Do You Really Need Ritalin?
How does Ritalin work? I've taken one or two pills a few times (it's not my prescription) and I seem to experience a slight buzz and don't sleep for the next 12 hours. Am I frying my neurotransmitters? What chemicals are being released? I know people who've snorted the stuff. Is Ritalin "abuse" widespread and is it dangerous?
Ritalin is similar in its effects to amphetamines. It works by releasing stimulant neurotransmitters, in particular noradrenaline and dopamine. Noradrenaline is important in maintaining wakefulness and attention. Dopamine plays a role in movement and in feelings of pleasure. Changes in dopamine levels may underlie addiction to stimulants, including cocaine, amphetamines, and nicotine. When Ritalinwears off, you are left with a depletion of those neurotransmitters,which can make you feel tired and depressed.
Ritalin is widely prescribed for the treatment of hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder in both children and adults. In those cases, it has a calming effect and works by stimulating the parts of the brain that regulate hyperactivity and wandering attention. It takes effect in about half an hour, wearing off three to four hours later.
Health authorities seem to consider Ritalin abuse a minor problem, concentrated mostly among upper-middle-class whites. Some people use Ritalin to get a buzz or to get through a big project. But my impression is that most people who abuse stimulants prefer stronger ones like cocaine and methamphetamine, which may be more euphoric in their initial stages.
I think that Ritalin is greatly overprescribed by doctors who don't bother to look into why children may not be paying better attention to schoolwork. Some parents ask for the drug with the idea it will improve their kids' grades, and some teachers use it to maintain order in oversized, understaffed classrooms. About 1.3 million of the 38 million children in the United States between ages 5 and 14 are estimated to be on the drug.
Like all stimulants, Ritalin can be addictive. In high doses, it can cause unpleasant symptoms such as anxiety and paranoia, as well as insomnia, headaches, and nausea. One study found that it caused cancerous tumors in male rats. Even though animal studies don't necessarily predict what may occur in humans, the FDA has asked the manufacturer to warn doctors that the drug may have the potential to cause cancer. I certainly don't recommend snorting it.