Methylphenidate vs. Focalin

Methylphenidate and Focalin are two prescription medicines used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Ritalin is the better-known brand name for methylphenidate. Focalin is the brand name for dexmethylphenidate. Ritalin can also be prescribed to treat narcolepsy. 

Both medications have side effects that include stomach upset or pain, appetite loss, headache, or insomnia, according to RxList. Both drugs might interact with blood pressure medicines, cold and allergy medications that contain a decongestant, antidepressants, and seizure drugs.

Focalin is a more potent stimulant than methylphenidate, but methylphenidate is classified as a Schedule II federally controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). A Schedule II drug is defined as one that can be abused or lead to dependence or addiction. As such, it is illegal to give it away or share methylphenidate.

You might be wondering if these two drugs are the same thing. Let’s look into that, plus what the differences are between them.

Are Focalin and Methylphenidate the Same Thing?

These two popular ADHD drugs have similarities but are not the same thing. Keep reading to learn what is alike and not alike about them.

Methylphenidate

Methylphenidate is a central nervous system (CNS stimulant that works to increase the dopamine and norepinephrine levels (neurotransmitters) in the brain. Usually, the brain releases a specific amount of neurotransmitters when they are not needed anymore. They are reabsorbed in a process called reuptake, which is responsible for controlling how much of the transmitter remains in the CNS and brain and for the amount of time it remains there.

Methylphenidate blocks the process, which allows dopamine and norepinephrine to build up in the brain’s synapses. The increased amount of norepinephrine speeds up the brain’s activity, resulting in a more focused and alert person. The extra dopamine, the chemical most known for making you feel pleasure, causes a feeling of mild euphoria as a reward to maintain focus on a task.

People with ADHD who may have small amounts of dopamine or faulty receptors will find they are more alert and focused. For others, they will feel energized and perhaps “high.” Methylphenidate is a short-acting medication that should be taken several times a day to feel its effects best. It is also a drug that can cause dependence and addiction.

What Are the Side Effects of Methylphenidate?

Methylphenidate produces side effects, which are good to know. They include:

  • Nervousness
  • Agitation
  • Headache
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Dizziness
  • Vision problems
  • Sweating
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Appetite loss
  • Stomach pain
  • Increased heart rate
  • Skin rash
  • Numbness
  • Cold feeling in hand or feet
  • Tingling feeling

How does methylphenidate make you feel?

Methylphenidate can make you feel very alert, awake, excited, and energized. It can also make you feel agitated, aggressive and cause a loss of appetite. It is a stimulant; therefore, it may also make you feel panicky. In rare cases, it can cause psychosis (hearing or seeing things that aren’t there).

What Drugs Interact with Methylphenidate?

The drugs that interact with methylphenidate are:

  • Antidepressant medication, including monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
  • Blood thinner medicine
  • Blood pressure medicine
  • Seizure medication
  • Cold or allergy drugs that contain decongestants

Focalin

Focalin is also a CNS stimulant medication prescribed for ADHD.  It contains dexmethylphenidate, an isomer that is almost identical to methylphenidate but with a different atom arrangement. This makes them work differently in the body. It also makes Focalin a stronger medication than methylphenidate alone, and it also has fewer side effects. Focalin can reduce impulsivity and hyperactive behavior, and it can improve focus. The drug is also a long-acting CNS stimulant that is taken twice a day and at least four hours apart, per RxList. 

It takes about 30 minutes for Focalin to become effective after you take your dose. It lasts about four hours, and the extended-release formula stays active for up to 12 hours.

What Are the Side Effects of Focalin?

There are side effects that come when taking Focalin, as noted below:

  • Anxiousness
  • Restlessness
  • Stomach Upset
  • Feeling jittery
  • Dry mouth
  • Appetite loss
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Insomnia

How does Focalin make you feel?

Reviews on Drugs.com from people who have taken Focalin report feeling shaky, cold, having stomach pains, nausea, heart palpitations, and some said they felt depressed. It is essential to mention that Focalin is known to make people feel very alert and focused when the dose takes effect but feel very poor when the dose wears off. Nonetheless, the aforementioned site notes that 47% of reviewers reported a positive effect, and 33% reported a negative effect.

What Drugs Interact with Focalin?

Drugs that may interact with Focalin include:

  • Antidepressants, including MAOIs
  • Antacids
  • Blood-thinning medication
  • Blood pressure medicine
  • Anti-seizure medication
  • Cold or allergy medicines containing a decongestant

Comparing Methylphenidate and Focalin

Let’s compare these two medicines to determine which one might be a better option when discussing ADHD medicine with your physician.

Differences

Cost and Effectiveness

Methylphenidate (Ritalin) – Less expensive, takes effect within 20 to 30 minutes, stays active three to five hours, or eight hours if you are taking the intermediary-release formula. It is more commonly prescribed, so it is usually more available at pharmacies.

Focalin – A bit more expensive, takes effect in 30 minutes, stays active for four hours, or 12 hours if using the longer-acting formula. Not prescribed as often, so it might be hard to get it at a local pharmacy.

Side Effects

Methylphenidate (Ritalin) – Long list of side effects, some of which may be distressing, like weight loss in children, blurred vision, skin rash, tingling/numbness in hands or feet. Users do not report a “crash” after the dose wears off. Parents say children can be withdrawn, have very bad stomach pain, and trouble sleeping.

Focalin – Shorter list of side effects, but users report a “crash” after the dose wears off. The “crash” tends to cause people to feel extremely tired, weak, and depressed. Parents report that children become irritable and angry when the dose is increased as the child grows. They also say there are fewer side effects than other medications once given.

Similarities

Both come in generic forms. Methylphenidate is the generic form of Ritalin and Focalin comes in a generic version also, which could save you money.

Both are federally controlled substances, meaning you will have to ask your doctor to call in the prescription for every refill. Both drugs come in short and long-acting formulas, and both drugs can be misused and abused, leading to addiction.

Is Ritalin the best option for ADHD?

Ritalin is not the only ADHD medicine on the market today. There are others that work just as well, and some other drugs can be taken with Ritalin to extend its efficacy. There are also non-stimulant medications that could be beneficial. The best option for ADHD is the one that works best for you or your child. You may have to try different medicines before finding the one that is the most useful.

Summary

Both methylphenidate and Focalin are prescribed to treat ADHD symptoms. Both drugs, if misused or abused, can lead to dependence and addiction. Dependence is characterized by experiencing withdrawal symptoms when the medicine is stopped. Addiction to methylphenidate, Ritalin, or Focalin is treatable and readily available. 

If you find that the side effects are preventing you or your child from taking either drug, reach out to your doctor. Never share or sell either drug, as it is illegal to do so, and you do not know how these medications will affect someone else.

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