuse and addiction can be avoided.

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  1. Final Rule Declaring Dietary Supplements Containing Ephedrine Alkaloids Adulterated Because They Present an Unreasonable Risk. Food and Drug Administration. 2004.
  2. Jówko E, Sadowski J, Długołęcka B, Gierczuk D, Opaszowski B, Cieśliński I. Effects of Rhodiola rosea supplementation on mental performance, physical capacity, and oxidative stress biomarkers in healthy men. Journal of Sport and Health Science. 2018; 7(4): 473–480. doi:10.1016/j.jshs.2016.05.005.
  3. Dimpfel W, Storni C, Verbruggen M. Ingested oat herb extract (Avena sativa) changes EEG spectral frequencies in healthy subjects. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2011; 17(5): 427-34. doi: 10.1089/acm.2010.0143.
  4. Kim HG, Cho JH, Yoo SR, Lee JS, Han JM, Lee NH, Ahn YC, Son CG. Antifatigue effects of Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. PLoS One. 2013; 8(4): e61271. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0061271.
  5. Stone M, Ibarra A, Roller M, Zangara A, Stevenson E. A pilot investigation into the effect of maca supplementation on physical activity and sexual desire in sportsmen. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 2009; 126(3): 574-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2009.09.012.
Isaak Stotts

About Author

Isaak Stotts, LP

Isaak Stotts is an in-house medical writer in AddictionResource. Isaak learned addiction psychology at Aspen University and got a Master's Degree in Arts in Psychology and Addiction Counseling. After graduation, he became a substance abuse counselor, providing individual, group, and family counseling for those who strive to achieve and maintain sobriety and recovery goals.


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