Methylphenidate is a stimulant drug that’s used in prescription medications like Ritalin and Concerta. These drugs are used to treat people with attention problems and certain sleep disorders, but they can also be misused for both recreational and performance-enhancing purposes. Methylphenidate misuse may involve snorting and crushing prescription pills to increase their effects. What happens when you alter methylphenidate and the way you take it? Is snorting, crushing, or smoking methylphenidate dangerous? Learn more about methylphenidate and its different routes of administration.
What Is Methylphenidate?
Methylphenidate is a drug used in the treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It is most commonly known by the brand-name drug it’s used in, Ritalin. The drug is a member of a broad group of psychoactive chemicals called central nervous system stimulants that work to increase activity in your brain and nervous system.
Methylphenidate is used to treat ADHD because it’s thought that people with attention problems often have lower levels of dopamine in the brain, which makes it difficult for them to regulate their focus. Dopamine is tied to reward and motivation, and constant levels of ambient dopamine can help motivate your brain to complete regular tasks, especially ones that require sustained focus.
Stimulants like methylphenidate can help by manipulating dopamine in your brain by increasing the overall amount of it in your system at a given moment. This can prevent people who normally have low levels of dopamine from being distracted as their brain craves a source of reward.
Methylphenidate is also sometimes used to treat narcolepsy, a sleep disorder that causes a person to fall asleep throughout the day, sometimes suddenly. Methylphenidate can influence dopamine and other neurotransmitters tied to alertness and wakefulness. Most stimulants, from caffeine to cocaine, can affect you by making you feel more alert.
Is Methylphenidate Like Cocaine or Methamphetamine?
As a stimulant, methylphenidate is in the same broad category of drugs as cocaine and methamphetamine, along with caffeine and nicotine. However, methylphenidate has some differences from those other drugs when you look at more specific categories.
Methamphetamine is a member of the amphetamine class of drugs along with another ADHD medication Adderall. The word meth is found in the scientific name of Ritalin, cocaine, and methamphetamine, but it simply refers to the fact that the chemicals all have one carbon atom. Many very different drugs have the word meth in them because they all have a single carbon atom.
However, Ritalin shares other similarities with cocaine and methamphetamine. They all work by interacting with dopamine in the central nervous system. However, they don’t have identical effects on the brain. Cocaine and methamphetamine are both extremely potent, causing intense stimulating effects and euphoria. They’re used recreationally because they can cause a brief moment of intense euphoria, a sense of empowerment, and high energy by facilitating a surge of dopamine in your brain.
Methylphenidate and other ADHD medications that also work with dopamine don’t seem to cause euphoric effects in the same way. Still, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that doctors should be cautious in giving drugs like Ritalin to patients with a history of substance use problems.
What’s the Difference Between Snorting, Smoking, and Crushing Drugs?
Why aren’t all drugs taken in the same way? People who are afraid of needles may wish that all medications came in pill form. But there are many ways to take drugs, also known as routes of administration, and there is a good reason for it. When you take a medication, the goal is for it to make it into your bloodstream so that it can be distributed to where it needs to go in your body to have its desired effects. However, drugs have varying abilities to make it into your bloodstream through different routes.
A drug’s ability to make it into your bloodstream through a specific route is called bioavailability. When methylphenidate is taken orally in pill form, 11% to 52% of the drug makes it into the bloodstream and then to the brain. Drug manufacturers compensate for the loss by including an effective dose of the drug in each pill.
However, if you use that same pill and take it in a different way, it might change the drug’s bioavailability. One of the most popular ways to misuse stimulants is by snorting them, which is also called insufflation. Other stimulants like cocaine and other ADHD medications like dextroamphetamine work more quickly and more intensely when taken this way, so drugs like methylphenidate are also snorted by people looking for a recreational high.
While some people crush up and snort methylphenidate, it’s not commonly smoked. Smoking can be an effective route of administration for some drugs, especially ones that come in the form of a dried herb like marijuana, but it’s an efficient route of administration for others. Powdered, crystalized drugs are sometimes difficult to burn and can’t easily be smoked. Even cocaine must be converted to its free-base form to turn it into crack before it can be smoked.
Why Would People Misuse Methylphenidate?
While other stimulants, like cocaine and meth, are misused as recreational drugs, methylphenidate isn’t usually misused for recreation. However, it can be misused as a performance-enhancing drug or a study drug. Methylphenidate increases dopamine levels in the brain, which can increase attention in focus in people with attention regulation problems. However, one of the other neurotransmitters that it affects is norepinephrine, which is tied to memory and alertness.
The idea of being able to focus better, stay awake and alert longer, and remember more information is very attractive to many students facing tough semesters on college campuses. A range of 2% to 20% of students worldwide misuse substances as study drugs. These students are often seeking a way to gain an edge when dealing with high-pressure academic life. In some cases, students may feel that if other students use study drugs, they will be left behind academically if they choose not to use them.
However, their effects on focus, memory, and attention haven’t been sufficiently studied in people who don’t have ADHD and have otherwise healthy brains. Ritalin’s effectiveness as a study drug is proven. Even if you feel like it’s making you more alert and attentive, your grades and academic performance may not increase any more than if you just focused on getting enough sleep and proper nutrition.
In some cases, the fact that methylphenidate is a stimulant may make people curious to use it as a recreational drug like cocaine or meth.
Why Would People Snort or Crush Methylphenidate?
Because drugs like cocaine are much more effective when it’s snorted compared to if it’s swallowed, many people assume snorting methylphenidate will have a similar effect. However, crushing and snorting methylphenidate may not significantly alter the bioavailability of the drug in the same way it would for cocaine. Plus, cocaine isn’t associated with the same euphoric feelings that come with cocaine or methamphetamine misuse.
Methylphenidate may make you feel energized, alert, and awake, like a strong cup of coffee. However, it can also make you feel jittery, uncomfortable, and restless. You may also feel like your heart is beating faster, fluttering, or skipping beats. When you try to go to sleep, you may struggle to fall asleep and get effective rest.
Crushing and snorting methylphenidate can significantly increase the dose if you crush a long-acting or extended-release pill. Methylphenidate is sold as extended-release medication under names like Ritalin LA and Concerta. Crushing these pills and snorting them can significantly increase the intensity and potential danger of a dose. Extended-release pills are specifically formulated to release the dose slowly over a long period of time.
Typical immediate-release methylphenidate pills deliver their full dose as soon as possible. Extended-release pills are used for people who need long-term treatment so that they don’t have to take several pills each day. However, crushing the pill can ruin the extended-release formulation and cause you to get the full dose right away.
Why Is Methylphenidate Misuse Dangerous?
Misusing drugs like methylphenidate can be dangerous, even if snorting and smoking the drug doesn’t dramatically increase its potency. Crushing and using an extended-release pill can increase your risk of experiencing an overdose. Methylphenidate overdose could involve uncomfortable symptoms like irritability, restlessness, insomnia, and agitation. It can also affect your heart rate and blood pressure, which could be dangerous and even deadly in some people.
Methylphenidate misuse can also cause you to develop sleep problems, which can have a significant impact on your mental and physical health. Anxiety disorders can also be triggered or worsened by the misuse of stimulants like methylphenidate.
High doses of a stimulant like methylphenidate can also cause a disturbing reaction called stimulant psychosis. Stimulant psychosis is characterized by symptoms that are similar to schizophrenia, including delusions and hallucinations. You may also experience panic and a sense of impending doom.
Snorting and smoking methylphenidate could have their own set of unique risks. Taking any substance in this way, especially chemically active ones, can cause irritation to your nose, throat, nasal passageways, and lungs. Chronic use can lead to inflammation, infection, and damage that leads to serious medical problems.