Ritalin may affect the developing brain

Ritalin (methylphenidate) is a stimulant drug similar to amphetamine and cocaine, which has a paradoxical calming effect in children with ADHD.

One of the first studies to probe the effects of Ritalin on the neurochemistry of the developing brain has examined the effect of the drug on the brains of rats. It found that Ritalin caused long-term changes in the developing brain, altering areas related to executive functioning, addiction and appetite, social relationships and stress.
The relative doses used on the rats were at the very high end of what a human child might be prescribed, and the animals' neurochemistry had largely resolved back to the pre-treatment state three months after they stopped receiving Ritalin, but the researchers nevertheless expressed their concern about long-term use.

It is possible that Ritalin might leave more lasting changes, especially if treatment were to continue for years, and also that chronic use of the drug might alter brain chemistry and behaviour well into adulthood.

The findings certainly support the notion that this drug therapy may be best used over a relatively short period, rather than for years, as currently happens, and supplemented or replaced with behavioural therapy.

Source Journal of Neuroscience, 2007; 27: 7196-7207.

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First published in 2007

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