Ritalin is a central nervous system stimulant that is prescribed to treat attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Ritalin has also been prescribed to treat narcolepsy. It works by affecting chemicals in the brain and nerves which contribute to hyperactivity and impulse control. In 2004, the drug’s sales reached more than $3 billion in the United States. In this same year, nearly 29 million prescriptions were written for the drug, while approximately 23 million of those were for children. The FDA approved Ritalin in the 1960s and it is manufactured by Novartis Pharmaceuticals.

Ritalin has been linked to 54 serious cardiovascular events and 25 deaths. In the New Scientist magazine, cardiovascular events in children were also associated with hallucinations. Other psychological side effects that have been linked to this drug are suicidal thoughts, aggression and psychotic behavior. More physical side effects include cardiac arrhythmia, tachycardia, chest pain and hypertension.

A small study was conducted at the University of Texas that looked at 12 children. In the study, all of the children experienced increases levels of chromosome abnormalities—occurrences associated with an increased cancer risk. These findings led doctors to believe that the use of Ritalin could cause cancer. Although this study does not mean that all children taking Ritalin could get cancer, it should be acknowledged as a risk factor.

Ritalin has also been seen to decrease appetite, and some children have become malnourished. Abdominal pain, sleep problems and headaches have also been linked to the drug.

Serious side effects may include:

  • Fast, pounding, or uneven heartbeats
  • Feeling like you might pass out
  • Fever, sore throat, and headache with a severe blistering, peeling, and red skin rash
  • Aggression, restlessness, hallucinations, unusual behavior, or motor tics (muscle twitches)
  • Easy bruising, purple spots on your skin
  • Dangerously high blood pressure (severe headache, blurred vision, buzzing in your ears, anxiety, confusion, chest pain, shortness of breath, uneven heartbeats, seizure)

Less serious side effects may include:

  • Stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite
  • Vision problems, dizziness, mild headache
  • Sweating, mild skin rash
  • Numbness, tingling, or cold feeling in your hands or feet
  • Nervous feeling, sleep problems (insomnia)
  • Weight loss
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