Although methylphenidate, the chemical name for Ritalin, was first synthesized in 1944, it wasn’t recognized for its stimulatory properties until 1954. Leandro Panizzon was the chemist responsible for the synthesis of Ritalin. He named it after his wife Rita who enjoyed taking methylphenidate before playing tennis.
Ritalin’s use as medication for children with ADD and ADHD began in the 1960s. Within thirty years, these diagnoses had become relatively common and Ritalin was frequently prescribed as treatment in the 1990s.
Methylphenidate is a psychostimulant that is classified as a Schedule II Narcotic in the United States. This means it has been determined by government agencies that Ritalin:
- Has a high potential for abuse.
- Has a currently accepted medical use in the United States.
- Abuse of Ritalin may lead to severe psychological dependence.
Methylphenidate is used primarily to treat Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder but is also prescribed commonly for narcolepsy, various pervasive development disorders and occasionally in applications regarding substance abuse, as an adjunct with other medications for treatment of opioid-induced somnolence to treatment-resistant depression.
Methylphenidate increases the activity of the Central Nervous System. This induces functional improvements in mental and/or physical abilities such as enhanced alertness, increased wakefulness, and improved locomotion.
Methylphenidate has a high potential for abuse as it is relatively similar pharmacologicaly to cocaine and amphetamines. This is because, like all other drugs of abuse, it increases levels of dopamine in the brain. At therapeutic doses, this happens too slowly to induce euphoria. However, if taken in high doses or through varied routes of administration, drug addicts are able to achieve a rush.
There is no potential in the amphetamine class for physical dependence. Withdrawal can still be difficult. Tolerance to amphetamines can develop quickly with regular abuse, necessitating increasing doses to achieve inebriation. This can lead to a “rebound reactions”, which although atypical, may include depression and irritability.
There were over 8000 overdoses on methylphenidate reported in 2004, the most common explanations being suicide attempts and drug abuse. Symptoms of overdose include:
Another risk for regular, high dose, long-term abusers of amphetamines and amphetamine-like drugs is amphetamine psychosis, a form of neurotic perceptual and behavioral disturbances which typically last up to seven to ten days after discontinuation of use but can return episodically for up to a year.
Psychotic symptoms from methylphenidate psychosis include:
- Hearing voices
- Visual hallucinations
- Urges to harm oneself
- Severe anxiety
- Paranoid delusions