ADHD Meds Linked to Psychotic Side Effects
Two-thirds of children with parental history of mental illness report 'funny feelings' when on the stimulants
By Alan Mozes
WEDNESDAY, Dec. 30, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Stimulant medications, such as those used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), may raise the risk for psychotic side effects among young patients who have a parent with a history of serious mental illness, new research suggests.
The study included 141 children and young adults aged 6 to 21. Nearly two-thirds of those prescribed stimulant medications had a psychotic side effect. These side effects included hallucinations, delusions, hearing voices, and/or perceptual disturbances, the researchers said.
By comparison, psychotic effects affected just over one-quarter of those who had not taken a stimulant drug, the study showed.
"These meds can be extremely helpful, including in kids with a family history of mental illness," said study lead author Dr. Rudolf Uher. He is an associate professor and Canada research chair in early intervention in the department of psychiatry at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
"So this should in no way mean that we should stop using stimulants," he added.
Uher stressed that doctors have long known that these medications can cause hallucinations and other psychotic symptoms. "[But] what is surprising is the quantity. No one suspected that these side effects could be so common," he said.
"What it means is that docs need to ask kids about unusual experiences. They do not tell you unless you ask," Uher explained. "And then, make decisions on risk-benefit balance."
The study authors said the study's design didn't allow them to prove a cause-and-effect relationship, only to find an association between stimulant medications and psychotic symptoms.
The study findings were published online Dec. 30, and in the January print issue of Pediatrics.
ADHD affects between 5 percent and 10 percent of school-aged kids in the United States. Stimulants are considered a first-line treatment for the condition, the study authors said.
For the current investigation, all of the children, and their parents, were from Nova Scotia.
Parents and children underwent psychiatrist-led mental health screenings. Interviews and pharmacy records confirmed whether stimulant medications had been prescribed for the children.