Is Ritalin "Kiddy Cocaine" ?
Ritalin and stimulants for ADHD are a controversial subject. Some strongly object, others feel that such stimulants have helped thousands of children to concentrate better and overcome symptoms of ADHD. One question that arises is, are stimulants for childhood ADHD similar to cocaine? This article attempts to give a balanced answer to that question.Is Ritalin "Kiddy Cocaine" ?
Ritalin is a stimulant that is used for children and adults with ADHD. The real name is methylphenidate. The brand name being Ritalin. Ritalin is similar to an amphetamine but not an actual amphetamine. It is a stimulant medication.
Children who have a difficult time sitting still, talk excessively in class, have somewhat disruptive behavior, and can't focus, as well as a number of other possible symptoms, when the problem is to the point of being excessive and disruptive, as well as persistent, that is, it is an ongoing problem for several months or more, can be classified as ADHD, which means Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. ADD, was the term that was most common some years ago, Attention Deficit Disorder.
There are different forms of Attention Deficit Disorder, but there are basically three main categories, with hyperactivity, without hyperactivity, and combined type. See What Causes ADHD, by Joel Nigg, Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, 2006 for a more detailed explanation.
Is Ritalin "Kiddy Cocaine," as some have dubbed it ? Well, yes and no. Ritalin and other stimulants have chemical properties similar to cocaine. They react with the same basic chemical structures in the brain, and stimulate the mind through elevating the level of dopamine, which is the same neurotransmitter involved in the rush of cocaine. Indians in Peru have long used coca as a stimulant to help them in day to day tasks requiring endurance and energy. It is used as a performance enhancer. Children, in general can focus better with stimulants, in a similar way.
However, Dr. Russell Barkley, who is a leading authority in the field of ADHD explains, that while cocaine and stimulants share the same chemical properties, cocaine is snorted and finds its way rapidly into the bloodstream and brain, producing, not only stimulating effects, but also, a head rush that becomes very addictive.
Stimulant medications, are released gradually when taken orally, so while the dopamine level is raised in the brain, it is done so more gently, and therefore, there is usually no head rush or high that results from taken Ritalin or other stimulants for attentional disorders. If you were to say that stimulants were "time-released" cocaine, that might be closer to the mark. Also, if one was to snort stimulant medications of mainline them, one might achieve a similar feeling as cocaine as well.
At one time in U.S. history, cocaine was obtained legally at pharmacies. This practice ended in 1904 with the Harrison anti-narcotics Act.
So, like many medications, when used medicinally or therapeutically there are both similarities and differences between stimulant medications such as Ritalin and amphetamines, and the illegal drugs that they mirror.
Barkley, R. (2001). Medicating Kids. Interview: Frontline, PBS.
Nigg, J. (2006). What Causes ADHD? New York: Guilford Press.
Ratey, J. Hallowell, E., (1995). Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood Through Adulthood.
The Association for Natural Psychology