ADHD medicine may also help patients with post-traumatic stress disorder

November 5, 2015

New research indicates a drug used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may be a significantly better treatment alternative for post-traumatic stress disorder than current therapies.

Thomas McAllister, M.D., Department of Psychiatry chair and co-lead investigator for the study. | Photo By IU School of Medicine

Scientists at the Indiana University School of Medicine, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital/Harvard Medical School and the University of California, San Diego, announced the results of human tests of the ADHD drug, as well as a second drug that is approved for Alzheimer's disease treatment, in a report published online by the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Although the clinical trial was small, involving just 32 participants, given the results it's "imperative" that additional trials with larger numbers of participants be organized to determine whether the results can be replicated, the authors said.

The study compared the results of treatment with methylphenidate, used to treat ADHD, and galantamine, approved to treat memory loss symptoms in Alzheimer's disease, with placebo in patients who had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and/or mild traumatic brain injury, and clinically significant cognitive complaints, such as memory loss and poor attention.

In the newly reported trial results, treatment with methylphenidate was associated with significant declines in post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and post-concussion symptoms. Also noted were significant improvements in tests of attention and the ability to process information quickly, the researchers said.

"Emotional and cognitive complaints following PTSD and traumatic brain injury are difficult to treat, which makes these broad-ranging improvements from methylphenidate particularly interesting," said Thomas McAllister, M.D., chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the IU School of Medicine and co-lead investigator for the study.

In patients receiving galantamine, the drug was associated with improved episodic memory -- the ability to recall details of individual events -- which is consistent with the drug's approved use for treatment of Alzheimer's patients. However, galantamine produced no significant improvement in post-traumatic stress symptoms and post concussive symptoms.

Learn more about the study in the IUSM Newsroom.