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How Long Does Ritalin Stay In Your System?

Ritalin is a psychostimulant drug used medically for the treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy.  It contains the active ingredient methylphenidate, which functions as a catecholamine reuptake inhibitor, primarily of dopamine (DAT) and norepinephrine (NET) transporters.  This reuptake inhibition (NDRI) facilitates increases in extracellular dopamine and norepinephrine concentrations, thereby substantially enhancing neurophysiological arousal.

Upon ingestion of Ritalin, users may experience a variety of beneficial effects including:  cognitive enhancement, decreased hunger, energy increases, heightened metabolism, mood elevation, and increased sociability.  Though the beneficial effects of Ritalin are appealing, they are often transient and unsustainable over a long-term.  A majority of individuals using Ritalin experience rapid tolerance onset and necessitate frequent dosage titrations to maintain therapeutic efficacy.

Additionally, some Ritalin users experience adverse effects including: high anxiety, blurred vision, depression, irritability, mood swings, nausea, and vomiting.  Due to these adverse effects and other potentially deleterious long-term effects (e.g. dopaminergic downregulation) associated with Ritalin, many people have decided to stop taking it.  If you’ve fully ceased Ritalin usage, you may wonder how long the methylphenidate stays in your system before it is fully eliminated.

How long does Ritalin stay in your system? (Methylphenidate)

Assuming you’ve worked with a medical professional to fully discontinue the drug and have dealt with the multitude of Ritalin withdrawal symptoms, you may wonder whether the chemical has been cleared from your system or is still lingering.  The elimination half-life of methylphenidate has been reported as being (on average) within the range of 2 to 3 hours.  In other words, 50% of ingested methylphenidate will have been systemically cleared within 2 to 3 hours.

In accordance with the 2 to 3 hour half-life of methylphenidate, we could estimate that the drug would be fully (100%) cleared from your system within 11 to 16.5 hours.  This suggests that the active ingredient will be out of your body in less than 24 hours.  That said, there is often variation in clearance times based on the specific format of Ritalin administered.

The 2 to 3 hour half-life and clearance within ~16.5 hours solely applies to the IR (immediate-release) format of Ritalin.  The drug is also manufactured in “SR” (sustained-release) and “LA” (long-acting) formats, both of which yield a longer methylphenidate half-life of ~3.5 hours.  This would indicate that complete systemic clearance of Ritalin SR or LA in adults may take 19.25 hours; in children clearance is reduced to 14.3 hours.

Note: Various primary and secondary metabolites of Ritalin (methylphenidate) may have longer clearance periods.  Most sources suggest that Ritalin and its metabolites will be fully eliminated within 1-2 days of ingestion.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10628897
  • Source: https://www.pharma.us.novartis.com/product/pi/pdf/ritalin_la.pdf
  • Source: http://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/archives/fdaDrugInfo.cfm?archiveid=4447

Factors that influence how long Ritalin stays in your system

A variety of factors can have an impact on how long the methylphenidate (Ritalin’s active ingredient) stays in your system.  These factors include things such as: individual attributes, the specific format of Ritalin administered (IR/SR/LA), the dosage, frequency of administration, as well as whether other drugs were simultaneously ingested.

  1. Age (Children vs. Adults)

It is well-documented that the age of the individual using Ritalin will have an impact on its half-life.  Research has shown that (on average) children tend to clear methylphenidate from their systems at a quicker rate than adults.  It is also thought that elderly individuals (ages 65+) may take longer than adults to excrete Ritalin, and substantially longer than children.

  • Children: The half-life of methylphenidate in children is estimated at ~2.5 hours, but is still subject to individual variation. In most children, the half-life of Ritalin is somewhere within the range of 1.5 hours to 5 hours.  Certain children may fully clear the drug from their systems in 8.25 hours, whereas others may take 1.15 days for complete clearance.
  • Adults: The half-life of methylphenidate in adults is estimated at ~3.5 hours, but is subject to variation. In most adults, the half-life of Ritalin is between 1.3 hours and 7.7 hours.  This indicates that certain adults may excrete the drug faster than children, clearing it fully in 7.15 hours.  Other adults could take up to 1.13 days to clear methylphenidate from their systems – much longer than average.
  • Elderly: Though not much research has been conducted to test the clearance rates of Ritalin in the elderly, it is thought to be longer than adults. Elderly individuals (age 65+) tend to metabolize and excrete most drugs substantially slower than    Prolonged clearance times of methylphenidate among elderly may be due to a variety of factors including: decreased hepatic/renal blood flow, more health problems, ingestion of other medications, and poorer physiological functionality.
  1. Individual factors

Two individuals may take a 10 mg dose of Ritalin IR (immediate-release), yet one person may clear the drug from his/her system at a quicker rate.  There are a variety of individual attributes that may have influenced the metabolism and excretion rate of the 10 mg Ritalin IR.  These individual factors include things such as: body mass, dietary intake, and urinary pH.

Body height/weight/fat: A person’s body mass index may have an impact on how long it takes to excrete Ritalin.  Usually the greater a person’s height/weight relative to the dosage of Ritalin ingested, the quicker it will be eliminated.  In other words, a shorter, lightweight person taking 10 mg Ritalin may excrete it at a slower pace than a tall, heavyset individual; this is because there is less of the drug to metabolize relative to body size.  Additionally, those with increased levels of body fat may excrete Ritalin faster than those with low body fat.

Food intake: There is some evidence that taking Ritalin along with certain types of foods may impact absorption and release, specifically for Ritalin LA.  When Ritalin LA is administered with a high-fat breakfast, there is a longer delay until it is absorbed and reaches a peak concentration.  Those ingesting Ritalin with high-fat meals may experience slight differences in metabolism and excretion compared to those taking it with standard meals (non-high-fat) or on an empty stomach.

Genetics: It is unclear as to whether genetic variants have a significant impact on the metabolism and excretion of methylphenidate.  Some research suggests that CES1 genes responsible for modulation of carboxylesterase CES1A1, as well as those responsible for CYP2D6 isoenzymes – could play a role in clearance times of methylphenidate.  Individuals with genes giving rise to greater levels of carboxylesterase or induction of CYP2D6 may excrete methylphenidate quicker than average.

Liver/kidney function: The functionality of a person’s liver and/or kidneys shouldn’t have significant impact on metabolism and clearance of Ritalin from the body, but a slight (virtually negligible) effect may be observable.  Though methylphenidate is metabolized primarily via non-microsomal hydrolytic esterases throughout the body, liver enzymes (e.g. CYP2D6) may still be important for a small percentage of its metabolism.  Though a person with liver/kidney abnormalities may clear Ritalin at a normative rate, the clearance time may be slightly longer than it would among those with normative liver/kidney function.

Metabolic rate: Ritalin is known to enhance a person’s basal metabolic rate (BMR).  Obese people taking the drug often lose significant weight, while already-skinny people taking the drug may struggle to maintain their current weight.  In any regard, a person’s pre-Ritalin (baseline) BMR may slightly affect drug excretion/half-life.  Those with faster baseline BMRs are thought to excrete drugs from their systems faster than individuals with slower baseline BMRs.

Other drugs: Using medications and/or substances that interfere with carboxylesterase CES1A1 (and to a lesser extent CYP2D6) could prolong clearance rates of methylphenidate.  On the other hand, substances that “induce” activity of carboxylesterase CES1A1 should theoretically expedite clearance of methylphenidate from a person’s system. Substances either inhibiting or inducing CYP2D6 may have a minor (nearly undetectable effect) on methylphenidate clearance.

Urinary pH: It is known that acidification of urine expedites clearance of various drugs, whereas alkalinization prolongs the excretion process.  If you have a urinary pH of high alkalinity, it may facilitate reabsorption and could theoretically slow the time it takes for your body to clear Ritalin (and metabolites).  On the other hand, if you have a urinary pH of high acidity, the rate at which you clear Ritalin from your system may be expedited.

  • Source: https://www.pharma.us.novartis.com/product/pi/pdf/ritalin_la.pdf
  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23526481
  • Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6866592
  1. Ritalin Format

There are several different formats of “Ritalin” (brand name) that people can take.  These include standard Ritalin (immediate-release), a sustained-release version (Ritalin SR), and a long-acting format (Ritalin LA).  Some sources suggest that the half-life of the immediate-release Ritalin differs from the “SR” (sustained-release) and “LA” (long-acting) formats by 30 to 36 minutes.

Immediate-release (IR): This is the standard form of Ritalin that is rapidly delivered and takes quick effect.  The psychostimulant effect of Ritalin IR is thought to last up to 4 hours.  Some sources suggest that the half-life of Ritalin IR may be slightly less than that of SR or LA formats by nearly 30 minutes.  If this information is accurate, the methylphenidate in IR forms may be fully eliminated from the body in less than 1.33 days.

It is also necessary to understand that taking one immediate-release Ritalin allows your body to fully metabolize the drug earlier in the day than taking SR or LA versions (which deliver methylphenidate for up to 8 hours).  As a result of the shorter delivery period, your body will be excreting the drug at a faster pace than Ritalin SR/LA users.

Sustained-release (SR): Ritalin SR differs from Ritalin IR in that it steadily releases methylphenidate for 8-hours worth of therapeutic benefit.  It differs from Ritalin LA in that it is not released in “bi-modal” peaks, rather it maintains the same degree of effect the entire dose.  Research suggests that the average half-life of Ritalin SR is approximately ~3.5 hours (in adults), making it similar to Ritalin LA.

Some sources suggest that Ritalin SR may have a longer half-life than Ritalin IR (by 30 to 36 minutes).  In addition to the extended half-life, the longer “sustained” delivery period of methylphenidate metabolism will not start until 4 hours later than a single dose of Ritalin IR.

Long-acting (LA): Ritalin LA is essentially a form of methylphenidate engineered to provide therapeutic efficacy over an extended period of time, hence the name “long acting.”  The drug is considered to have a bi-modal mechanism of action with methylphenidate levels reaching a peak on two separate occasions (4 hours apart).

The first peak concentration of methylphenidate is attained within 1 to 3 hours of ingestion, with the second peak occurring approximately 4 hours later for a total duration of effect of up to 8 hours.  The half-life of Ritalin LA is ~3.5 hours (in adults) which is similar to Ritalin SR, but longer than standard Ritalin IR.

  • Source: http://www.drugs.com/ppa/methylphenidate-hydrochloride.html
  • Source: https://www.pharma.us.novartis.com/product/pi/pdf/ritalin_ritalin-sr.pdf
  1. Dosage / Frequency

Though the methylphenidate ingested from Ritalin doesn’t accumulate throughout the body when administered consecutively, it is thought that the dosage and/or frequency of administration may still influence clearance rates.  In general, it is thought that higher doses may slightly prolong clearance times, whereas lower doses are cleared more efficiently.  Furthermore, the less frequent Ritalin is administered, the faster it may be excreted

Dosage: A person taking a higher dose of Ritalin (especially relative to their body size) should theoretically take longer to metabolize and excrete the drug than someone taking a lower dose.  Higher dosages may also produce various physiological changes that have slight effects on metabolism and excretion – compared to lower ones.  An individual may excrete 40 mg of methylphenidate slightly slower than just 5 mg.

Frequency: How often a person takes Ritalin can influence clearance as well.  A person taking Ritalin IR three times per day will have the drug in their system for up to 12 hours.  This means that the final dose will be metabolized later in the day, and thus excreted later than if that same person only took 1 or 2 doses.

Greater frequency of administration also tends to promote rapid onset of tolerance, resulting in dosage increases.  A highly frequent user may end up taking extremely high doses of methylphenidate and will end up with peak levels of methylphenidate circulating throughout the body compared to infrequent users.  Keep in mind that frequency of ingestion mostly applies to Ritalin IR because the “SR” and “LA” formats are generally ingested just once per day.

How Ritalin is Absorbed, Metabolized, and Excreted (Details)

Following ingestion of Ritalin, the active ingredient methylphenidate is efficiently absorbed by the gastrointestinal (GI) tract with a bioavailability within the range of 10.5% to 52.5%.  Plasma concentrations of methylphenidate are thought to peak after approximately 2 hours.  Absorption of other Ritalin formulations (“SR” and “LA”) are thought to differ slightly from the “IR” version.

Ritalin SR (sustained-release) is absorbed at a slower pace than Ritalin IR and LA.  Ritalin LA (long-acting) is absorbed quickly like Ritalin IR, and is fairly similar to ingesting multiple Ritalin IR tablets (back-to-back) with 4 hours between each ingestion.  Though absorption speed is affected slightly by food (high fat meals may slow it), all Ritalin formats are absorbed to the same extent as the others.

Though the dextrorotatory enantiomer (d-methylphenidate) has over 4-fold the bioavailability of the levorotatory enantiomer (l-methylphenidate), the overall bioavailability of orally ingested methylphenidate is considered poor.  This indicates that following ingestion of methylphenidate, it undergoes extensive first-pass metabolism.  The first-pass effect is considered stereoselective in that l-methylphenidate is cleared quicker than d-methylphenidate.

Metabolism of methylphenidate stereoisomers (d-methylphenidate / l-methylphenidate) is facilitated primarily by the carboxylesterase isoenzyme CES1A1 (located in gastrointestinal and liver tissue).  CES1A1 metabolizes l-methylphenidate approximately 3.7-fold faster than d-methylphenidate.  Via the CES1A1 enzyme, de-esterification converts methylphenidate to the metabolite “ritalinic acid” (alpha-phenyl-2-piperidine acetic acid).

Ritalinic acid is then circulated throughout the body, but is pharmacologically inactive.  After ingestion, it takes between 48 and 96 hours to excrete 78% to 97% of the dosage in urine.  Research has shown that following oral administration, approximately 50% of the dose is excreted in urinary metabolites within 6 hours post-ingestion.  This percentage of urinary metabolites increases to 80% after 24 hours, and 95% after 90 hours.

The remainder of the dose (1% to 3%) will be excreted via feces.  Less than 1% of Ritalin (~0.8%) will be excreted as unchanged methylphenidate, whereas a majority (60% to 86%) of the dose will be excreted as the “ritalinic acid” metabolite. Minor secondary metabolites will account for a remainder of the excreted dose.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15082749
  • Source: https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/methylphenidate
  • Source: https://www.pharma.us.novartis.com/product/pi/pdf/ritalin_ritalin-sr.pdf
  • Source: http://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/db00422

Ritalin Drug Tests: Urine, Blood, Hair, Saliva (Methylphenidate)

There are many types of tests that could be utilized to detect ingestion of Ritalin (methylphenidate).  Though methylphenidate is considered a “Schedule II” controlled-substance in the United States, it is not commonly tested for on standardized drug tests such as the SAMHSA-5.  That said, it could be detected via drug tests that analyze urine, blood, hair, and/or saliva.

Urine tests: The most common way to determine whether someone has ingested methylphenidate (Ritalin) is via administration of a urine test.  This involves collecting a fresh urine sample from a prospective Ritalin user, and analyzing it for the presence of metabolite “ritalinic acid” excreted in the urine as “6-oxoritalinic acid.”  It is thought that the half-life of ritalinic acid is approximately 3 to 5 hours, meaning it could be detected for over 24 hours in some users.

Most individuals will have excreted over 50% of methylphenidate metabolites in urine within 6 hours of ingestion.  Urinary testing is most effective for detecting Ritalin usage within 24 hours, but may be effective (in select individuals) for over 48 hours.  There is no significant evidence to suggest that methylphenidate would remain detectable on a urinalysis for more than 2 days post-ingestion.

Saliva tests: A saliva test typically involves collecting an oral fluid (saliva) sample from a prospective drug user.  This saliva is then analyzed in a laboratory (or via a device) to determine whether drugs have been ingested.  Studies have shown that methylphenidate (Ritalin’s active ingredient) can be detected via a salivary sample, especially when analyzed with liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry.

Methylphenidate is unlikely to remain detectable in a user’s saliva for longer than 24 hours.  This is because over half of the drug is excreted via urine within 6 hours of ingestion.  Saliva tests to detect methylphenidate are advantageous in that they are non-invasive and can be used to accurately estimate blood levels of methylphenidate.  That said, they are usually reserved for scientific research.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23454305

Hair tests: A hair sample can reveal whether an individual ingested Ritalin (methylphenidate) over a longer duration than that of a urine, blood, or saliva sample.  Unlike a urine test that only detects metabolite “ritalinic acid” for a period of 1 to 2 days, a hair test can detect methylphenidate for a longer duration.  Though methylphenidate will not be detectable in a user’s hair as quickly as it would in his/her urine, it may appear in the hair within 1 week of ingestion.

A sample of hair follicles (at least 3 cm) can detect methylphenidate usage for up to 1 month (possibly longer) post-ingestion via GC/MS (gas chromatography/mass spectrometry).  The higher the dosage taken (on a daily basis), the greater the concentration of methylphenidate within a person’s hair.  Though not commonly employed, hair testing is regarded as highly convenient in that it is non-invasive.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18093418
  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17980530

Blood tests: Blood tests are seldom utilized to determine whether an individual had ingested Ritalin due to the fact that they are highly-invasive and only offer a short detection window.  Though Ritalin could be detected shortly after ingested in a person’s bloodstream, it would not remain detectable for long.  It is thought that a blood sample collected 24 hours post-Ritalin ingestion would be unable to detect presence of the drug in most users.

Since blood levels of Ritalin peak approximately 2 hours after ingestion – this would be the optimal time to take a blood sample.  Blood tests for methylphenidate are typically reserved for scientific studies and/or hospitalized patients.

Who may get tested for Ritalin (Methylphenidate)?

Due to the fact that methylphenidate isn’t considered an “amphetamine,” it isn’t tested for on standard drug tests (e.g. SAMHSA-5).  Additionally, it is seldom tested for even on more advanced, extensive drug screenings.  That said, certain individuals such as: high-level athletes, criminals, rehab patients, and/or students could be tested for methylphenidate.

  • Athletes: High-level Olympic, professional, and collegiate athletes could be tested for the presence of Ritalin.  It is known that methylphenidate can improve both physical and mental performance, thereby giving an athlete an advantage over a competitor.  Many athletes continue to use Ritalin (and psychostimulants) in attempt to get an edge on the competition, but should they get caught (via drug testing), they may face harsh penalization.
  • Criminals: In some cases a law enforcement agent may suspect that a criminal ingested a psychostimulant drug.  Should the criminal test negative for the presence of amphetamines, he/she may be tested for methylphenidate (Ritalin).  If the criminal tests positive for Ritalin, they may be penalized with additional (jail/prison) sentencing.
  • Drug rehab patients: Those in rehab (especially for addiction to stimulants) may be frequently tested for amphetamines and methylphenidate.  Though amphetamine testing is most common, many addicts will do anything they can to get their hands on any stimulatory substance (including Ritalin).  Should an addict in rehab test positive for Ritalin, they may require a longer stay and additional coaching at the rehabilitation clinic.
  • Students: There is increased drug-testing among students to determine whether they’ve ingested illicit substances and/or are “doping” in attempt to attain better grades.  Though extremely uncommon, it is theoretically possible that some schools require mandatory testing for psychostimulants, including methylphenidate.  Should a student test positive for methylphenidate – he/she will be subject to penalization by the school system.

Tips to clear Ritalin from your system

Though Ritalin has a short half-life and is likely to be fully cleared from your system within 24 hours, you may be able to expedite the process with some tricks.  Understand that prior to implementing any of these tips, you should always consult a medical professional.  Also, realize that these tips are unlikely to be beneficial for everyone.

  1. Stop taking it: The most straightforward and obvious way to eliminate Ritalin from your body is to cease using it. Each time you ingest another dose of the drug, you need to metabolize it and should take between 1 and 2 days to fully excrete it. The sooner you fully discontinue the drug, the quicker you’ll clear it from your system.
  2. Urinary acidification: There is subtle evidence suggesting that acidification of urine may expedite clearance of Ritalin and the metabolite Ritalinic Acid. It is understood that an acidic urinary pH prevents drug reabsorption and amplifies clearance rates – especially if the user’s urine was alkaline. Those with highly alkaline urine stand to benefit most from urinary acidification in regards to Ritalin clearance.
  3. Hydration: Maintaining adequate hydration is important because a majority of Ritalin’s metabolites are excreted via the urine. Hydration ensures sufficient urinary flow to clear the “ritalinic acid” at an efficient rate. While it is never smart to over-hydrate, dehydration could prolong urinary excretion of Ritalin.
  4. CES1A1 enhancers: Any substances that activate and/or enhance CES1A1 may also expedite clearance of methylphenidate. It is CES1A1 that is chiefly responsible for metabolizing the drug. Some speculate that CYP2D6 inducers could have a small (virtually negligible) effect on methylphenidate excretion as well.

Have you been drug tested for Ritalin?

If you’ve taken Ritalin and were subject to drug testing, share your experience in the comments section below.  Discuss the type of Ritalin you took (IR/SR/LA), your dosage, and the time between your last ingestion and drug test.  Mention whether you passed (i.e. tested negative) or failed (i.e. tested positive) on the drug test – and note the type of drug test you experienced (e.g. urine testing).

Do you believe there are any tips that may be useful for expediting the excretion of Ritalin?  Share any specific tips that you believe may have helped you clear the methylphenidate from your system at a fast rate.  Realize that on average, you should clear Ritalin from your system in approximately 1 day.

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