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What is Pemoline?

By Ann Olson
Updated May 17, 2024
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Pemoline was a prescription drug used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It was used primarily in the United States from 1975 to 2005, until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned its use due to safety concerns. It was sold shortly afterward under a different name, but was withdrawn due to declining sales.

As a treatment for ADHD, pemoline helped stimulate the central nervous system, preventing used dopamine from being used again by its receptors — commonly called a reuptake inhibitor. It also helped increase the release of norepinephrine and dopamine, types of neurotransmitters. Unlike other ADHD drugs, Pemoline was not addictive, and reports of dependency were rare.

This drug was commonly used to reduce the symptoms of ADHD present in children, not adults. It was not recommended for children under the age of six or for children with a history of psychosis because it can worsen such behavior. Pemoline could be used alone, but was often used with therapy and behavior modification strategies to reduce ADHD symptoms for the long term. Several studies showed this drug could help increase a person's ability to concentrate, especially in children. It also decreased restlessness, a common ADHD symptom.

This drug was available in capsule or chewable tablet form. Children under age six were usually not recommended this supplement, and often were given minuscule doses to avoid any potential side effects. Children older than six were typically recommended 37.5 milligrams to start, with the dosage increasing as the body adapted to it.

Numerous side effects were reported. According to several sources, pemoline side effects included a loss of appetite, chronic sleeplessness, drowsiness, hallucinations, abdominal discomfort, diarrhea and nausea. Though rare, this drug also caused anemia. Long term use of the drug had also been associated with slowed growth in young children.

Overdose also was possible, especially in children. Symptoms of overdose included agitation, confusion, and seizures. Other indications included a fast heartbeat, a severe headache, high fever, trembling, and twitching. Children who displayed signs of an overdose required immediate medical attention, as it could be fatal.

Pemoline was banned from commercial sale because of reports it can cause severe liver toxicity or liver failure, which can be fatal. People with a history of liver problems were advised not to take this drug. Additionally, the drug was not recommended for pregnant women or for those who were breastfeeding. It also was known to worsen the effects of some severe mental illnesses and kidney disease.

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