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Ritalin, Cocaine, and the Brain

Monday, 03 November 2008 16:49

Ritalin and cocaine have different effects on humans. But their effects on the brain are very similar. When given to preteen rats, both drugs cause long-term changes in behavior.

One of the changes seems good. Early exposure to Ritalin makes rats less responsive to the rewarding effects of cocaine. But that's not all good. It might mean that the drug short-circuits the brain's reward system. That would make it difficult to experience pleasure -- a "hallmark symptom of depression," Carlezon and colleagues note.

The other change seems all bad. Early exposure to Ritalin increases rats' depressive-like responses in a stress test. "These experiments suggest that preadolescent exposure to [Ritalin] in rats causes numerous complex behavioral adaptations, each of which endures into adulthood," Carlezon and colleagues conclude. "This work highlights the importance of a more thorough understanding of the enduring neurobiological effects of juvenile exposure to psychotropic drugs."