- Ritalin (methylphenidate) is a stimulant that is used for children and adults with ADHD. Ritalin (methylphenidate) is a stimulant similar to an amphetamine but not an actual amphetamine.
Ritalin, amphetamines and cocaine are similar in structure with the exception that stimulants are taken orally, hence they absorb more gradually in the blood stream. They also depart from the body more gradually, hence there is less of an addiction.
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It might be said, however, that stimulants and cocaine are of the same family of drugs. There is no "rush" with stimulants as with cocaine, hence there isn't as much compulsion and addiction in its use. Still, Ritalin is the 4th most widely abused street drug.
What is ADHD?
Some of the symptoms of ADHD
are difficulty sitting still, for children, talking excessively in class, somewhat disruptive behavior, inability to focus, as well as a number of other possible symptoms. When the problem is to the point of being excessive and disruptive as well as persistent, that is, it is an ongoing problem for several months or more, it can be classified as ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
. ADD, was the term that was most common some years ago, Attention Deficit Disorder
There are a number of different forms of Attention Deficit Disorder
, but there are basically three main categories: with hyperactivity, without hyperactivity, and combined type. (See What Causes ADHD, by Joel Nigg, Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, 2006 for a more detailed explanation).
Is Ritalin "Kiddy Cocaine," as some have dubbed it?
The answer to that question is yes and no.
Methylphenidate and other stimulants have chemical properties similar to cocaine. They react with the same basic chemical structures in the brain, and stimulate the mind through elevating the level of dopamine, which is the same neurotransmitter involved in the addictive head rush of cocaine.
Indians in Peru have long used coca, by chewing the coca leaves, as a performance enhancer and stimulant to help them in day to day tasks requiring endurance and energy.
Up until the early 1900s cocaine was added to Coca Cola, from which the name is derived, but shortly before the Harrison Anti-Narcotic Act, the practice was abandoned. (Cocaine Org, 1998). The medicinal properties of Coca Cola were advertised, cocaine up until that time was available from local pharmacies in the United States.
The level of stimulation provided by stimulants used today for ADHD
might be comparable to that of chewing a single coca leave, or that provided by drinking Coca Cola with added cocaine. It would not give any type of high, but it would give adequate stimulation.
The difference between psychiatric drugs and antibiotics
Stimulates are used to help children to focus better. Rather than speed children up, they tend to give children more control over their day to day tasks, as well as ability to concentrate. This is only, however, for the time that the stimulant is actually in the system. So, unlike an antibiotic, which is taken temporarily to affect a cure, stimulants stop working once they dissipate from the body.
Stimulant Drugs such as Ritalin Treat Symptoms, not the Disorder
Also, while an antibiotic actually cures the disease or invasive microorganism it targets, stimulants do not at any point cure ADHD, rather they are an aid in controlling symptoms. So the target is not the underlying problem, but rather, it is to mask a symptom.
In this respect stimulants and most (or all) drugs used in psychiatry
are symptom-oriented. Psychiatric drugs
in general,might be likened to the affect of an aspirin with pain. The aspirin doesn't cure the disease, but rather dulls the pain. It is similar with medicines for ADHD
or any other psychiatric disorder
. The medicines are treating symptoms, not the disorder.
Ritalin and cocaine
Dr. Russell Barkley, who is a leading authority in the field of ADHD explains, concerning the methylphenidate-cocaine comparison, that while cocaine and stimulants share the same chemical properties, cocaine is snorted and finds its way rapidly into the bloodstream and brain, producing, not only stimulating effects, but also, a head rush that becomes very addictive.
Stimulant medications, are released gradually when taken orally, so while the dopamine level is raised in the brain, it is done so more gently, and therefore, there is usually no head rush or high that results from taking methylphenidate or other stimulants for attentional disorders. (Frontline interview, 2001).
If you were to say that stimulants were time-released [cocaine], that might be closer to the mark. Also, if one was to snort stimulant medications of mainline them, one might achieve a similar feeling as cocaine as well.
A 1995 study by the State University of New York concluded that even when Ritalin was taken for the purpose of reaching a level of a high, it's properties were less addicting than that of cocaine, because it discharged from the brain more gradually, 90 minutes as opposed to 20 minutes for cocaine. Therefore, the addictive qualities of cocaine were more compelling than that of the use of Ritalin. (Volkow ND, Ding YS, Fowler JS, Wang GJ, Logan J, Gatley JS, Dewey S, Ashby C, Liebermann J, Hitzemann R, et al.)
At one time in U.S. history, cocaine was obtained legally at pharmacies. This practice ended in December, 1914 with the Harrison anti-narcotics Act.
So, like many medications, when used medicinally or therapeutically there are both similarities and differences between stimulant medications such as methylphenidate and amphetamines, and the illegal drugs that they mirror.
Ritalin Side Effects
nervousness and insomnia
, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, palpitations, headaches, changes in heart rate and blood pressure (usually elevation of both, but occasionally depression), skin rashes and itching, abdominal pain, weight loss, and digestive problems, toxic psychosis, psychotic episodes, drug dependence syndrome, and severe depression
loss of appetite (may cause serious malnutrition), tremors and muscle twitching, fevers, convulsions, and headaches (may be severe), irregular heartbeat and respirations (may be profound and life threatening), anxiety
, restlessness, paranoia, hallucinations, and delusions, excessive repetition of movements and meaningless tasks, and formicaton (sensation of bugs or worms crawling under the skin).
Partnership for a Drug Free America
Ritalin (methyphenidate) - Cocaine References:
1. Barkley, R. (2001). Medicating Kids. Interview: Frontline, PBS.
2. Nigg, J. (2006). What Causes ADHD? New York: Guilford Press.
3. Pemberton, John Smith, (July 1998). Cocaine Org.
4. Ratey, J. Hallowell, E., (1995). Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood Through Adulthood.
5. Ritalin. Partnership for a Drug Free America. (Retrieved July, 2009). http://www.drugfree.org/Portal/Drug_guide/Ritalin
6. Volkow ND, Ding YS, Fowler JS, Wang GJ, Logan J, Gatley JS, Dewey S, Ashby C, Liebermann J, Hitzemann R, et al. (June 1995).
Medical Department, State University of New York, Stony Brook, USA. Is methylphenidate like cocaine? Studies on their pharmacokinetics and distribution in the human brain. PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1995 Jun;52(6):456-63, Abstract. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?Db=pubmed&Cmd=ShowDetailView&TermToSearch
* Ritalin is a registered trademark of Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. Manufactured for: Alliant Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
The United States of Adderall
, by Lawrence Diller, M.D.
September 9, 2011.
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