ADHD Home > Long-Term Side Effects of Ritalin

Few studies have been conducted on long-term Ritalin side effects; however, similar stimulants were shown to temporarily slow down the growth of children. In one study, the drug was shown to decrease the survival of new brain cells in adult rats that were given the drug when younger. Since long-term side effects are not fully known at this time, the medication should not be used for longer than necessary.

Long-Term Side Effects of Ritalin: An Introduction

Ritalin® (methylphenidate hydrochloride) is a prescription medication approved for treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. Although short-term side effects of the drug have been studied, little is known about the long-term side effects of Ritalin use.

Understanding Clinical Studies

Before medicines are approved, they must go through several clinical studies in which thousands of people are given a particular medicine and compared to a group of people not given the medicine. In these studies, side effects are always documented. This way, it is possible to see what side effects occur, how often they appear, and how they compare to the group not taking the medicine. However, these studies for Ritalin were short (usually less than two weeks) and did not look at the long-term side effects.

Long-Term Ritalin Side Effects: Growth Suppression

Temporary growth suppression has been reported as a side effect of long-term use of stimulants such as Ritalin in children. This slowing down of growth is usually small (less than an inch and less than two pounds), and children usually catch up to normal growth rates with time. Your child's growth should be monitored while he or she is taking Ritalin.

Long-Term Side Effects: Brain Changes

Many scientists are now studying the long-term effects of Ritalin on the brain. However, at this point, most of these studies involve rats or mice, not humans. In these studies, animals given Ritalin early in life were shown to have several changes in behavior and brain chemistry. A study published in the November 2006 edition of Biological Psychiatry suggests that methylphenidate decreases the survival of new brain cells in certain parts of the brain in adult rats that were given methylphenidate when they were younger. These changes could possibly lead to depression or anxiety in adulthood. However, it is important to note that animals do not always respond to medicines the same way that humans do.
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Last reviewed by: Kristi Monson, PharmD;
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