A report in the latest issue of Pediatrics concludes that children treated with Ritalin are not more likely to abuse drugs as adults. A New York Times rundown of the report notes that Ritalin is "chemically similar to cocaine." Just how similar?
Both cocaine and methylphenidate, the generic name for Ritalin, are stimulants that target the dopamine system, which helps control the brain's functioning during pleasurable experiences. The two drugs block the ability of neurons to reabsorb dopamine, thus flooding the brain with a surplus of the joy-inducing neurotransmitter. According to animal studies, Ritalin and cocaine act so much alike that they even compete for the same binding sites on neurons.
Why, then, aren't the 4 million to 6 million kids who take Ritalin daily acting more like the Studio 54 crowd, circa 1977? One important difference is that Ritalin, administered as directed, acts much more slowly than cocaine. Nora Volkow, a senior scientist at Brookhaven National Laboratory who has done extensive research on methylphenidate, found in a 2001 study that Ritalin takes upward of an hour to raise dopamine levels; cocaine, a mere seconds. The exact reason why the uptake speed matters is unknown, but it seems to account for the different effects.
Note, however, that not all Ritalin users swallow their pills. Recreational users frequently crush their supply into fine powder for nasal delivery or, in extreme cases, melt it into an injectible solution. These administration methods increase the uptake speed, and users report that the high is not too terribly different from a cocaine buzz. The exact nature of the experience depends on each person's unique brain chemistry; those who naturally lack an adequate amount of dopamine, such as people diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, may feel less giddy than a non-sufferer. And about half of Ritalin users who don't have ADHD won't enjoy the kick, which can be comparable to ingesting one (or six) too many espressos.
Explainer thanks Mariellen Fischer from the MedicalCollege of Wisconsin.
TODAY IN SLATE
The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola
The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.
I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.
Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.
Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore
And schools are getting worried.
Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War
Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough
So they added a little self-immolation.
- Protesters Take to the Streets to Sound Alarm on Climate Change in New York, Across the World
- Knife-Carrying White House Jumper is Vet who Feared “Atmosphere Was Collapsing”
- North Korea: American Sentenced to Hard Labor Wanted to Become “Second Snowden”
- Almost One in Four Americans Support Idea of Splitting From the Union
Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem
Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology.