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Empty bottle for Ritalin tablets, England, 1954-1970

‘Ritalin’ is a brand name for a synthetic drug first manufactured in 1954 by Ciba. It was advertised as a stimulant for the central nervous system to treat clinical depression and narcolepsy. The drug is in tablet form. From the 1970s, Ritalin was also used to treat ‘hyperactive’ children, a condition we now describe as Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It is only available on prescription. Side effects include insomnia and nervousness. Medication is just one way to help a child with ADHD and other treatments include cognitive behaviour therapy. In the 1800s hyperactive or disruptive children (as they would have been seen) were medicated with opium.

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Glossary: bottle

Vessels having a neck and mouth considerably narrower than the body, used for packaging and containing liquid and dry preparations

Glossary: opium

A drug derived from the opium poppy. It has been used to cause sleep and provide pain relief for many centuries.

Glossary: depression

A mental state associated with acute sadness. Activity can be decreased, especially interaction with others, and sleep, appetite, and concentration can also be disturbed.

Glossary: narcolepsy

A medical disorder. Symptoms include extreme tendency to fall asleep in quiet surroundings or when engaged in repetitive activities. The patient can be woken easily and is immediately alert.

Glossary: ADHD

A behavioural disorder which begins in childhood. Symptoms include short attention span and impulsive tendencies, commonly but not always combined with hyperactivity.

Glossary: methylphenidate

generic name for Ritalin