A group of researchers at the University at Buffalo linked adverse side effects to nonprescription use of Ritalin.
The study explored the potential side effects of the stimulant drug on those without ADHD and found changes in brain chemistry associated with risk-taking behavior, sleep disruption and other undesirable effects.
Ritalin is a central nervous system stimulant used in the treatment of of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Researchers say it is a growing problem among college students who use it without a prescription as a so-called "study enhancer."
Recent studies put college students' nonprescription use of stimulant drugs at rates anywhere between 14 and 38 percent.
The team at UB looked at changes in the brains of rats who received regular doses of methylphenidate during what would be equivalent to adolescence in humans, a time of significant brain growth and development.
"We saw changes in the brain chemistry in ways that are known to have an impact on the reward pathway, locomotor activity, and other behaviors, as well as effects on body weight," says Peter Thanos, PhD, senior research scientist at RIA. "These changes in brain chemistry were associated with serious concerns such as risk-taking behaviors, disruptions in the sleep/wake cycle and problematic weight loss, as well as resulting in increased activity and anti-anxiety and antidepressive effects."
Researchers also found female subjects were more sensitive to the behavioral effects of methylphenidate than males.
Thanos hopes this study will lead to a greater understanding of how the drug works on the brain and behavior, and can help researchers understand the impact of the drug on young people throughout development.