I’ve always had concerns about methylphenidate—better known as Ritalin®—and how it might affect young brains. And I’m sure I’m not alone.
After all, it’s an FDA-approved methamphetamine. In other words, it’s speed.
But it’s also the top treatment of choice for kids diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). So I welcome any research that helps me make my case against it. And this latest study certainly fits the bill…
Researchers recruited boys who were never on Ritalin®, as well as men diagnosed with ADHD. And findings showed that, within just four months of treatment, the white matter in the brains of boys taking the drug was altered. But that wasn’t the case with adults.
To be clear, white matter plays a critical role in learning and coordinating communication between different brain regions. And we don’t know what methylphenidate is doing to any of these faculties in the long term.
We also don’t know whether any of these effects are reversible—or even whether they cause functional or behavioral changes in the long term. But because researchers observed these changes only in boys and not men, one thing seems clear: Ritalin®’s effect on the brain is modulated by age.
Which is kind of critical, don’t you think? Seeing as how more and more children are taking this drug—more than 75 percent of whom are boys. Not only that, but kids are winding up on stimulants even when they’re not formally diagnosed with ADHD, just to improve school performance.
And let’s not forget the rate of misdiagnosis due to teachers chasing calmer classroom environments.
Yes, I’ve seen this happen. And given how little emphasis our schools place on physical activity and nutritious food, it’s no wonder that teachers and kids alike are struggling.
Just say “no”
I can’t say this enough (and regret that I have to say it at all).
But unless your child is having significant difficulty in school, and this drug is the only thing that will keep them from being thrown out, you shouldn’t even consider giving them Ritalin®.
Because, as the authors of this study note, many of the psychiatric drugs often prescribed to children—whether antidepressants or stimulants—have only been tested for short periods of time. And we already know the short-term effects aren’t pretty. (Though keep in mind that, where Ritalin® is concerned, we don’t know the effects on girls, either, since they weren’t part of this study.)
But there’s plenty of other evidence implicating these same drugs in lasting (and possibly permanent) changes in a developing brain. So you know what? Just say, “no thanks.”
I would never put my child on a mind-altering substance without knowing exactly what the ramifications were. And the fact is, we don’t know those ramifications.
In any case (and this bears repeating): Altering brain chemistry is one thing if you’re an adult and are doing it out of your own free will. But it’s best for your child to avoid these drugs altogether, unless it’s the absolute last resort.
The good news? With the right supplements, you won’t need them. And even just a daily fish oil supplement (1,000 mg of DHA/EPA will do) could be enough to keep your child engaged and focused all day long.
“Common ADHD Medication May Affect Brain Development.” Medscape Medical News, 08/13/2019. (medscape.com/viewarticle/916765)