Anyone who has tried going cold turkey and failed knows that a substitute for whatever it is you are trying to give up can help. Many scientists have been trying to find appropriate non-addictive substitutes for commonly abused substances. At the Icahn School at Mount Sinai in New York City a new study shows that Ritalin may be used as a substitute for cocaine. A single dose of Ritalin, or methylphenidate, a medication used for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) can help improve brain function and help with impulse control.
Ritalin and cocaine both increase dopamine to the brain. But the differences are significant. Ritalin is also taken orally and reaches its peak effect over a longer period of time than cocaine. There is also a lower potential for substance abuse.
“Orally administered methylphenidate increases dopamine in the brain, similar to cocaine, but without the strong addictive properties,” Rita Goldstein, lead researcher and professor of psychiatry at Mount Sinai, said in a press release.
A test was done with MRI scans to observe 18 cocaine-addicted participants who were chosen at random. A non-addicted control group was also tested. A 20 mg dose of Ritalin or a placebo was given to each participant. In this test, brain connectivity was measured when the drug was at its peak. There was a decrease in activity where addition is triggered and an increase in activity in the area that involved regulating emotion and self-control.
“The benefits of methylphenidate were present after only one dose, indicating that this drug has significant potential as a treatment add-on for addiction to cocaine and possibly other stimulants,” said Dr. Goldstein. She also said the study was only preliminary and the findings “warrant further exploration.”
Our experience at Cliffside Malibu with hundreds of clients is radically different. Ritalin is in no way a “safe” drug that is non-addictive. We see Ritalin sold and traded among teens and young adults. It is also a gateway drug to substances like cocaine. One of the challenges of this type of study is that it takes drug use and abuse out of context – but drugs are always used in a psychological or social context. This is an important factor that researchers need to consider.