Ritalin is one of the most well-known medications given to treat an ADHD diagnosis. However, doctors are saying that the drug affects brain development in children and should be prescribed with caution.

A Dutch study has shown that Ritalin (Methylphenidate) changes brain signals in ADHD children, whereas adults are not affected.

When young people are given these drugs, MRI scans have indicated that changes in the brain white matter occurred. This part of the brain is important for sending messages to the body.

As reported in the Daily Mail, investigations are now underway what the effects of white matter changes would have on children.

If a person has white matter disease, they will eventually have difficulty with the ability to think, balance and walk.

Methylphenidate (MPH) has had its fair share of controversy over the years. However, since it’s generally effective in up to 80 per cent of patients, doctors still prescribe the drug quite freely.

While we know that the medication changes chemicals in the brain to stimulate areas used for focusing and concentration, we have been in the dark about how the drug influences the development of the brain.

How Ritalin Affects Brain Development

Researchers at the University of Amsterdam undertook this study with 50 boys and 49 young adult men diagnosed with ADHD.

Study senior author Dr Liesbeth Reneman said that the study ‘is crucial if you want to know how ADHD medications affect the developing brain’.

The MRI measured fractional anisotropy (FA), which is used to quantify the quality and composition of white matter.

Boys had ‘increased white matter FA’ after four months of treatment with MPH, which indicates MPH affects white matter maturation, the researchers said.

However, they have noted that it is still unknown what the implications of having a high FA would be and whether this would be reversible.

But they are not sure whether high FA has good or bad implications and whether they are reversible.

No changes, however, were seen in the adults.

Professor David Nutt, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Brain Sciences at Imperial College London, has weighed in on the study saying: ‘This is an interesting and well conducted study with placebo controls.

‘There is evidence from other psychiatric disorders that increased FA is associated with clinical improvements. Why the effect should be seen in the adolescence, but not adult brain is unclear, but may reflect greater opportunity for change in the younger brain.’

Call For Crackdown On Prescribing Ritalin

In the meantime, Dr Reneman is calling for tighter regulations for prescribing ADHD medications.

She said: ‘What our data already underscore is the use of ADHD medications in children must be carefully considered until more is known about the long-term consequences of prescribing methylphenidate at a young age.

‘The drug should only be prescribed to children who actually have ADHD and are significantly affected by it.’

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  • I work with special needs children and there are some of those kids that just cant cope with the World without medication which is such a shame.


  • Isn’t it just common sense to only prescribe to children with ADHD. Surely measures can be put into place to monitor this. If GP’s are not taking the time to properly assess children then they should lose their license to practice medicine.


  • This sounds very bad. I hope they find a safer alternative that is effective.


  • I used to be prescribed Ritalin and took myself off it because of the nasty side effects. I would never let my kids take it, it’s nasty.


  • I’m glad they’ve come to this decision. Just wish they had worked this out before prescribing it willy-nilly.

    • It’s not prescribed willy nilly. You have to have a diagnosis to get it, and even then the article says it’s only prescribed for one in ten kids with ADHD.


  • I know a boy who has ADD not ADHD. He was prescribed Ritalin and it made him worse instead of better. His ability to concentrate declined. The condition is a chemical imbalance in your brain


  • Oh dear, this is very concerning.


  • Good idea. I feel this is the go-to drug now for any child who behaves badly – behaviour which could result from lack of sleep, home issues, bad parenting… and the list goes on. It’s so concerning how common Ritalin has become.


  • This is interesting. It is a drug that seems to be prescribed far too easily.


  • A lot of cases can be managed with a good routine and strict parenting. A lot of cases where ADHD is incorrectly diagnosed too.


  • It’s awful how the go to fix for things is drugs. Before using medication we need to try other measures: diet, routine, parenting. Only when it’s absolutely necessary should we be considering medication.


  • There is a whole generation of children that have taken this drug the long term side effects of that we are only just about to see


  • Really sad these days that so many children are given so many mind altering drugs that have side effects, the research is that they are dangerous and caution needs to be in place, I would look at natural alternatives. Sometimes it is a simple lack of nutrient that is responsible or a reaction to too many chemicals, toxins and pollution in the environment. Drug testing is only done on mice, you cannot test on children.


  • “50 boys and 49 young adult men diagnosed with ADHD.”

    That’s not a very big sample size, and why only boys and men? Girls and women can also have ADHD. There are literally millions of people in the world with ADHD. A bigger study is needed, including both male and female participants, and not all people from just one country.

    Given that the study really isn’t comprehensive enough to be generalisable to the global population, this kind of article is just going to worry parents unnecessarily. It’s not helpful. Please don’t post alarmist stuff like this just for the clicks. It might scare parents into taking away the medication that is helping their children to function.

    ‘The drug should only be prescribed to children who actually have ADHD and are significantly affected by it.’

    Of course. Who was suggesting otherwise? It’s not as if it’s easy to get hold of. It can only be prescribed initially by a specialist (a pediatrician or a psychiatrist) who has to call for authority to prescribe it, so you don’t get it unless you have ADHD and are affected by it. It’s not as if anybody’s just handing it out like Tic Tacs.

    • I don’t think it is an alarmist article at all, it is a warning, the risks with any drug is huge, and children are suffering from over-prescribing, it needs to stop and we need to look at more natural and alternative methods rather than keep pumping drugs into them with so little long term research it is a huge risk.

      • There’s no evidence of over prescribing. This article certainly doesn’t provide any. You can only get prescribed Ritalin if you have ADHD, and the diagnosis isn’t easy to get. The fact that there are many people, women especially, who are only diagnosed as adults suggests that if anything there is UNDER prescribing going on. Many people do use “natural and alternative methods” instead of or as well as medication (it’s not an either/or thing), but it’s a matter of finding things that are both safe and effective. That something is “natural” doesn’t mean it’s automatically safer- cyanide is natural. It’s kind of hypocritical to say that medication is bad because you don’t think enough research has been done on it, then turn around and embrace natural methods with little or no research behind them. Lots of “natural” supplements and treatments just don’t work, and are a waste of money, or are even harmful. There’s very little regulation into what goes into supplements, so there’s no guarantee that they contain the ingredients they say they do, or that they work, and some contain ingredients they aren’t supposed to (like allergens).

        Nobody’s “pumping drugs into” kids. Ritalin’s a pill. Usually it’s taken twice daily. It doesn’t build up in your system the way things like antidepressants do, so if you don’t like it you can stop taking it without needing to taper off. Kids start with the lowest dose and go from there, to see if it works for them. Using language like “pumping drugs into” them implies that they don’t want to take it, but if you talk to people who take Ritalin, many of them will tell you it’s their choice and it helps them. It’s weird having random people talking like you’re being forced into something you made an informed choice to do. I suppose you think parents whose kids take Ritalin, or adults who take it don’t know about the possible side effects or long term effects, but again, did you ask? Lots of people weigh up the pros and cons, and consider the way it helps them, or their child to be worth small possible risks (and they are small, based on all the available studies I’ve read). People with untreated ADHD are at higher risk of abusing prescription drugs, unplanned pregnancies and serious car accidents, among other things. Ritalin’s prescribed for a reason.

        There’s not “so little” longterm research- there has been a lot of long term research. This is one study out of a great many, and a small one at that, which looks only at boys, and from one location. You can’t really tell anything much from that. If they replicate the results, and look into it a lot more they might have some more definitive findings, but until then this is just going to worry people, potentially over nothing at all.

      • Just had a read of the Daily Mail article in the link. It says “Just one in ten children with the condition are prescribed drugs, experts from Oxford University, King’s College London found in October 2018.” Hardly “over prescription” then.


  • After reading the article I think more research needs to be don on it. This would be terribly concerning for parents who’s children are on Ritalin and if they are concerned they really need to speak to their local GP. We hear a lot about different studies but then they seem to peter off and we never hear anymore regarding the issues.


  • This will be a shock to those using the drug – further research and testing needs to happen.


  • No doubt this will cause concern for those impacted by the use of this medication. Worth further investigation for those families.

    • I agree, more research needs to be done indeed !

      • Always important to research and seek other references and sources of information.


  • I agree with the call for tighter regulations for prescribing ADHD medications. My 9yr old has a RAD and greatly suffers under severe kleptomania and was trialed on Ritalin. I’m glad it didn’t work, but good to try and see if it possibly would have a good effect.


  • This is very scarey this drug has been around for years , it should have been tested earlier

    • It has been tested many times. This is just new research. I wouldn’t call it a scary drug, given that it’s been in use for nearly 80 years and many people find it improves their lives.


  • This is so scary, im so glad that the drug didnt work for my ADD daughter.
    I know obviously its going to affect the brain, but certainly not to destroy the brain so much that the child is incapable to do things.

    • They haven’t shown that it has ‘destroyed’ anyone’s brain. They’ve found a link, that doesn’t mean anything definitive. This is only one small study, of the many, many studies that have been done on this drug.


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