Primarily, Ritalin targets a specific neurotransmitter called Dopamine. Dopamine is responsible for an individual’s memory and learning capabilities, attention, pleasurable reward, behavior and cognition, and most especially for mood and sleep (1). Now, Ritalin blocks the protein responsible for transporting Dopamine and thus, acts by blocking the reuptake and re-absorption of the said neurotransmitter. Because of this, there will be an indirect increase in the levels of Dopamine within the brain. With an increased level of this neurotransmitter, there will be a significant improvement in one’s mood and cognitive abilities. It may also be of great help to deal efficiently with stress, anxiety, depression, and even signs of OCD or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. With regards to ADHD and ADD, Ritalin works by improving attention span and ability to concentrate and focus. It also plays a role in behavior control and improves organization of tasks and listening skills. This effect may be attributed to the"fine tuning"of the neurons in the brain’s prefrontal cortex. This area has been associated with executive functions, attention and memory, decision making, and impulse control. (2)(6)
In addition to an improved cognitive function, Ritalin also works by increasing the levels of Norepinephrine in the brain, the neurotransmitter also being referred to as the stress hormone. As the name implies, it is responsible for our body’s ability to respond to stress and is also involved in the"fight or flight"response. Norepinephrine increases a person’s breathing rate and heart rate thus, increasing blood circulation. And with an increase in blood flow, there will be more glucose and oxygen delivered to our working muscles as well as to our neurons in the brain (3). Norepinephrine works by improving attention switching and motivation.
With Ritalin, Narcolepsy may also be addressed. Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that affects the control of sleep and wakefulness. As a result, individuals have excessive daytime sleepiness and uncontrollable episodes of falling asleep during daytime (4). Now, Ritalin addresses this condition by increasing the individual’s awareness while reducing lethargy and fatigue. It also produces an effect equivalent to exciting or rewarding stimuli thus, helping the brain stay awake.
On the other hand, researchers have also considered the idea of Ritalin being a weight loss aid. This effect may be attributed to the mechanism that Ritalin works as a stimulant. Stimulants, in general, increase heart rate and basal metabolic rate and also act as a natural fat burning system. Moreover, through an increase in metabolic rate, Ritalin works as an appetite suppressant as well. However, it is best not to solely rely on Ritalin for its weight loss promoting effects. Proper diet and exercise should also be incorporated to achieve desired results.