Ritalin is a brand-name medication first marketed by Ciba Pharmaceutical Company in 1957 to treat chronic fatigue, depression and narcolepsy. The active ingredient is methylphenidate, a stimulant that arouses the brain stem and cortex, affecting dopamine levels. Ritalin has been prescribed since the 1970s mainly for hyperactivity and attention deficit disorders in children. According to U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Congressional Testimony in 2000, Ritalin use in the United States increased 500 percent during the 1990s, representing about 85 percent of Worldwide consumption.
The short-term effects of Ritalin, both desired and negative, are dose-dependent and similar to both amphetamines and cocaine, according to the “PDR Guide to Drug Interactions, Side Effects, and Indications.” Therapeutic dosage for Ritalin should not exceed 60 mg daily, even for adults. At normal dosage, Ritalin usually causes heightened alertness, wakefulness and mild feelings of exhilaration and excitation, which can be useful in treating attention deficit disorders.
Central Nervous System Symptoms
Because Ritalin stimulates the central nervous system, vertigo and dizziness are common short-term side effects even from lower doses, notes RxList. Dizziness and vertigo often lead to headaches, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite. Ritalin can also directly suppress the sensation of hunger, which is why its use can quickly lead to weight loss.
Another common short-term effect of Ritalin use is mood change. RxList notes that the most commonly experienced feelings are nervousness, agitation, anxiety, irritability, depression, confusion and restlessness, sometimes culminating in irrational bouts of aggression or paranoia.
Disrupted Sleep Cycle
Ritalin is a stimulant, which is why it is effective at preventing fatigue and sudden episodes of dozing off. Not surprisingly, when taken by children and adults, even at low doses and for short-term periods of time, their sleep cycles can be disrupted. The “PDR Guide to Drug Interactions, Side Effects, and Indications” states that disrupted sleep cycles due to altered patterns of brain waves can lead to insomnia with short-term use of Ritalin.
Potentially dangerous short-term effects of Ritalin use include rapid heart rate, abnormal heart palpitations and an increase in blood pressure, notes DailyMed. These changes in the functioning of the heart are aggravated by congenital heart defects and can lead to sudden death from heart attacks.
High Addiction Potential
Like amphetamines, Ritalin is classified as a controlled Schedule II substance, which means it can be highly addictive and lead to psychological or physical dependence. Just how much of the drug must be taken, and for how long, in order to establish addiction and dependence is highly individualized. Short-term use at low doses has caused addiction, cravings and withdrawal symptoms in at least some people, although exact guidelines have not been established. The addictive property of Ritalin has caused it to become a commonly abused street drug by both children and adults.
- "U.S. DEA Congressional Testimony before the Committee on Education and the Workforce: Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Youth, and Families"; Terrance Woodworth; May 16, 2000
- “PDR Guide to Drug Interactions, Side Effects, and Indications”; PDR Staff; 2009
- RxList: Ritalin Side Effects