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A New Role for Ritalin: Treating Cocaine Addicts
by admin on: December 29th, 2011

Ritalin, also known as methylphenidate is a drug that is frequently used as part of a treatment program for controlling symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It is prescribed to treat both adults and children with ADHD as well as to treat patients diagnosed with narcolepsy (narcolepsy is a sleep disorder where patients present with excessive daytime sleepiness and sudden ???sleep attacks???). This pharmacologic agent is a central nervous system stimulant, and effectively alters the amounts of particular neurotransmitters in the brain.

A new use for Ritalin is being investigated. Researchers from the Brookhaven National Laboratory and Stony Brook University published a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, August 2010, which demonstrated that cocaine addicts provided with Ritalin had enhanced cognitive performance. The subjects in this study included 13 cocaine users and 14 healthy non-drug users. A technique called functional magnetic resonance imagining (fMRI) was used to measure brain activity. Both groups were given either a low dose of Ritalin (20 mg) or placebo and then subjected to a cognitive task ??? pushing a button that correctly identified the color of words that were presented. Previous studies have documented that cocaine abusers have impairments in this particular cognitive task; however, patients given a low dose of Ritalin displayed brain function that was similar to the healthy patients. More specifically, the cocaine abusers committed fewer errors (referred to as ???errors of commission??? ??? pressing a button prematurely or incorrectly) when provided with Ritalin.

Previous studies using Ritalin (methylphenidate) to treat cocaine addicts showed that Ritalin did not reduce cocaine use or prevent patients from having a relapse. These researchers did not try to debunk these previous studies. Rather, they suggested that their study demonstrates a role for Ritalin in reducing risk taking and impulsivity. They conclude that Ritalin may be an effective part of a more comprehensive treatment strategy.

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