Ritalin: The ADHD drug may affect the developing brain

Ritalin — given to around 5 million young Americans diagnosed with ADHD (attention-deficit, hyperactive disorder) — may affect the developing brain.

Ritalin (methylphenidate) is a stimulant similar to amphetamine and cocaine, and it seems to have a paradoxical effect on ADHD children, and calms them.

But it may do so at a price, new research suggests. The new study, which monitored the effect of the drug on the brains of rats, found that it altered areas of the brain related to executive functioning, addiction and appetite, social relationships and stress.

The rats recovered the longer they were off the drug, researchers noticed.

Although there’s often no direct correlation between the effects on animals and humans, the rats did respond in a similar way when they were first given Ritalin. They lost weight, which often happens in children who first take the drug.

The fact that the rats soon regained their healthy mental capacities suggests the drug should be taken over a short period of time rather than for years as currently happens, the researchers say.

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