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J Addict Dis. 2007;26(4):1-6.

Performance enhancing, non-prescription use of Ritalin: a comparison with amphetamines and cocaine.

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Department of Physiological Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32610, USA.


Ritalin, known under chemical name methylphenidate (MPH), is a psychostimulant prescribed to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other conditions. Psychotropic effects and pharmacological pathways evoked by MPH are similar, but not identical to those produced by amphetamines and cocaine. Although not completely understood in detail, MPH psychostimulation is mediated by the increase of central dopamine (DA) and possibly norepinephrine (NE) and serotonin (ST) due to decrease of their re-uptake via binding to and inhibition of DA, NE, and ST transporters. Despite similarity in psychopharmacological effects, the rewarding/ reinforcing ability of MPH appears to be significantly lower than amphetamines and especially cocaine. MPH and similar medications have been widely used on College campuses and by students preparing for exams. Nicknamed 'steroids for SATs,' MPH and related medications are purchased without prescription and their use may even be encouraged by parents and tutors. However, while widely and safely used and administered for over forty years, Ritalin generated significant controversy including MPH abuse and addiction, and adverse reactions. It is now clear that treatment of ADD/ADHD with psychostimulants prevents drug abuse and addictions. Use by those without any medical or psychiatric diagnosis is increasing. In this mini-review, we discuss psychopharmacological and behavioral aspects, and outline neurochemical mechanisms that may provoke Ritalin abuse, addiction and adverse effects compared to amphetamines and cocaine.

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