What is Ritalin?

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What is Ritalin? Ritalin is a psychostimulant

Psychostimulants are drugs that increase brain activity. Most work by increasing the levels of dopamine in the brain. Neurotransmitters such as dopamine are chemicals involved in passing signals between individual nerve cells. Dopamine is particularly important in the transmission of signals associated with pleasure, movement and attention.[2]

How Does Ritalin Work?

Orally administered Ritalin (MPH) is absorbed into the blood stream and is carried to the brain, where it reaches a peak concentration 60-90 minutes after administration.[3] In the brain, MPH has been shown to block dopamine transporters, resulting in an increase in the levels of extracellular dopamine. This is believed to have the effect of amplifying dopamine signals in the brain, leading to an increase in nerve signals.[4]

It may seem odd to treat a condition characterised by hyperactivity with a drug known to increase the activity of the brain, but research has shown that ADHD sufferers actually demonstrate abnormally low activity in the frontal lobes and striatal structures of the brain, thought to be important in the control of attention and behaviour.[5] The increase in dopamine levels in these parts of the brain can therefore improve the behaviour and concentration of patients.

What dose of Ritalin should be used?

Studies have confirmed that there is considerable variation between individuals in dopamine tone, that is to say the naturally-occurring sensitivity to changes in dopamine levels.[6] As a result of this, the therapeutic dose of Ritalin needed for effective treatment varies from person to person and needs to be determined on an individual basis. In commencing treatment with Ritalin, the dose is gradually increased by doctors until a therapeutic effect is observed.[7]

What is Ritalin? Potential Risks of Using Ritalin

Regular use of Ritalin is associated with a number of common but minor side effects such as nervousness and headaches.[8] Users may also experience mild cardiovascular symptoms or emotional side effects. However, most unwanted effects of Ritalin are not considered to pose a major medical problem. Use of Ritalin has also been associated with growth deficits.

As a psychostimulant chemical, there is a risk Ritalin can be misused as a recreational drug. Its effects at higher doses are similar to cocaine. As such, it is imperative to determine an appropriate low dose, and prescription of the drug should be carefully and thoughtfully undertaken. Oral Ritalin is absorbed into the body quite slowly and does not tend to result in a “high”, but increasingly, drug abusers are exploiting other delivery methods, and taking advantage of the availability of the drug as a prescription medicine.[9]


[1][2][7] “Stimulant ADHD Medications - Methylphenidate and Amphetamines” National Institution on Drug Abuse

[3][4][6] ND Volklow, JS Fowler, G Wang “Mechanism of Action of Methylphenidate: Insights from PET Imaging Studies” Journal of Attention Disorders 6:S31-43 (2002)

[5] CJ Vaidya, G Austin, G Kirkorian “Selective Effects of Methylphenidate in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Functional Magnetic Resonance Study” Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 95:14494-14499 (1998)

[8] “Ritalin (methylphenidate)” Netdoctor

[9] “Ritalin and Cocaine: The Connection and the Controversy” Learn.Genetics, The University of Utah