What Is Ritalin?
Ritalin, the brand name for methylphenidate, is a medication typically used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. It’s classified as a stimulant because the chemicals within the drug help those who take it to control issues with behavior, focus, and pay better attention.
Ritalin works by altering the amount of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that impacts our feelings of pleasure, as well as our motivation and our ability to learn. Ritalin helps to increase the amount of dopamine that is present in the striatum of the brain. The striatum is the part of the brain that handles motivation, decision-making, planning, and the perception of reward.
How Is Ritalin Different From Adderall?
Ritalin and Adderall have similar functions, as they are both used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. However, the two work in slightly different ways. Adderall takes longer to begin working, but lasts longer, while Ritalin is faster-acting but peaks more quickly than Adderall.
What Is Ritalin Made From?
Ritalin is a brand name for a medication made from methylphenidate.
For about half of all those with ADHD, Ritalin, and Adderall work equally well. For the other half, however, one will be more effective than the other and patients should work with their doctors to determine which medication will be best for them.
Ritalin is manufactured by a company called Novartis. Novartis was formed in 1996 from the merger of Ciba-Geigy and Sandoz, two Swiss-American companies that created an independent company out of their combined pharmaceutical and agrochemical departments. In 2000, Novartis divested itself of the agrochemical portion of the business, choosing instead to focus on pharmaceutical products.
Ritalin is usually prescribed to treat narcolepsy and ADHD. Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that involves excessive sleepiness during the daytime, while ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
What Is Narcolepsy?
People who suffer from narcolepsy may find it difficult to stay awake for long periods of time. They may feel overly sleepy during the day and may fall asleep under any circumstances. Narcolepsy may be dangerous if sleepiness strikes at the wrong time. The condition can make it difficult to participate fully in daily activities or to hold down a job.
It’s not known exactly what causes someone to develop narcolepsy. Some people have low levels of hypocretin, which is a chemical in the brain that is responsible for regulating REM sleep and wakefulness. Those with low hypocretin levels may experience cataplexy or sudden loss of muscle tone as a result. Genetics may also contribute to whether or not someone develops narcolepsy, although it’s unlikely that a parent will pass narcolepsy directly to a child.
If someone has narcolepsy, they may experience the following symptoms:
- Cataplexy -a sudden loss of muscle tone that results in complete muscle weakness and slurred speech
- Sleep paralysis
- Very quick transitions into REM sleep
- Excessive sleepiness in the daytime
While sleeping, the brain goes through “stages”. Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is one phase in which the body is paralyzed and most dreams occur. Most people spend about an hour in non-REM sleep before eventually transitioning to REM sleep. Those with narcolepsy transition straight from falling asleep into REM sleep within about fifteen minutes. People with narcolepsy can transition to REM sleep rapidly no matter when it is that they fall asleep, even if it’s during the day.
What Is ADHD?
ADHD or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, is a condition that can impact someone’s ability to pay attention and to sit still. Typically, ADHD manifests when someone is a child and symptoms may or may not continue into adulthood. ADHD in children and adult ADHD may be spoken of separately but are actually the same disorder, they just differ in how the condition presents itself. If someone is diagnosed with ADHD in adulthood then they would have had the condition as a child and just hadn’t known. ADHD does not simply begin in adulthood.
Currently, it isn’t known exactly what causes ADHD. However, researchers suspect that it may be genetic factors, environmental, or issues that occur within the nervous system at certain important developmental stages.
There are some individuals who may be more at risk of developing ADHD.
The factors that may possibly increase the risk include:
- Family with either ADHD or some other mental disorder
- Premature birth
- Mother smoked during pregnancy
- Mother used drugs during pregnancy
- Mother drank alcohol during pregnancy
- Exposure to lead or other environmental toxins
Contrary to popular belief, sugar does not impact the development of ADHD. It may affect a child’s ability to pay attention and make them hyperactive but won’t cause ADHD.
It may be impossible to completely prevent ADHD but to reduce the risk, parents can do the following:
- Limit screen time during a child’s first 5 years
- Prevent exposure to lead and other environmental toxins
- During pregnancy, avoid anything that could negatively impact fetal development
Children diagnosed with ADHD may have more difficulties than children without the condition.
Some of these difficulties may include:
- Poor self-esteem
- Difficulty interacting with either adults or their peers
- Struggles at school
- More accidents and, therefore, injuries than others
- Increased risk of later alcohol and drug abuse
ADHD may coexist with other conditions, developmental problems, or psychological problems, but does not cause them.
Some of the conditions that may often coexist with ADHD include:
- Learning disabilities
- Conduct disorder
- Mood disorder
- Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
- Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder
- Anxiety disorder
- Substance abuse
- Tourette’s syndrome
There are three different subtypes of ADHD in children:
ADHD may present differently between genders. For example, boys may exhibit more hyperactive symptoms of ADHD while girls may exhibit more symptoms of inattentiveness. ADHD diagnosis is more common in boys than it is in girls.
The symptoms of ADHD typically start appearing before the age of 12 and may start as early as the age of 3 in some children, though they may not be recognized or diagnosed. In some cases, the symptoms lessen into adulthood, but sometimes the symptoms continue.
With inattentive ADHD, most of a child’s symptoms fall into the category of inattentiveness and may include the following:
- Careless mistakes at school
- Fails to closely pay attention
- Difficulty focusing either on tasks or on play
- Apparently doesn’t listen, even when someone speaks directly to them
- Trouble organizing activities
- Easily distracted
- Forgetting daily activities
- Losing items
- Trouble following instructions
- Avoiding tasks requiring mental effort
With hyperactive ADHD, most of a child’s symptoms fall into the category of hyperactivity and may include the following:
- Constantly fidgeting
- Constantly in motion
- Difficulty remaining seated
- Climbing and running when it’s not appropriate
- Talking too much
- Blurting out answers
- Difficulty doing quiet activities
- Trouble waiting and taking turns
Those with combination ADHD may experience a mixture of the symptoms of both inattentive and hyperactive types of ADHD.
While some people have symptoms of ADHD which diminish as they grow into adulthood, that’s not true for everyone and symptoms may appear to be different than those in children.
Adult ADHD symptoms may include:
- Low tolerance for frustrating situations
- Mood swings
- Difficulty prioritizing
- Trouble focusing on tasks
- Difficulty multitasking
- Poor planning skills
- Difficulty with following through
- Trouble coping with stressful situations
- Excessive activity
Just as ADHD can negatively impact someone’s life during childhood, the same goes for those suffering from ADHD in adulthood.
The complications of ADHD for adults may include:
- Alcohol abuse
- Substance abuse
- Difficulty with the law
- Financial issues
- Trouble keeping a job
- Poor performance in school
- Unstable personal relationships
- Frequent car accidents
- Low self-esteem
- Poor mental health
- Poor physical health
- Attempts at suicide
The side effects of taking Ritalin may include:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Increase in blood pressure
If you experience these symptoms and they persist or get worse, talk to your doctor. However, your doctor may have determined that your need to take Ritalin has outweighed the side effects that you might experience.
Taking Ritalin may also cause some more severe side effects, including:
- Unusual wounds on the toes or fingers
- Symptoms of issues with blood flow in the toes or fingers:
- Skin color changes
- Other uncontrolled muscle movements
- Fast heartbeat
- Irregular heartbeat
- Pounding heartbeat
- Blurred vision
- Other vision changes
- Mood changes
- Mental changes
- Behavior changes
- Abnormal thoughts
- Suicidal thoughts
- Mood swings
- Sudden outbursts of either words or noises
If you experience any of these symptoms, inform your doctor as soon as possible.
What Are the Most Serious Side Effects of Ritalin?
Some side effects of taking Ritalin are so serious that they indicate that immediate medical attention is required.
See a doctor right away if you experience any of these symptoms:
- Heart attack symptoms:
- Unusual sweating
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in the chest
- Pain in the jaw
- Pain in the left arm
- Stroke symptoms:
- Difficulty speaking
- Weakness that occurs on one side of the body but not the other
- Sudden changes in vision
- Prolonged erection in males
- Painful erection in males
It’s rare to be allergic to Ritalin, but it’s important to speak to a doctor right away if you experience the following symptoms:
- Swelling, especially in the:
- Difficulty breathing
In 2000, several lawsuits were filed against Novartis claiming that the company conspired to create a market for selling Ritalin by pushing for the diagnosis of ADHD so that more Ritalin could be prescribed. The plaintiffs in these cases believed that not only was Ritalin prescribed unnecessarily but that ADHD itself was diagnosed far too often.
The danger with Ritalin and other stimulants is that if they’re taken recreationally or if they’re taken not exactly as prescribed by a doctor, there’s a danger of addiction and substance abuse. Because Ritalin could produce a “high” effect if taken in larger amounts than a prescribed dosage, there may be a risk for some people to abuse the medication. It may be common amongst students for those prescribed Ritalin to treat ADHD to provide the medication to others, often in exchange for money, to help them study better. Others may instead take Ritalin to achieve the high effect. Both options may result in Ritalin abuse.
The symptoms of Ritalin abuse can include:
- Chest pain
- Loss of appetite
- Blood pressure changes
- Panic attacks
- Changes in heart rate
- Difficulty breathing
Some of the side effects of Ritalin involve changes in blood pressure and the heart. This has been linked to heart risks, especially in those who are older or who already have some sort of cardiovascular condition. There may also be an increased risk of dying due to complications with the heart.
A series of class action lawsuits were filed against Novartis in the 1990s and 2000s with claims that the company had pushed for the over-prescription of Ritalin and had encouraged medical professionals to diagnose ADHD. The plaintiffs claimed that the company had essentially manufactured a disease in order to sell more medications. While ADHD isn’t a manufactured disorder, some experts sbelieve that ADHD is overdiagnosed and Ritalin over-prescribed. These class-action lawsuits were either dismissed or withdrawn by 2005.
Novartis is again facing lawsuits, this time in Texas, over the same concerns as before. Novartis is once again accused of pushing the diagnosis of ADHD in order for more Ritalin to be prescribed. The lawsuit claims that Novartis’ advertising campaign and marketing literature for Ritalin were misleading and led to the overdiagnosis of ADHD.
Notwithstanding claims relating to this product, the drug/medical device remains approved by the U.S. FDA.