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Methylphenidate HCL, sold under various trade names, Ritalin being one of the most commonly known, is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant of the phenethylamine and piperidine classes that is used in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. The original patent was owned by CIBA, now Novartis Corporation. It was first licensed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1955 for treating what was then known as hyperactivity.
Medical use began in 1960; the drug has become increasingly prescribed since the 1990s, when the diagnosis of ADHD became more widely accepted. Between 2007 and 2012, methylphenidate prescriptions increased by 50% in the United Kingdom and in 2013 global methylphenidate consumption increased to 2.4 billion doses, a 66% increase from the year before. The United States continues to account for more than 80% of global consumption.
ADHD and other similar conditions are believed to be linked to sub-par performance of the dopamine and norepinephrine functions in the brain, primarily in the prefrontal cortex, responsible for executive function (e.g., reasoning, inhibiting behaviors, organizing, problem solving, planning, etc.). Methylphenidate’s mechanism of action involves the inhibition of catecholamine reuptake, primarily as a dopamine reuptake inhibitor. Methylphenidate acts by blocking the dopamine transporter and norepinephrine transporter, leading to increased concentrations of dopamine and norepinephrine within the synaptic cleft. This effect in turn leads to increased neurotransmission of dopamine and norepinephrine. Methylphenidate is also a weak 5HT1A receptor agonist.
Methylphenidate is a commonly prescribed psychostimulant and works by increasing the activity of the central nervous system. It produces such effects as increasing or maintaining alertness, combating fatigue, and improving attention. The short-term benefits and cost effectiveness of methylphenidate are well established. Methylphenidate is not approved for children under six years of age. Methylphenidate may also be prescribed for off-label use in treatment-resistant cases of bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder.
Meta-analyses and systematic reviews of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies suggest that long-term treatment with ADHD stimulants (specifically, amphetamine and methylphenidate) decreases abnormalities in brain structure and function found in subjects with ADHD. Moreover, reviews of clinical stimulant research have established the safety and effectiveness of the long-term use of ADHD stimulants for individuals with ADHD. In particular, the continuous treatment effectiveness and safety of both amphetamine and methylphenidate have been demonstrated in controlled drug trials with durations of several years; however, the precise magnitude of improvements in ADHD symptoms and quality of life that are produced by methylphenidate treatment remains uncertain as of November 2015.
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