Methylphenidate and Ritalin: What You Need to Know


The use and abuse of a psychostimulant with or without a prescription has increased exponentially in Australia and across the globe. Methylphenidate is a schedule 8 drug and is seen as a drug of addiction or a controlled drug. It is, therefore, illegal to use or purchase Methylphenidate without a prescription in NSW. 


Buying or possessing Methylphenidate such as Ritalin or Concerta without a prescription is a criminal offence and attracts heavy penalties and a criminal conviction. 

How are Prescription Stimulants Used?

What is Methylphenidate?

Methylphenidate is a synthetic drug. It stimulates the sympathetic and central nervous systems. Methylphenidate stimulant medications are often prescribed to treat children, adolescents, or adults diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD. 


People with ADHD have difficulty paying attention; they might be more hyperactive or impulsive than people in the same age group. The onset of ADHD symptoms is about 7 years and usually present when a child is in preschool or during the first grades of elementary school. ADHD symptoms can decrease during adolescence, but they can also persist into adulthood. 


Methylphenidate has a calming and focusing effect on people with ADHD. These stimulants target the central nervous system, and it is a psychostimulant that can help with increased productivity. The treatment of ADHD with stimulants in conjunction with psychotherapy helps to improve ADHD symptoms. If the ADHD symptoms are treated, a person’s self-esteem, thinking ability, and social and family interactions improve. 


Methylphenidate is also used to treat narcolepsy. These prescription stimulants are prescribed to patients for daily use. Methylphenidate come in tablet or capsule form and is available in varying dosages. It is sold under various brand names, such as Ritalin and Concerta. Doctors prescribe Ritalin to provide a calming effect on children, adolescents, or adults with ADHD. It helps people with ADHD to focus and complete assigned tasks.

Ritalin: How Does It Work?

People with ADHD have low dopamine levels. This makes even easy tasks difficult to execute or complete. This is especially common among children with ADHD. They have too many molecules in their brain. These molecules suck up dopamine before they can be used for motivation and cognition. Ritalin is effective for people with ADHD because it makes a task seem more interesting and motivates them to focus better. Ritalin mitigates symptoms like poor focus and concentration, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. 


Ritalin is a central nervous system stimulant. Ritalin increases the amount of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the striatum. The striatum is a region of the brain related to motivation, action, and cognition. Dopamine is used by nerve cells as a chemical messenger to communicate with each other. It works by increasing the concentration of neurotransmitters in the brain that play a role in problem-solving and behaviour. Ritalin allows dopamine to collect in the brain. Dopamine affects how we feel pleasure and reward. High levels of dopamine improve mood and a sense of well-being. It also increases motivation and performance in certain tasks.

Health Effects of Prescription Methylphenidate Stimulant Medication

Methylphenidate stimulant medication can increase:


·        Blood pressure

·        Heart rate leading to heart problems

·        Body temperature


Methylphenidate stimulant medication can also decrease appetite and sleep. It can also cause a fever, joint pain, skin rashes, panic attacks, and nausea.


Ritalin begins to have an effect within 20 minutes after ingesting the medication. The effects of Ritalin can include:


·        A significant or subtle decrease in ADHD symptoms

·        Fewer mood swings

·        Reduced anxiety

·        Better concentration

·        Improved ability to complete a task

·        Decrease in impulsive behaviours


These effects may also include some other possible side effects, and it is important to be aware of the other side effects that can occur when using this medication. The common side effects of Ritalin are:


·        Headaches

·        Weight loss

·        Loss of appetite

·        Dizziness

·        Nausea or vomiting

·        Insomnia

·        Nervousness

·        Constipation

·        Dry mouth


Continual abuse and high doses of this stimulant medication without medical supervision can lead to the following:


·        Malnutrition and its consequences

·        Feelings of paranoia and hostility

·        Cardiovascular complications such as stroke

·        Addiction

·        Withdrawal symptoms such as fatigue, depression, disturbed sleep patterns

·        Blocked small blood vessels when pills are crushed and injected


Taking Ritalin without a prescription or medical condition can produce extreme side effects. It is important to look for these signs of Ritalin abuse in people without ADHD: 


·        Increased Impulsivity

·        Increased risk-taking behaviour

·        Mood swings

·        Excessive excitability and energy

·        Insomnia or disrupted sleep cycles

·        Weight loss due to extreme loss of appetite

·        Depressed moods

·        Anxiety

·        Sedation

·        Drowsiness

·        Aggression

·        Dehydration and dilated pupils


Suppose a person takes Ritalin without having Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. The risk of dependency and addiction increases. Ritalin is not as addictive as other illegal stimulants, such as cocaine. However, both types of drugs influence the dopamine levels in the brain and, therefore, can lead to addictive behaviour. Many prescription drugs are also known to cause dependence with long-term use. The withdrawal symptoms often force users to continue using the drugs. Using Ritalin without a prescription from a doctor and medical supervision is dangerous as well as illegal. 

How long does Methylphenidate Stay in a Person’s System?

Certain factors can affect how long Methylphenidate lasts in a person’s body. The rate at which medications and other substances metabolise depends on several factors:


·        Body mass

·        Weight

·        Age

·        Metabolism

·        Liver and kidney function

·        Health status


These factors affect how quickly a drug leaves a person’s system. For example, younger and healthier people tend to expel drugs more quickly than older people, especially if a person has kidney problems or underlying health issues. Metabolism can also impact the rate at which Methylphenidate will stay in a person’s system, as well as hydration and the level of physical activity. 


It is impossible to provide an exact time for when the medication will no longer be detectable on a drug test because so many factors contribute to how long Methylphenidate stays in a person’s system. Side effects may peak around 2 to 4 hours after use for immediate-release versions of the drug when Methylphenidate is taken orally. Methylphenidate formulations are designed to work quickly and last for about 6 hours.


The side effects of sustained-release Ritalin last for about 3 to 8 hours, and extended-release versions like Concerta have effects for at least 8 to 12 hours. The half-life of a drug is the time it takes for the amount of the drug’s active ingredients to be reduced by half in the body. For example, the half-life of Methylphenidate is anywhere from 2 to 3 hours, and the half-life of Ritalin depends on how the body processes and gets rid of the drug.


Methylphenidate can stay in a person’s anywhere from 1 to 2 days, depending on the individual. There is no specific methylphenidate drug test, but it might show up on a screen panelling for amphetamines. Methylphenidate will not show up on a standard 5-panel drug screen. The period methylphenidate lasts in blood, hair, saliva, and urine varies. 


Methylphenidate can be detected in blood for up to 10 to 12 hours, depending on whether the formulation is immediate or extended-release. Methylphenidate can stay in urine for up to one to two days, depending on the person’s hydration levels and how much water they drink. Methylphenidate can be detected in saliva for up to one to two days, and it can be detected in hair for up to 90 days. 


The only way to get a substance, including Ritalin, out of a person’s system to pass a drug test is to stop taking medicine. The body will process and eliminate the drug from its system.

How to Get Ritalin in Australia

How can a person get prescribed Ritalin in Australia? A General Practitioner doctor can prescribe Ritalin to a patient in Australia. A doctor can face criminal prosecution and lose their practising certificate if they prescribe Ritalin illegally. 


Ritalin is a Schedule 8 drug in NSW, and a doctor requires authorisation from the Pharmaceutical Regulatory Unit of the NSW Ministry of Health. Most medical practitioners may require a permit before prescribing Methylphenidate. General Practitioners have to apply for a permit to prescribe Methylphenidate. 


Paediatricians and psychiatrists are not required to obtain a Special Schedule 8 treatment permit to treat a patient with a psychostimulant drug. However, the patient has to be under the age of 18 and not a drug-dependent person. If a patient is over the age of 18 years, the patient cannot be a drug-dependent person. 

Where to Buy Ritalin in Australia

A person can purchase Ritalin over the counter in Australia if they have a valid doctor’s prescription. Ritalin is also available online at any of the authorised pharmacy stores in Australia. Community pharmacies can fill a prescription for psychostimulants medication. The pharmacist who supplies psychostimulants is required by law to keep the prescription. Repeats have to be specified on the prescription and obtained from the pharmacy that holds the prescription. 

How are Prescription Stimulants Abused?

Prescription stimulants are sometimes abused. People abuse the medication and take the medication in higher quantities, in a different manner than prescribed, or use the medication without a prescription. Methylphenidate stimulant medication such as Ritalin or Concerta suppresses appetite, increases wakefulness, and increases focus and attention. People frequently abuse this medication to lose weight or to enhance their study performance. 


Adolescents or young adults abuse prescription stimulants to boost study performance and improve school grades. Unfortunately, the widespread belief that these drugs can improve a person’s study ability leads to abusing these medications. These prescription stimulants promote wakefulness, but research has found that they do not enhance a person’s learning ability when taken by people who do not have ADHD. 


These drugs are also frequently abused for recreational purposes because they produce euphoria. This type of euphoria is generally achieved by crushing the pills and snorting them or injected in water. 


Stimulants increase dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with attention, pleasure, and movement. Stimulants increase dopamine slowly and steadily. The prescribed doses will usually start low and increase gradually until a therapeutic effect is reached. 


Prescription stimulants increase brain dopamine in a rapid and intensified manner when taken in higher doses than prescribed or via other routes. This disrupts the normal communication between brain cells and produces euphoria, thus increasing the risk of addiction, similar to other drugs of abuse, such as methamphetamine. 

Law and Penalties in NSW

Schedule 1 of the Act contains a list of the prohibited drugs and plants in NSW. Methylphenidate is a type A drug of addiction and a prohibited drug according to Schedule 1 of the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985 (NSW). Schedule 1 as per the table below prescribes labels for the various amounts of the prohibited drug, Methylphenidate:


Prohibited plant or prohibited drug

Traffickable quantity

Small quantity

Indictable quantity

Commercial quantity

Large commercial quantity







Drug Supply

An offender who supplies, or participates in a drug supply of Methylphenidate is guilty of an offence as per Section 25(1) of the Drugs Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985 (NSW). If the offence involves less than the commercial quantity the maximum penalty of a $5,500 fine and/or two years imprisonment applies. Offences involving less than the commercial quantity will be dealt with in the Local Court. 


The penalties for a commercial quantity carry an applicable maximum penalty of a fine of $385,000 and/or 20 years imprisonment. If the quantity is a large commercial quantity the maximum penalty of $550,000 and/or life imprisonment applies.  Commercial quantity and large commercial quantity offences are strictly indictable offences. They are not dealt with in the Local Court and will be heard before the District Court. 

Drug Possession

According to Section 21 of the Drugs Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985 (NSW), a person in possession of Methylphenidate without a prescription will receive a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment and/or a $2,200 fine applies. A majority of the offenders who plead guilty receive a Conditional Release Order without conviction or a fine only with a conviction. 


Contact Lyons Law Group and speak with our professional drug offence lawyers in Sydney for expert advice on all legal matters. 

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