Methylphenidate Prescription Facts

Methylphenidate is a generic prescription drug, also sold under the brand names Ritalin 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 who have ADHD, the drug helps them with focus, concentration and impulse control.

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 when they are taken in high doses. Stimulants can be abused by crushing up tablets and snorting them or dissolving the medications in a liquid so that they can be injected. Commonly abused stimulants include dextroamphetamine, which is in brand-name drugs like Dexedrine and dextroamphetamine/amphetamine combinations like Adderall.

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 block the reabsorption of certain neurotransmitters and, 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 effects can include shakiness, mood changes, confusion, hallucinations and seizures. Methylphenidate can cause circulatory problems and it can raise blood pressure, the heart rate and body temperature. Digestive system effects of methylphenidate can include stomachaches, nausea and vomiting.

Half-Life of Methylphenidate

When methylphenidate is used orally, the peak of its action is around 2 to 4 hours for the immediate-release version of the drug. With sustained-release versions, such as Ritalin SR, it usually works for anywhere from 3 to 8 hours after it’s taken and it goes up to 8 to 12 hours for extended-release versions like Concerta. The half-life of methylphenidate is anywhere from 2 to 3 hours, on average. This is considered to be a relatively short half-life and estimates of specific brand name versions of methylphenidate indicate average half-lives of 1 to 4 hours. The half-life of methylphenidate in children averages around 2.5 hours, and the range is anywhere from 1 to 5 hours.

Factors That Influence How Long Methylphenidate Stays in Your System

Certain factors can play a role in how long methylphenidate stays in your system. This is the case with any substance. Body mass and weight and important, for example. A larger, heavier person will eliminate drugs more quickly than a smaller person, in most cases. Younger, healthier individuals tend to excrete drugs more quickly than older people, people with kidney function issues, or people with underlying health issues. How fast someone’s metabolism is can also impact how long methylphenidate stays in their system, as can their level of physical activity and hydration level.

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

People often wonder if methylphenidate drugs like Ritalin would show up on a drug test. They might not show up a standard 5-panel drug screen, but methylphenidate could show up on a screening panel for amphetamines. Methylphenidate tends to be metabolized pretty quickly, so it doesn’t stay in the body for very long. A urine test might show methylphenidate use for up to one to two days after someone takes it. This window could be slightly longer if someone took an extended or sustained-release version of the drug. Ritalin wouldn’t show up in a blood test for more than 24 hours, in most cases. 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 up to 90 days.

Reach out and learn about recovery and how to make it a reality for yourself or for someone you love. Our intake specialists are available now at The Recovery Village.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.