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“Pay Attention: Ritalin Acts Much Like Cocaine
JAMA. 2001 Aug 22-29;286(8):905-6.
Advanced imaging research has answered a 40-year-old question about methylphenidate (Ritalin), which is taken daily by 4 million to 6 million children in the United States: how does it work? The answer may unsettle many parents, because the drug acts much like cocaine, albeit cocaine dripped through molasses (J Neurosci. 2001;21:RC121).
Taken orally in pill form, methylphenidate rarely produces a high and has not been reported to be addictive. However, injected as a liquid it sends a jolt that 'addicts like very much,' said Nora Volkow, MD, psychiatrist and imaging expert at Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton, NY. 'They say it's like cocaine.'
Acknowledged as leaders in the field of brain imaging of drug effects, Volkow and colleagues have spent several years tracing the effects on the brain of drugs of addiction, using positron emission tomography (PET) and other advanced techniques. Among their long list of findings, they've identified the brain's dopamine system as a major player in compulsive behavior, including drug taking and overeating.
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