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Substance Use: Common drugs


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​What is Ritalin?

Ritalin is a brand name of a stimulant medicine called methylphenidate. Concerta and Biphentin are other brand name medicines with methylphenidate.

What does Ritalin do?

Ritalin is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children and adults. However, it's not usually recommended for children younger than 6 years old. It helps people who have ADHD pay attention to tasks. Ritalin may also help people be less impulsive and hyperactive.

In adults Ritalin is used to treat narcolepsy (extreme sleepiness).​​

Ritalin u​se

Some people use Ritalin without a prescription in ways it was not meant to be used—to get high.

It can be crushed into a powder and inhaled (snorted) or dissolved and injected (with a needle).

College or university students might use Ritalin in this way because they think it will help them focus better on their studies.

Effects on the body

Using Ritalin in ways it was not prescribed can cause you to feel high or excited. Using Ritalin in this way can make people feel more alert. Often you may feel awake right after you take it, but then you get very tired.

Using Ritalin in ways it is not meant to be used can cause:

  • headache or feeling dizzy
  • trouble sleeping
  • no appetite
  • nausea or vomiting
  • a fast, irregular heart beat
  • feeling nervous or shaky

If high doses of Ritalin are taken, it can cause:

  • feeling agitated or confused
  • believing that people are out to get you (being paranoid)
  • seeing, hearing, or feeling things that aren't really there (hallucinating)
  • dry mouth or vomiting
  • shaky or twitching muscles
  • big pupils
  • heart might beat faster and harder
  • fever and sweating

Very high doses can make you very agitated, restless, and confused (delirious). You could have seizures, serious heart rhythm changes, and even end up in a coma.​

Long-term use

The most common side effects of using Ritalin for a long time are:

  • feeling nervous
  • trouble sleeping
  • no appetite
  • stomach ache
  • headache
  • dizziness

People who use high doses of Ritalin not as prescribed every day can become paranoid or hallucinate. This seems to go away when they stop using Ritalin, but it may take some time. Sometimes these effects don't go away completely.

Ritalin pills contain fillers that don't dissolve when they're crushed. When inhaled, these fillers can get into the lungs and cause breathing problems or lung disease. When injected these fillers can cause pain, blockage, and disease in the veins.  

Tolerance and dependence

Long-term use of Ritalin in ways it was not prescribed can cause tolerance. This means you need to take more to get the same effects.

You can get dependent on the way it makes you feel. You may panic if you can't get more and crave it if you try to stop using it.

You can also become physically dependent. When you stop using, you can feel very tired and depressed.​

Legal issues

It's against the law to have methylphenidate if you don't have a prescription. It is also against the law to sell methylphenidate. You can be fined, get a criminal record, or go to jail.​​


If you're concerned about your or someone else's Ritalin use, or you want to learn more about substance use, call the Addiction and Mental Health Helpline, any time of the day or night, at 1-866-332-2322 (Alberta only).​​


Current as of: June 1, 2023

Author: Poison & Drug Information Service, Alberta Health Services