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Substance Use: Common Drugs


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​What is Ritalin?

Ritalin is a brand name of a stimulant drug called methylphenidate.

What does Ritalin do?

Ritalin stimulates the mind and body in adults and can calm children down. It's used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children. However, it’s not usually recommended for children younger than 6 years old. It can help people who have ADHD pay attention to tasks better and decreases impulsive and hyperactive behaviour. In adults it's used to treat narcolepsy (extreme sleepiness).

What’s the problem with Ritalin?

Some people misuse Ritalin to get high. P​eople who misuse it might crush it into a powder. They snort it, or dissolve and inject it. College or university students might misuse Ritalin because they think it will help them focus better on their studies by making it easier to pay attention and stay alert.

What does Ritalin do to the body?

Some people who misuse Ritalin might feel high or excited, even when only low doses are taken. Others feel more excited when a high dose is taken. When misused, the drug can make people feel more alert or sleepier. Often they’re more awake right after they take it, but then they get very tired.

People who abuse Ritalin might have these physical effects:
  • 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 these effects:
  • feeling agitated or confused
  • believing that people are out to get you (being paranoid)
  • hearing or seeing things that aren't really there (hallucinating)
  • dry mouth or vomiting
  • twitching muscles
  • dilated (enlarged) pupils​​​
  • heart might beat faster and harder
  • skin turns red​​
  • fever and sweating

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

What happens when Ritalin is used for a long time?

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 misuse high doses of Ritalin every day can become paranoid or hallucinate. This seems to go away when they stop using the drug but this may take some time. Sometimes these effects don't completely go away.

Ritalin pills contain fillers that don’t​ dissolve when they’re crushed. These fillers can get into the lungs and cause breathing problems or lung disease.​

Is Ritalin addictive?​

People who misuse Ritalin for a long time eventually need to take more of the drug to get the same effects (tolerance). They can get dependent on the way it makes them feel. They may panic if they can’t get more, and crave it if they try to stop using it. They can also become physically dependent. When they stop using, they can feel very tired and get depressed.

Is Ritalin​ illegal?​

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

For more information and to find an addiction services office near you, please call the 24-hour Addiction Helpline (Alberta only).​


Current as of: August 20, 2019

Author: Poison & Drug Information Service, Alberta Health Services