1960s Ritalin ad


This advertisement for Ritalin comes from a 1966 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Ritalin, or methylphenidate, is widely – and controversially – prescribed to children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The drug is an amphetamine-like stimulant which blocks reuptake of the neurotransmitters dopamine and noradrenaline (norepinephrine) in the prefrontal cortex. This seems paradoxical given that it improves concentration and reduces impulsivity in hyperactive children, and exactly why it is an effective treatment for ADHD is still unclear.

In the 1960s, ADHD had not yet been characterized, and Ritalin was prescribed instead for mild depression. The ad is of particular interest because it warns that Ritalin “should not be used to increase mental or physical capacities beyond physiological capacities”. So it seems that the non-medical use of Ritalin for cognitive enhancement has a long history.

(From a new medical anthropology blog called Somatosphere, where you can see a much larger version.)



  1. #1 MattXIV
    August 22, 2008

    Ritalin isn’t an amphetamine, although it is closely related. They’re both phenethylamines, but ampethamines have a Ralpha methyl group, whereas methylphenidate (ritalin) has a piperidine ring formed by a n-butyl chain from Ralpha to RN. It also lacks R2-5 substitutions, like amphetamine, methamphetamine, and ephedrine.

  2. #2 Mo
    August 22, 2008

    Thanks – corrected.

  3. #3 Matt McIntosh
    August 22, 2008

    It’s not actually unclear — PFC hypofunction leads to impaired executive function and working memory, whence all the major ADHD symptoms. For people with ADHD it’s not a stimulant at low/moderate doses, it just brings them up to the optimum of the Yerkes-Dodson curve.

  4. #4 Nathan
    December 6, 2008

    My name is Nathan Finch and i would like to show you my personal experience with Ritalin.

    I am 32 years old. Have been on Ritalin for 2 years now. This drug has saved my life. I have seen drastic differences between times in my life when I was taking it and when I was not. I failed out of one school and graduated top of my class in the next. Floated from job to job and then became very successful. I don’t like the way I feel when I am taking it (I’m boring — no personality) so, I time my doses to help me in the office or when I have to focus on mundane task’s at home like paying bills, taxes etc. and then go without it when I’m recreating.

    I have experienced some of these side effects-
    Initially some apatite suppression, insomnia and slight gitters. This was corrected by reducing my afternoon dose.

    I hope this information will be useful to others,
    Nathan Finch

  5. #5 Ben Hansen
    December 15, 2008

    For more old Ritalin ads, visit the “Marvelous Mental Medicine Show” at the Bonkers Institute for Nearly Genuine Research.

    In addition to Ritalin, there are many other old and not-so-old psychiatric drug ads which are quite interesting.

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