There are already many reasons to do Ritalin. It improves focus, mood, and motivation. It's also stronger than blow and, with health insurance, cheaper than Starbucks. But in case you haven't heard, it produces hallucinations too, free of charge. According to the Times last week:
Dr. Kate Gelperin, an F.D.A. drug-safety specialist, [said] that the agency had discovered a surprising number of cases in which young children given stimulants suffered hallucinations. Most said that they saw or felt insects, snakes or worms, Dr. Gelperin said.
Dr. Gelperin described the case of a 12-year-old girl who said that insects were crawling under her skin. Another child was found by his parents crawling on the ground and complaining that he was surrounded by cockroaches.
The specificity and commonality of the delusions are striking. One could be forgiven for blaming South Park as a common priming stimulus. In a particular episode, Cartman takes Ritalin and sees an insect-like Pink Christina Aguilera Monster crawling around. Perhaps this cartoon creation, this media meme, has burrowed into the psyches of kids across the nation.
Or not. What should be more striking is the recency of the reports of these delusions. Common stimulants (coke, meth, Ritalin, caffeine) block neurons from deactivating the neurotransmitter dopamine. An excess of synaptic dopamine can cause psychosis. Doctors have even given a name to the particular wig-out reported above: delusional parasitosis. Speed freaks have a name for it too: crank bugs. According to a 1969 article in the Journal of Psychedelic Drugs, "It is common to see speed freaks with open running sores or scabs on their faces or arms as a result of picking or cutting out these hallucinated crank bugs." Word to the wise: if you ever catch one, I hear they go great with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.
But you don't need drugs to see bugs. This article titled "Insects in Psychiatry" explains: "Insects have profoundly influenced our culture through time, and it is therefore not surprising that they feature prominently in some psychiatric disorders." The author draws the history of delusions of parasitosis in the med mags back to a pub date of 1894, years before vitamin R was invented, and even longer before Christina Aguilera infested our lives.