May 23, 2014 by Rose Ehrlich
Drexel University and University of Delaware researchers have discovered previously unknown effects of the use of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder medication such as Ritalin. These therapeutic drugs are sometimes used for “performance-enhancing,” despite the lack of prescription to do so. For those who abuse them, the long-term effects can hinder their future success, according to Time magazine’s report on the study.
Wen-Jun Gao, assistant professor in the College of Medicine’s Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy, was a part of the research team studying the long-term effects of nonmedical ADHD drug use.
With finals coming up, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a story claiming one in five students at an Ivy League college will use stimulants for academic use. In the moment, the short-term gratification seems to be enough. However, in the long term, the drug abuse could do serious damage.
Not much was known about the effects of these drugs until now. The study focused on Ritalin, one of the most common ADHD medications. The researchers first began distinguishing between the effects the medication had on young adults compared to older adults. The results were definitive: the young adults’ developing brains were affected greatly.
Currently 1.3 million American college students mentioned taking methylphenidate (marketed as Ritalin or Concerta) in the past month while not being prescribed the drug. Time also reported that rat testing has shown the developing mind is sensitive to the drug. It damages nerve cells and destroys complex learning abilities.
Gao said, “It changes the [pathways] in your brain. Therefore, it can change your personality.”
The prefrontal cortex is what is mainly affected after the use of this drug. Decision processes, temper, and motivation are located in this region of the brain.
“When rats were given the drug just once, there were noticeable effects on their personality within three months,” Gao said.
The human brain is not mature until about 25-30 years of age. During the developmental stage, any alterations can affect one’s life forever.
The severity of the situation is that long-term constant or random use of methylphenidate results in almost immediate change in the brain. Effects on personality may include temper problems, a lack of motivation, and a decreased ability to calm down.
“You don’t want to change your lifestyle, who you are or your personality,” Gao stated.
Those prescribing the medication will be more cautious in determining if someone truly does have ADHD.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information., students who take this medication and are not prescribed to it are more likely to have lower GPA averages than students who do not, and are positively correlated with excessive partying behavior.
The brain is comprised of a hundred billion neurons, each with different functions. Neurons connect to each other to form pathways in the brain. This allows information to be carried over large distances; information such as reflexes, thinking, coordinating movement and so on.
“The cerebral cortex, especially the prefrontal cortex, is the most complex brain region in the central nervous system. [Illuminating] its diverse functions represents a major challenge in neurobiology,” Gao wrote on his faculty page.
To combat abuse, prescribers are cutting down on the issuance of the medication and are regulating users. According to the NCBI, new labels will emphasize the side effects and the harmful effects misuse can have.