Ritalin boosts brain's efficiency

August 1, 2008

Assuming you can do the math, your brain may operate more efficiently if you have first taken Ritalin (methylphenidate), a drug intended to help patients with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Assuming you can do the math, your brain may operate more efficiently if you have first taken Ritalin (methylphenidate), a drug intended to help patients with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the Institute of Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health, and colleagues at the Brookhaven National Laboratory discovered that methylphenidate dramatically improves the efficiency of glucose utilization in the brain among some normal adults as they performed a mentally challenging test.

The findings, presented at the 2008 SNM meeting, showed that among the test-taking subjects, brain glucose metabolism increased half as much under Ritalin's influence as under the placebo's influence, indicating more efficient use of the glucose metabolized. Glucose utilization in the whole body rose 11% among individuals who received methylphenidate before testing, compared with a 21% increase for subjects who received the placebo before testing.

Volkow and colleagues discovered that methylphenidate modified brain function, as assessed by glucose metabolism, only when the subjects were performing a cognitive task.

They also learned that methylphenidate improved the performance of individuals who also performed well without the drug. But it may have contributed to a notable deterioration in the performance of subjects who also performed poorly after receiving the placebo.

"The data suggest that the effect of methylphenidate is dependent on the individual's performance, and since people take these medications in order to improve performance, they need to recognize that for some, performance will deteriorate," Volkow said.

-By James Brice