New research in animals suggests that use of the attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) drug Ritalin by young children may cause long-term changes in their developing brains. This new study was performed by a research team at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City; it was reported on in the Journal of Neuroscience.
Between 2 and 18 percent of American children are thought to be affected by ADHD, and Ritalin, a stimulant similar to amphetamine and cocaine, remains one of the most prescribed drugs for the behavioral disorder.
The study's senior author Dr. Teresa Milner, professor of neuroscience at Weill Cornell Medical College, describes the research: "The changes we saw in the brains of treated rats occurred in areas strongly linked to higher executive functioning, addiction and appetite, social relationships and stress." she said.
The findings, specially highlighted in the Journal of Neuroscience, suggest that doctors must be very careful in their diagnosis of ADHD before prescribing Ritalin. That's because the brain changes noted in the study might be helpful in battling the disorder but harmful if given to youngsters with healthy brain chemistry, Dr. Milner says. There were changes evident in a part of the brain responsible for higher executive thinking and decision-making. There were also significant changes in catecholamine function in the hippocampus, a center for memory and learning.
Other clinical studies are underway that are testing the drug in 2 and 3-year old children, but at this moment, putting a child on Ritalin seems to be a major decision requiring strong consideration by parents and healthcare provider. I didn't put Ritalin into the Sham category because, for the right child, it can make a difference. It would be in the Sham category for those thousands of kids who have been given it needlessly.