The stimulant Ritalin is linked to undesirable changes in risk-taking behaviours, sleep and weight, new research finds.
Ritalin is one common type of stimulant taken by college students as a ‘study enhancer’.
It is often prescribed to people with ADHD to help them focus.
But its off-label use as an aid to learning has risen in recent years.
It works by increasing neurotransmitter levels linked to problem-solving, reasoning and other behaviours.
Studies find that somewhere between 14% and 38% of students use stimulants to help them study.
These include Ritalin and amphetamines, such as Adderall and Dexedrine.
The drugs are also finding their way into high schools.
The 5 most common side-effects of Ritalin use are:
- dry mouth,
- anxiety and nervousness,
- and appetite loss.
Other side-effects include agitation and restlessness, irritability, dizziness, heart rate increase, blurred vision and seesawing emotions.
Dr Panayotis Thanos, who led the research, said:
“Although Ritalin’s effectiveness in treating ADHD is well-documented, few studies have looked at the drug’s effect on non-prescribed illicit use.
We wanted to explore the effects of this stimulant drug on the brain, behavior and development on non-ADHD subjects.”
The research looked at changes in the brains of rats who were given methylphenidate, which is the chemical name of Ritalin.
Dr Thanos explained the results:
“We saw changes in the brain chemistry in ways that are known to have an impact on the reward pathway, locomotor activity, and other behaviors, as well as effects on body weight.
These changes in brain chemistry were associated with serious concerns such as risk-taking behaviors, disruptions in the sleep/wake cycle and problematic weight loss, as well as resulting in increased activity and anti-anxiety and antidepressive effects.”
The female rats showed greater sensitivity to the drug.
Dr Thanos continued:
“Understanding more about the effects of methylphenidate is also important as people with ADHD show greater risk to be diagnosed with a drug dependency problem.
In addition, this study highlights the potential long-range risks college students take in using Ritalin for a quick study boost.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the Journal of Neural Transmission (Robison et al., 2017).