ADHD drugs used to boost short-term performance have long-term consequences. May 14 2014

Anyone’s first experience using drugs, illicit or not, can come in a number of ways, but for one-third of Americans it comes by taking prescription drugs without a prescription.  Seeking out ADHD prescription medications, specifically, seems to be a hot trend as many college, graduate, and even high school students buy pills off the black market and use them and other smart drugs for cognitive enhancement.  New research shows that the recreational use of these drugs used to boost short-term performance comes with deeply concerning long-term consequences. 

Researchers from the University of Delaware and Drexel University College of Medicine published new research in the journal Frontiers in Systems Neurocience that shows while ADHD drugs may offer a boost in cognitive performance, the drugs actually adversely impact the brain’s plasticity (flexibility in development) and interfering with long-term mental behaviors, memory, and cognitive tasks.

The most commonly prescribed and distributed ADHD drug on the market is Methylphenidate (brand names: Ritalin, Concerta, Vyvanse).  Although the drug is FDA-approved to treat ADHD, 1.3 million US teens have reportedly used the drug without a prescription in the last month.  Rat studies have shown that young brains are sensitive to the effects of methylphenidate as well as other ADHD drugs (amphetamines) and that even low doses can impact long-term nerve activity.

The desire to use cognitive enhancing substances like ADHD drugs should be reviewed very carefully.  The short-term benefits do not outweigh the long-term risks.

Written by Melissa Warner

Urban, KR & Gao, W-J. Performance enhancement at the cost of potential brain plasticity: neural ramifications of nootropic drugs in the healthy developing brain. Front. Syst. Neurosci., 13 May 2014 | doi: 10.3389/fnsys.2014.00038