The Ultimate Ritalin UK 2021 Guide - Uses, Side Effects and Legality in the UK
Benjamin Martin - 23 March 2021
Ritalin, the lesser-known little cousin to modafinil and Adderall is a potent nootropic in its own right.
This article will look at Ritalin in the UK, both its prescribed and off-label uses. You will find out all you need to know about Ritalin, including the best alternatives to it as a smart drug.
- What is Ritalin?
- How does Ritalin work?
- Ritalin’s prescribed uses in Britain
- Ritalin’s off-label uses
- Ritalin’s side effects
- Ritalin’s legality in Britain
- How to get Ritalin in the UK
- Why are more people in the UK using Ritalin as a smart drug?
- Alternatives to Ritalin as a smart drug
What is Ritalin?
Ritalin is the brand name for Methylphenidate, a stimulant that acts on the central nervous system. Methylphenidate was first made in 1944 and was first approved for use by adults in the 1950s.
It was initially marketed as a ‘pep pill’: a stimulant stronger than caffeine, but less intense than the then-commonplace amphetamines.
Ritalin was not widely used until the 1960s, where it was approved in America as a treatment for underachieving schoolchildren.
Amidst a wave of Cold War concern about the performance of American schoolchildren, Ritalin quickly grew in popularity.
How does Ritalin work?
Ritalin works in a way similar to Adderall, which you can read about here. Ritalin functions by boosting dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain.
Dopamine is the ‘pleasure neurotransmitter’, which boosts various aspects but is most famously associated with pleasant feelings.
It can also improve central nervous system performance, among many other things.
Norepinephrine is the ‘fight or flight’ neurotransmitter. It has many of the effects you might imagine from adrenaline: improving alertness, wakefulness, and generally preparing the body for a dangerous situation.
Excess norepinephrine can have some negative symptoms, like headaches and sweating.
Ritalin works by inhibiting the dissipation of these neurotransmitters in the brain. Adderall has this effect too but also increases the release of these neurotransmitters.
This might mean Adderall has more intense effects and might be the reason Ritalin was marketed as less intense than amphetamines like Adderall. Adderall's effects tend to last longer than Ritalin by several hours.
Ritalin's prescribed uses in the UK
In the UK, Ritalin (also known as methylphenidate) is prescribed very frequently as a treatment for ADHD. Where medication was prescribed to treat ADHD, Ritalin was used in around 88.9% of all cases amongst children and 63.5% of cases in adults between 1995 and 2015.
For comparison, dexamphetamine - a primary component of Adderall - made up 2% of prescriptions for children, and 28% among adults.
Ritalin might also be used as a treatment for narcolepsy, like Adderall and Modafinil. It might be used in other fatigue-related disorders too.
Doctors might also prescribe Ritalin as a treatment for depression that’s resistant to other medications.
Ritalin's off-label uses
Ritalin works to improve wakefulness and concentration by increasing levels of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain.
The increase to wakefulness and alertness can allow people to work for longer, and the boost to dopamine might make work more pleasurable.
As a result, people such as doctors, shift workers, office workers and others use it as a smart drug.
In the UK, students use Ritalin to get a cognitive edge while working. This is particularly common around exams and deadlines, as Ritalin can be effective at helping you stay awake and work into the night. Some people also use it recreationally.
Ritalin's side effects
The vast majority of studies on Ritalin’s side effects are carried out on patients with ADHD, narcolepsy or other disorders - they have been prescribed the medication by a doctor.
This means that these studies may not be fully applicable to those who are using Ritalin without a prescription as a smart drug.
Taking that into account, the NHS says that Ritalin may commonly cause increases in heart rate, increases in blood pressure, trouble sleeping, loss of appetite (which can lead to weight loss or poor weight gain), headaches, stomach aches and mood swings.
The American FDA shares a similar view, saying that Ritalin's common side effects are decreased appetite, headache, nervousness, stomach ache, nausea and trouble sleeping. They also mention more serious side effects such as seizures, problems with vision, cardiovascular issues or circulation problems.
Ritalin may also cause psychological problems in rare cases. Using Ritalin can trigger or worsen mental issues, primarily paranoid psychosis or hypomanic or manic symptoms. This is very uncommon, but it’s not impossible.
Because Ritalin increases dopamine in the brain, it may also be addictive when used regularly. Again, this is rare according to the vast majority of studies - but, it is not entirely impossible, and has the potential to cause significant problems.
Finally, the long-term effects of Ritalin on healthy brains are not fully known. However, it may have some potential for addiction. Most studies seem to indicate a low chance of it happening, but as Ritalin boosts dopamine in the brain, it may be able to cause dependence or addiction. It affects your brain in a similar way to cocaine.
As mentioned, most studies on Ritalin are conducted on patients who have been prescribed the drug, rather than people using Ritalin as a smart drug. Thus, there is a lack of research into Ritalin’s long-term impact on neurotypical brain chemistry.
As awareness of the use of ‘smart drugs’ like Ritalin rises, it may be tested for more commonly by employers or educational institutions.
Some articles in the media have encouraged the idea of ‘smart drug’ testing, and this may be adopted if attention towards ‘smart drugs’ continues to grow.
Is Ritalin legal in the UK?
In the UK, Ritalin (methylphenidate) is categorised as a Class B drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. This means it is illegal to possess, and possession can be punished with up to 5 years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both.
Similarly, it’s illegal to supply Ritalin to people without a prescription, and this is punishable by a 14-year prison sentence or an unlimited fine.
As a result, many people who acquire Ritalin off-label purchase it online from a pharmacy that does not operate under British law. These pharmacies are unregulated and might be selling adulterated or substandard medication that could pose additional dangers alongside Ritalin’s usual side effects.
How to get Ritalin in the UK
As mentioned above, Brainzyme is not available without a prescription in the UK. This means that you can't get Ritalin over the counter here. It is not possible to legally buy Ritalin in the UK.
Because of this, many people buy Ritalin from online pharmacies. We would say it's not advisable to buy Ritalin from foreign online pharmacies because they are not regulated under the British law. This means that the products you get may not actually be Ritalin at all.
Why are more people in the UK using Ritalin as a smart drug?
In the UK, Ritalin use appears to be on the rise. There have been numerous pieces in the media recently on increased incidences of smart drug use, which could be because of numerous factors.
The first thing to consider is that it’s become more common to be prescribed Ritalin in the first place. From 2000 to 2015, the rate of being prescribed medication to treat ADHD increased by “almost 800%” in the UK. Ritalin is by far the most popular medication prescribed for ADHD here.
This makes it easier for people to access Ritalin, as friends and family members may be willing to give or sell their pills to someone who wants to use them as a smart drug.Students might also use Ritalin to ensure academic success. This is particularly relevant in the UK, as tuition fees are currently as high as £9,250 per year.
Moreover, interest rates on student loans are also increasing. As a result, many British students feel that success at university is the only way they can ever be free of debt in their lives. This, in turn, leads to them using smart drugs to try to ensure they get a return on their investment.
Another factor is the increasing competition after university. It’s becoming harder and harder for British students to find rewarding work after graduating, meaning they must excel academically to find a good job.
Use of smart drugs such as Ritalin may thus be seen as necessary, to be able to do better at university and get a better job.
People in employment are also facing increasing demands. Cuts to public services in Britain mean nurses, doctors, police officers and other important people are being stretched further day-to-day.
Some may use a smart drug like Ritalin to cope with long hours or more stressful work as a result. And, even in other jobs, many workplaces are also highly competitive.
People may feel like they need to use smart drugs to perform better, to set them apart from their colleagues and make it more likely that they will be promoted.
Alternatives to Ritalin as a smart drug
Because of the legality and side effects associated with Ritalin, many people are searching for an alternative.
We recommend looking into natural brain food supplements that also work on the neurotransmitter dopamine, improving focus and motivation. Despite having similar effects as Ritalin, they don't cause any of the side-effects and are much safer.
Brainzyme, for example, uses Tyrosine, which has been found to boost dopamine in the brain in a similar way to Ritalin. As it's from a naturally occurring protein rather than a synthetic pharmaceutical, it can arguably cause less of the side-effects associated with Ritalin.
Learn more about how Brainzyme makes a great Ritalin alternative.
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About the author
Benjamin Martin is a nootropic and brain supplement enthusiast who has tried every type of performance-boosting supplement under the sun. At Brainzyme, he uses his expertise to produce educational content for the Nootropics UK and Brain Supplements UK blogs.
Based in Edinburgh, Benjamin loves spending his free time in nature whenever he gets the chance.