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Drug Abusers Can't Learn From Experience

If Speed, Cocaine Handcuff Brain, What About Stimulant ADHD Drugs?
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Stimulant ADHD Drugs continued...

"We've looked at Ritalin, although we haven't done the same kinds of experiments as with amphetamine and cocaine," Kolb says. "We do get changes in the brain with Ritalin. The child who is hyperactive may need changes to normalize the brain. But the other way to look at it is to say maybe it is harming these kids. We don't really have an answer to this."

Just because two drugs act a lot alike doesn't mean that both drugs have the same effect on the brain, warns Alcino Silva, PhD, a professor at the UCLA Brain Research Institute. The way the brain changes in response to experience is very, very complex. Researchers are only beginning to understand them.

"Each of these drugs affects different memory systems -- and some of these effects are very counterintuitive," Silva tells WebMD. "It is difficult to say whether the findings with amphetamines and cocaine will be the same with Ritalin. These drugs don't affect single systems. They affect a multitude of memory systems. So these effects may very well be specific to each person or each population."

It's exactly this complexity that Kolb worries about.

"Drugs that are stimulants -- and other drugs as well -- are not benign in their long-term effects," he says. "There may be interactions with learning we need to worry about.

"There is a tendency for people to think that drugs like Ritalin aren't a big deal. And if you have a kid who is tearing the house apart, you don't want to abandon this drug if it's the only thing that makes the kid's life livable. But often it's given because a parent or school has a low tolerance for disruptive behavior. Those are the situations where the ADHD drugs might be used too freely."

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