Methylphenidate is a stimulant that is the active ingredient in Ritalin and Concerta, two trademarked prescription drugs used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children and teenagers. Over two million American children are taking Ritalin or Concerta, making them among the most commonly used drugs in the country. Because they are so widely prescribed, they are also widely abused and rank in the top ten of all drugs used illicitly. A National Institutes of Health study found that more young people are abusing methylphenidate than taking it therapeutically.
Methylphenidate is a stimulant chemically related to cocaine, but not it is as strong. It works by increasing certain brain chemicals, specifically norepinephrine and dopamine, which in turn increase feelings of well-being, self-confidence and pleasure. Although it makes most people feel hyper-energetic and nervous, this drug has the paradoxical effect of calming children who are hyperactive and have trouble concentrating.
Because it is so widely prescribed to children, most people believe that methylphenidate is safe. However, the federal government classifies it under Schedule II Controlled Substances because it is addictive and has a potential for abuse. Cocaine and morphine are also Schedule II drugs.
According to the Physicians Desk Reference, side effects and reactions to methylphenidate can be stunted growth in children, insomnia, nervousness, skin rashes, fever, peeling skin, loss of appetite, nausea, dizziness, headache, heart palpitations, and rapid heartbeat. In rare cases, some people developed toxic psychosis, and others with undiagnosed heart conditions have died when they first took methylphenidate. If a person takes too much methylphenidate, he can damage vital internal organs, such as the kidneys and heart.
The most common danger of methylphenidate is becoming chemically dependent on it. People start using it to enhance performance or to lose weight, and end up becoming addicted. Withdrawal symptoms can be depression, tiredness, loss of pleasure in daily activities, insomnia, and suicidal thoughts and ideation. People who are abusing methylphenidate sometimes need to enter an addiction treatment program.
See also Ritalin addiction