Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a condition commonly characterised by restlessness and inability to concentrate for extended periods of time. The disorder is common among young children but can also extend into adulthood. Early remedy is key to managing symptoms with the use of medications being the most common.
Stimulants are often prescribed to individuals diagnosed with ADHD. One such stimulant is ritalin which is a drug that increases attention span and the ability to stay focused. While highly effective, this drug is being increasingly used by young adults without a prescription.
A report from The Partnership at Drugfree.org and the MetLife Foundation found that an estimated 1.3 million American teenagers have used ritalin in the past month without a prescription.
This alarmingly usage is cause for concern.
New research shows that ritalin may produce side effects for individuals taking the drug without a prescription or those misdiagnosed as having ADHD. The study was carried out at the University of Delaware Department of Psychology and Drexel University College of Medicine.
The researchers had to first understand the impact of ritalin on the normal brain. Healthy rats were used in the study with some receiving one dose and the others receiving remedy for up to three weeks. The prefrontal cortex received special attention as it is the part of the brain that is crucial for cognitive functioning.
There are two types of cells in the prefrontal cortex: pyramidal cells, or excitatory cells, and interneurons, or inhibitory cells. The researchers found slower activity in the prefrontal cortex and reduced communication between the neurons. In terms of plasticity, or the brain’s ability to adapt to new information, the rats treated for longer periods exhibited stronger effects.
Based on the results, researchers hypothesised that ritalin may decrease working memory and increase shifting attention.
Individuals diagnosed with ADHD tend to have a prefrontal cortex that is under active. Stimulants such as ritalin essentially increase activity in this region, generating positive effects and improving attention span. But for individuals with normal functioning brains, the effects are completely different and may actually cause the brain to shut down.
The negative side effects demonstrated from the study would not apply to individuals with a legitimate prescription for ritalin.
The Main Takeaway
The usage of stimulants such as ritalin may lead to brain damage for some young adults without a prescription or those misdiagnosed. It is strongly recommended for a thorough analysis to be performed before taking any medications for ADHD.