While certainly no one factor determines future drug abuse, many parents worry that using Ritalin or other ADHD drugs might lead to later drug abuse. An article carried in the online journal, Neuropsychopharmacology (catchy title), reported on a study attempting to answer this question.
The authors of the study were Linda Porrino, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, and professor Michael A. Nader, Ph.D., both of Wake Forest Baptist.
Dr. Porrino acknowledges the concerns of many parents, “We know that the drugs used to treat ADHD are very effective, but there have always been concerns about the long-lasting effects of these drugs. We didn’t know whether taking these drugs over a long period could harm brain development in some way or possibly lead to abuse of drugs later in adolescence.”
The study included only 16 “juvenile non-human primates” and used brain imaging to look for permanent changes. Though the study took only one year though that equals four human years for the primates. They were given extended-release Ritalin over the year. Brain chemistry and structure did not seem to change. The primates achieved appropriate developmental milestones.
Then the Ritalin was stopped and the primates were allowed to self-administer cocaine for several months (no word on how many human years that represented). The primates in the control group were no less or more likely than the Ritalin-treated group to abuse cocaine.
The research was supported by grants from the National Institute of Drug Abuse of the national Institutes of Health.