Use of cognitive enhancers: methylphenidate and analogs

J Carlier, R Giorgetti, M R Varì, F Pirani, G Ricci, F P Busardò

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


OBJECTIVE: In the last decades, several cognitive-enhancing drugs have been sold onto the drug market. Methylphenidate and analogs represent a sub-class of these new psychoactive substances (NPS). We aimed to review the use and misuse of methylphenidate and analogs, and the risk associated. Moreover, we exhaustively reviewed the scientific data on the most recent methylphenidate analogs (methylphenidate and ethylphenidate excluded).

MATERIALS AND METHODS: Literature search was performed on methylphenidate and analogs, using specialized search engines accessing scientific databases. Additional reports were retrieved from international agencies, institutional websites, and drug user forums.

RESULTS: Methylphenidate/Ritalin has been used for decades to treat attention deficit disorders and narcolepsy. More recently, it has been used as a cognitive enhancer and a recreational drug. Acute intoxications and fatalities involving methylphenidate were reported. Methylphenidate was scheduled as an illegal drug in many countries, but NPS circumventing the ban and mimicking the psychostimulant effects of methylphenidate started being available: ethylphenidate, 3,4-dichloromethylphenidate, 3,4-dichloroethylphenidate, 4-fluoromethylphenidate, 4-fluoroethylphenidate, methylnaphthidate, ethylnaphthidate, isopropylphenidate, propylphenidate, 4-methylmethylphenidate, and N-benzylethylphenidate have been available in the past few years. Only little data is currently available for these substances. Many intoxications involving methylphenidate analogs were reported. To date, ethylphenidate was involved in 28 fatalities, although it was reportedly directly related to the cause of death in only 7 cases; 3,4-dichloroethylphenidate was involved in 1 death.

CONCLUSIONS: The rapid expansion of methylphenidate analogs onto the drug market in the past few years makes likely the occurrence of intoxications and fatalities in the next years. Careful monitoring and systematic control of methylphenidate analogs should be undertaken to reduce the uprising threat, and education efforts should be made among high-risk populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-15
Number of pages13
JournalEuropean Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2019


  • Central Nervous System Stimulants/adverse effects
  • Drug and Narcotic Control
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs/adverse effects
  • Methylphenidate/adverse effects
  • Nootropic Agents/adverse effects
  • Prescription Drug Misuse/adverse effects


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