The potential side effects of ADHD stimulant ‘medications’

ADHD drugs cure nothing. At best they temporarily alter behaviour with significant short and long term risks to developing brains and bodies

Addiction and abuse are not the only major risks associated with ADHD stimulants. Other potential adverse effects range from common and relatively mild side effects like insomnia and headaches to less common, life threatening side effects such as psychosis, strokes and suicide.

For example GlaxoSmithKline, the US manufacturers of Dexedrine (dexamphetamine) state the ‘long-term effects of amphetamines in paediatric patients have not been well established’ and list warnings for:

  • ‘sudden death at usual doses for ADHD for children and adults with pre-existing structural cardiac abnormalities or other serious heart problems’
  • ‘behaviour disturbance and thought disorder in patients with a pre-existing psychotic disorder’
  • ‘psychotic episodes, hallucinations, delusional thinking, or mania at usual doses in children and adolescents without a prior history of psychotic illness or mania’
  • ‘long-term suppression of growth’
  • ‘exacerbation of motor and phonic tics, and Tourette syndrome’
  • ‘aggressive behaviour or hostility, palpitations, tachycardia, elevation of blood pressure, over-stimulation, restlessness, dizziness, insomnia, euphoria, dyskinesia, dysphoria, tremor, headache, dryness of the mouth, unpleasant taste, diarrhoea, constipation, other gastrointestinal disturbances, anorexia, urticaria, impotence and other changes in libido.’[1]

These are neither abstract risks nor are they peculiar to dexamphetamine. The various brands of methylphenidate, Ritalin, Concerta and Attenta, all carry similar risks.[2] Some recent adverse events reported to the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) for Ritalin include: a seven-year-old boy who became ‘depressed’ and made a ‘suicide attempt’, and an eight-year-old boy who experienced ‘hallucinations of spiders crawling on skin’.[3] Until 19 March 2010 there had been 261 adverse event reports for stimulants. As reporting is voluntary there is no way of knowing what proportion of actual adverse events gets reported. A 2008 study by Curtin University pharmacologist Con Berbatis identified that only a tiny fraction (for general practitioners only 2 per cent) of adverse events are reported.[4] How many other children experienced hallucinations or attempted suicide will never be known.

Note: For further detail of long term cardiovascular and educational risks refer to World’s First Long-Term Data.

[1] GlaxoSmithKline, Prescribing Information – Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine sulphate), July 2008. Available here (accessed 28 July 2009).

[2] Consumer Medicine Information for Ritalin, Concerta and Attenta can be found at the following websites:
Ritalin, Concerta, Attenta.

[3] Adverse events information related to Strattera obtained from the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s Public Case Detail Reports.

[4] Con Berbatis, ‘Primary care and Pharmacy: 4. Large contributions to national adverse reaction reporting by pharmacists in Australia’, i2P E-Magazine, Issue 72, June 2008, p. 1.