How Long Does Methylphenidate Stay in Your System?

May Be used to Confirm Ritalin Abuse

Drug test for prescription drugs
JodiJacobson / Getty Images

Methylphenidate is a nervous system stimulant commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. Marketing under several brand names, the drug is best known in the U.S. as Ritalin. When used as directed, methylphenidate can provide a person greater focus for a short period of time and even help control appetite in people who are dangerously obese.

Because it is stronger than caffeine but not as strong as amphetamines, methylphenidate can be abused by those who take it recreationally (usually by snorting it or injecting it into a vein). On the street, the drug is commonly referred to as vitamin R, R-ball, pineapple, and skippy.

Students have been known to use methylphenidate to stay up late to study for exams. It is a practice that can lead to addiction, a problem which often requires treatment at a drug rehabilitation center.

Excretion of Methylphenidate From the Body

The length of time that methylphenidate is detectable in the body is dependant on several variables, including which type of drug test is being used and which formulation of the drug is being taken. There are both immediate-release and extended-release forms of methylphenidate on the market, the latter of which remains in the body longer. Both are excreted primarily in urine.

Methylphenidate has a relatively short half-life (one to four hours) and doesn't have the tendency to accumulate in cells the way that some other drugs do. However, elimination is highly variable, with some people excreting 97 percent of the drug over one to two days while others excrete as little as 78 percent over the same time frame.

The causes of these variations may include a person's metabolism, body mass index (BMI), age, health status, and kidney function. As such, it is nearly impossible to determine the exact time by which methylphenidate will no longer register a negative result on a drug screen.

The following provides an estimate of the detection window based on the various drug screening methods:

  • Urine-based screen: one to three days
  • Saliva-based screen: one to three days
  • Hair-based analysis: detectable in follicles for up to 90 days
  • Blood-based screen: not commonly used for drug screening

Other Reasons for Drug Testing

Blood-based screens are not commonly used in cases for recreational drug use because of the speed by which methylphenidate is excreted from the body. If abuse is suspected, a urine or saliva test can confirm current use (as well as estimate drug levels in the body) while a hair follicle sample can offer evidence of recent use.

Blood-based tests are mainly used to determine if a person taking the drug for medical reasons is being prescribed the proper dosage. To this end, blood will be drawn one to two hours after a dose is taken. This allows time for the blood concentration levels to peak. Based on the findings, a doctor can decide if the dosage needs adjusting to achieve the desired therapeutic effect.

Was this page helpful?
View Article Sources
  • Breindahl, T. and Hindersson, P. "Methylphenidate is Distinguished from Amphetamine in Drug-of-Abuse Testing." Journal of Analytical Toxicology. 2012; 36(7):538-9. DOI: 101093/jat/bks056.
  • Huang, Y. and Tsai, M. "Long-term outcomes with medications for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: current status of knowledge". CNS Drugs. 2102; 25(7):539–554. DOI: 10.2165/11589380-000000000-00000.