Ritalin Bugs


"Stimulants like Ritalin lead a small number of children to suffer hallucinations that usually feature insects, snakes or worms," The New York Times reports, citing FDA officials. One doctor "described the case of a 12-year-old girl who said that insects were crawling under her skin. Another child was found by his parents crawling on the ground and complaining that he was surrounded by cockroaches." And just last month, an FDA advisory panel urged the agency to warn the public that prescription stimulants can have dangerous cardiovascular effects.

Both kinds of reactions are rare, and the FDA is rightly concerned about stirring up excessive alarm among doctors and patients. But it's striking that Ritalin has been on the market for half a century, and it's only now that regulators are starting to worry that it might have side effects similar to those commonly attributed to illicit stimulants. Moreover, in the case of good, "medical" stimulants, the government is careful not to overreact, while in the case of bad, "recreational" stimulants, it implies that hallucinations and heart attacks are typical outcomes. The contrast is especially puzzling when you consider that the uses to which prescribed stimulants and black market stimulants are put–such as staying awake and staying alert–are often indistinguishable.