Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder that affects adults and children. Ritalin is one of several drugs that can be used to treat ADHD. However, Ritalin can also be abused for a stimulating high. Some may try to snort or smoke the drug to increase its potency. What happens when you snort or smoke Ritalin? Is it safe to use in different ways?
What is Ritalin?
Ritalin is the brand name for a prescription drug that contains an active ingredient called methylphenidate hydrochloride. This popular brand is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which is a neurodevelopmental disorder that causes attention issues and other symptoms. Ritalin is also used to treat sleep disorders like narcolepsy. Ritalin works as a stimulant in the central nervous system by increasing activity.
Ritalin is sold in tablets that provide immediate-release and sustained-release doses of the medication. Regular immediate-release Ritalin will deliver the full dose all at once. Doses of 5, 10, and 20 milligrams are available. Sustained-release tablets under the name Ritalin-SR are available in 20-milligram doses that are released slowly over time to allow for therapeutic effects to be maintained over the course of many hours.
The medication works to treat ADHD by increasing serotonin levels in the brain. Dopamine is an important, naturally-occurring medication that’s involved in reward and motivation. Low levels of dopamine may be a cause of ADHD symptoms in children and adults. Increasing dopamine levels can help with problems related to focus and concentration. Ritalin also increases noradrenergic activity in the brain, which is related to increasing blood pressure.
Ritalin is classified as a Schedule II drug, which means that it’s federally controlled as a potentially addictive drug. Schedule II drugs are considered to have a significant potential for abuse, despite currently accepted medical uses. Ritalin may be misused as a cognitive or performance-enhancing drug or to increase energy levels. It’s often used on college campuses to increase focus during long study sessions. It may also be abused as a recreational drug. High doses may be used to achieve a stimulating high.
Using the drug in high doses or without a prescription can be dangerous, leading to issues like chemical dependence, addiction, and overdoses. In some cases, people may attempt to use the drug by snorting or smoking it, which can come with a unique set of consequences. Crushing and snorting Ritalin may come with some particular dangers.
Why Would Someone Snort Ritalin?
Ritalin is a useful prescription medication, but it may also be used for self-medication or recreational purposes. Snorting an illicit or prescription drug is usually done by people that are looking for a quick, intense euphoric high. Stimulants are commonly used as recreational drugs in the United States, with cocaine as the most common illicit option.
Methamphetamines are also common illicit stimulants of abuse. Prescription stimulants like Ritalin or amphetamines aren’t as potent as cocaine or meth, but they can be used recreationally. They may be able to produce some similar euphoric effects, like excitement, alertness, and increased energy, in high doses. Still, many ADHD medications are limited in their ability to produce euphoria, so they’re taken in very high doses, mixed with other substances, or administered in a different way like snorting or smoking.
What is Ritalin’s Bioavailability?
Snorting a drug is officially called insufflation, and it’s one of several routes of administration for chemically active substances. Different routes of administration can make a difference in the speed and intensity that you experience a drug’s effects. This is partially because of what’s called bioavailability, which is the amount of an active ingredient that is able to enter your bloodstream when you take a drug. Drugs can have different bioavailabilities depending on how you take them. For instance, since injecting a drug into your veins is the most direct route, injecting a substance offers a bioavailability of 100%.
However, taking drugs orally may not be 100% efficient. Swallowing a tablet requires the drug to go through your digestive system to be absorbed into your bloodstream. For drugs that have low bioavailability when taken orally, snorting it may increase its effects and the efficiency with which it makes it into your bloodstream. Cocaine is commonly snorted or smoked because of its limited bioavailability when swallowed.
Ritalin is similar because methylphenidate hydrochloride has an oral bioavailability of about 30%. Ritalin is still effective as a medication because the drug is formulated to compensate for the fact that only around 30% will make it to your bloodstream. However, snorting the drug may increase the amount that makes it into your blood, which increases its effects. Snorting the drug may also cause you to experience the effects more quickly.
Some drugs may be snorted, even if doing so wouldn’t increase the drug’s potency. This may be because of stimulants like cocaine that are known to be more intense when they are taken intranasally, so curious drug users try snorting.
Does Snorting Ritalin Change Anything?
Since methylphenidate hydrochloride has a bioavailability of 30% when the tablet is swallowed, only a portion of the active ingredient will be absorbed. Of course, when you take a prescription drug, it’s formulated to deliver a high enough dose of the drug to be effective. But snorting Ritalin may affect the drug’s bioavailability and deliver more of the active ingredient into your bloodstream.
The inside of your nose is packed with blood cells, especially on the mucous membrane. When a drug comes into contact with these blood cells, it can be absorbed into your bloodstream. Then, it makes its way to your heart, then your lungs, then back to your heart before it’s distributed throughout your body and your brain. This route of administration is faster than digestion and provides a quicker high. However, it can also be stronger than digestion when it comes to Ritalin.
Ritalin can be taken in 5, 10, and 20-milligram doses. When these tablets are taken normally, they produce normal therapeutic effects, depending on the dose that’s appropriate for you. But when it’s snorted, more of the active ingredient may reach your brain. A 2003 study looked at the effects of Ritalin when it’s taken in intranasal doses. Doses of 10, 20, and 30 milligrams were administered, and the study found that it produced effects that were similar to commonly abused stimulants. With the same dose, snorting may produce a quicker, more potent high.
However, snorting may also increase your risk of an overdose, and you may be more likely to experience uncomfortable side effects of Ritalin.
Can you Smoke Ritalin?
Smoking is a more direct route to the brain. Blood that is in the lungs carries oxygen to the heart and then to the rest of the body. Drugs that are absorbed in the form of smoke in the lungs may reach the brain quicker than drugs that are snorted or swallowed. Plus, smoking may allow you to avoid some of the irritation that can come from snorting. However, it can be difficult to convert certain drugs to a form that can be effectively smoked.
If you crushed a Ritalin pill and heated it up to smoke it, most of the active ingredient would be lost to the process of combustion. You may only exceed in producing a foul-tasting smoke. Cocaine is similar. Its regular form is difficult to burn and can’t be effectively smoked, so it has to be converted into its freebase form. Doing so requires treating it with other chemicals to turn it into what’s commonly called crack cocaine.
However, converting Ritalin to a freebase form that can be smoked may be even more complicated than it is for cocaine. Because the process is so difficult, it’s not common for Ritalin to be smoked this way.
Can Snorting Ritalin Cause An Overdose?
Ritalin can cause an overdose when it’s used in very high doses, but snorting Ritalin may increase your risk of a dangerous overdose. Ritalin is intended to be taken orally, not snorted, so doing so can deliver more of the drug into your system than your body can handle. Since snorting effectively increases the amount of the drug that’s active in your brain all at once, it can easily lead to an overdose, especially if you take a particularly high dose.
Ritalin is also sold in sustained-release forms that have the highest dose available. These doses are safe because they aren’t released all at once, but when the pill is crushed, it becomes compromised. Snorting it could then release a significant amount of the drug into your system. Even chewing extended-release pills can risk an overdose.
A Ritalin overdose can cause restlessness, insomnia, tremors, shaky hands, and anxiety. In more severe cases, it can cause more dangerous adverse effects like heart attack, stroke, seizure, coma, and death.
Why is it Dangerous to Snort Drugs?
Insufflation comes with some inherent danger, no matter what drug is involved. Your nose isn’t designed to take in powdered substances. Drugs that are intended to be used intranasally come in liquid forms, and even they can cause nose bleeds as side effects. The nasal passageways and mucus membrane are delicate, and snorting can cause irritation, nose bleeds, and inflammation. Chronic insufflation can even damage your nostrils and nasal passages to the point that it’s more difficult to breathe or smell through one or both nostrils.
When you add certain kinds of drugs, they can create their own side effects. Some drugs are extremely painful to snort, and they may irritate your nasal passages more than an inert substance.