Your Brain on Ritalin

Question: Do ADHD drugs affect a “normal” brain differently than a brain with ADHD?

Harold Koplewicz: Well I think that’s a myth.  I think there’s a myth out there that if you are a hyper-active, or ADHD kid, Ritalin or Ritalin-like medications are going to work on you differently than they will on the normal population.  And that’s what it is.  It’s a myth; it’s inaccurate.  So for all of us, whenever we would take on of these medicines, your dopamine and norepinephrine is going to be more readily available in your brain.  You will be more focused.  You will be more attentive, you will also, might be a little more uptight and a little more hyper-vigilant.  And when you take any medicine, there’s a cost/benefit ratio.  Any time you take a medicine, there’s a potential side effect.  So if you don’t have ADHD and you’re going to take this medicine, any psychostimulant, any type of drug like this is going to increase your heart rate, it may elevate your blood pressure, it will decrease your appetite.  Those things are side effects that are unnecessary if your dopamine and norepinephrine levels are normal.  In the same way that if you take too many aspirin.  It will thin your platelets, which might be good, but might be bad. And if you take too much aspirin you can actually get an ulcer.  

So this is something that every time you get prescribed a medicine, a doctor is thinking about what the cost/benefit ratio is.  A little quick soundbyte..

So, but the important part for us to remember is that when someone with ADHD gets these medicines, they get closer to what a normal, typical brain response is.  So that they look less hyper-active, they look more attentive, therefore they’re less impulsive.  They are able to do what they’re capable of doing.  It doesn’t increase your IQ points, it doesn’t make you smarter, it lets you get to the IQ points that you do have.  And therefore, while you’re never as attentive as a typical or normal individual, and you never stop moving around and stay as still as a typical normal, you are more in the normal range that permits you to be more contemplative, insightful, and therefore get in touch with and use your intelligence.  

Question:
Is there any danger of addiction or long-term chemical changes?

Harold Koplewicz: Well, I think there are other side effects.  So, for instance, particularly if you take Dexedrine—which is a more potent version of Ritalin, slightly different chemical structure—there is no doubt that you will also get a slight rise in your mood and you will feel somewhat more euphoric and you will feel more expansive.  And therefore, if you start taking that medicine on a regular basis, when you don’t have it you very possibly will feel a crash, or you will feel down.  And therefore, that’s the potential side effect that could be quite serious, that you become used to it or become almost addicted to the sensation of feeling good when it’s not necessary to cause you to focus or you don’t need it for extended attention.

Recorded  August 18, 2010

Interviewed by Max Miller

Koplewicz debunks the myth that Ritalin and Adderall affect those without ADHD differently than those with it. The effect is the same.

Malcolm Gladwell live | How to re-examine everything you know

Join Radiolab's Latif Nasser at 1pm ET today as he chats with Malcolm Gladwell live on Big Think.

Big Think LIVE

Add event to your calendar

AppleGoogleOffice 365OutlookOutlook.comYahoo


Keep reading Show less

Ever wonder how LSD works? An answer has been discovered.

UNC School of Medicine researchers identified the amino acid responsible for the trip.

Credit: Motortion Films / Shutterstock
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at UNC's School of Medicine have discovered the protein responsible for LSD's psychedelic effects.
  • A single amino acid—part of the protein, Gαq—activates the mind-bending experience.
  • The researchers hope this identification helps shape depression treatment.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists uncover the brain circuitry that causes mysterious dissociative experiences

A team of researchers have discovered the brain rhythmic activity that can split us from reality.

Mind & Brain
  • Researchers have identified the key rhythmic brain activity that triggers a bizarre experience called dissociation in which people can feel detached from their identity and environment.
  • This phenomena is experienced by about 2 percent to 10 percent of the population. Nearly 3 out of 4 individuals who have experienced a traumatic event will slip into a dissociative state either during the event or sometime after.
  • The findings implicate a specific protein in a certain set of cells as key to the feeling of dissociation, and it could lead to better-targeted therapies for conditions in which dissociation can occur.
Keep reading Show less

There are 5 eras in the universe's lifecycle. Right now, we're in the second era.

Astronomers find these five chapters to be a handy way of conceiving the universe's incredibly long lifespan.

Image source: Pablo Carlos Budassi
Surprising Science
  • We're in the middle, or thereabouts, of the universe's Stelliferous era.
  • If you think there's a lot going on out there now, the first era's drama makes things these days look pretty calm.
  • Scientists attempt to understand the past and present by bringing together the last couple of centuries' major schools of thought.
Keep reading Show less

To be a great innovator, learn to embrace and thrive in uncertainty

Innovators don't ignore risk; they are just better able to analyze it in uncertain situations.

David McNew/Getty Images
Personal Growth
Madam C.J. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove, was America's first female self-made millionaire.
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast