Methylphenidate, widely known by its brand name Ritalin, is a commonly abused prescription drug that can linger in one’s system and show up on certain drug tests.

How Methylphenidate Affects the Brain and Body

Methylphenidate is a stimulant drug that speeds up certain functions and processes of the central nervous system. Methylphenidate affects neurotransmitter activity in the brain. The neurotransmitters affected by methylphenidate control things like movement, attention span and pleasure. Methylphenidate can also block the reabsorption of certain neurotransmitters. In people with ADHD, the effects include more self-control over actions, less fidgeting and better concentration. Certain side effects may occur, especially if the drug is abused. Severe methylphenidate side effects can include agitation, muscle twitching, confusion, hallucinations and seizures. Digestive system effects of methylphenidate can include stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting. Methylphenidate can also cause circulatory problems and can raise blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature. 

Half-Life of Methylphenidate

When methylphenidate is used orally, peak effects occur in about two hours and may last for four hours for the immediate-release version of the drug. With sustained-release versions, such as Ritalin SR, methylphenidate effects usually last for four to six hours after it’s taken. Methylphenidate effects last even longer with second-generation, extended-release versions like Concerta that may continue to work for 6 to 12 hours after a single dose. 

The average half-life of methylphenidate is about two to three hours. This is considered to be a relatively short half-life. The half-life of methylphenidate in children averages around 2.4 hours. 

How Long Does Methylphenidate Stay in Your Urine, Hair and Blood?

Methylphenidate could show up on certain drug screening panels that test for amphetamines. Standard 5-panel drug tests, the most common workplace drug test, screen for amphetamines. Drug tests that screen for amphetamines could be positive if a person takes methylphenidate. But methylphenidate tends to be metabolized quickly, so it doesn’t stay in the body for long. Methylphenidate is detectable in different bodily fluids for different amounts of time.

  • Urine: A urine test for methylphenidate may screen for the drug and its metabolite, ritalinic acid. Urine tests might show methylphenidate use for about one to two days. This window could be slightly longer if someone took an extended or sustained-release version of the drug. 
  • Blood: Blood tests are not typically given to check for methylphenidate. Because of methylphenidate’s short half-life, it wouldn’t show up in a blood test for more than 24 hours in most cases. 
  • Hair: As with most other substances, methylphenidate shows up much longer in a hair test. A person can test positive for methylphenidate in a hair test for 30 days. Some substances can be detected in hair for as long as 90 days.

Factors That Influence How Long Methylphenidate Stays in Your System

Certain factors can affect how long methylphenidate stays in your system. 

  • Age: Age can affect how a drug is metabolized by our bodies. As we age, drug metabolism tends to decrease. This means it may take longer for our bodies to get rid of a drug than it did when we were younger. 
  • Weight: Body mass and weight can play an important role in how long a substance will stay in your system. Individuals with a smaller surface area and body volume, such as children or the elderly, may have higher drug concentrations in their bodies after taking the same dose as an adult. 
  • Presence of other substances: Often, the presence of other substances can alter the effects of a medication and how quickly it is eliminated from a person’s system. A study on the release of methylphenidate in Ritalin LA capsules demonstrated that 98% of methylphenidate was released within the first hour when this extended-release form of methylphenidate was taken with alcohol. Other substances that may increase the levels and/or effects of methylphenidate include caffeine, atomoxetine (Strattera), bupropion (Wellbutrin), duloxetine (Cymbalta), modafinil (Provigil) and venlafaxine (Effexor).

Methylphenidate Prescription Facts

Methylphenidate is a generic prescription drug, also sold under the brand names Ritalin, Metadate, Quillichew and Concerta. Methylphenidate is a central nervous system stimulant and was first licensed by the FDA in 1955. At the time, it was used to treat what was called hyperactivity – which is now referred to as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Over the decades, it’s been increasingly prescribed. Methylphenidate increases the activity of the central nervous system, and it’s approved for adults and children aged six years and older. Ideally, the use of methylphenidate is part of a more comprehensive treatment program, including non-medical ADHD therapies and interventions. For example, it’s recommended that methylphenidate is prescribed with cognitive behavioral therapy for the best outcome. Methylphenidate works by affecting brain neurotransmitters that control dopamine and norepinephrine. For people with ADHD, the drug helps them focus, concentrate and control impulses.

Methylphenidate Regulations

Methylphenidate is classified as a Schedule II controlled substance in the U.S. by the DEA. A Schedule II controlled substance is one that has medical uses but is also believed to have a serious risk of severe physical and psychological dependence. It’s illegal to possess or use a Schedule II drug without a prescription. Despite this restriction, methylphenidate and other prescription stimulant ADHD medications are widely available, frequently abused and often sold on the streets.

Stimulant Abuse

Prescription stimulants include not only methylphenidate but others as well. This drug class is mainly used to treat ADHD. Prescription stimulants increase energy, attention and alertness. Since these drugs affect certain neurotransmitters like dopamine, they can have euphoric effects similar to cocaine when taken in high doses. Stimulants can be abused by crushing up tablets and snorting them or dissolving the medications in a liquid so they can be injected. Commonly abused stimulants include dextroamphetamine, which is in brand-name drugs like Dexedrine, and dextroamphetamine/amphetamine combinations like Adderall.

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