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Healthy individuals might not give a second thought to their brain and spinal cord, but these organs together make up the central nervous system. The central nervous system is responsible for sending messages, via electrical signals or chemicals, throughout the entire body. CNS stimulants, or central nervous system stimulants, “excite,”or speed up and increase the transmission of these signals.
CNS stimulants enter the body and are absorbed by receptors in the brain. The stimulants then trigger the release of certain chemicals such as serotonin, norepinephrine or acetylcholine into the body via the blood. Some central nervous system stimulants act as antagonists, blocking other chemicals within the body to increase the action of others. Caffeine, for example, blocks adenosine receptors from absorbing the chemical, increasing the circulation of that chemical within the body, causing the person who ingested it to feel more awake and alert.
CNS stimulant drugs are used by doctors to treat a variety of ailments. Illnesses that cause the central nervous system to slow down, such as narcolepsy or depression, are sometimes treated using CNS stimulants. People with asthma or those who are obese are also sometimes treated using this class of drugs. Some, but not all, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medication drugs are central nervous system stimulants.
Using a central nervous system medication to treat a condition such as ADHD may appear counterintuitive — those without ADHD feel less focused, but those with ADHD report the opposite. Scientists aren't sure why CNS stimulants have this effect on ADHD sufferers. There is no cure for ADHD, but the condition can be managed with central nervous system stimulants as well as other therapeutic measures.
Side effects of CNS stimulants include but are not limited to erratic heartbeat or a quickened pulse, lack of appetite, rapid weight loss and insomnia. Central nervous system medications can also promote a feeling of irritation, restlessness and a loss of focus or concentration, as well as hyperactivity. If a patient experiences chest pain, dizziness, extreme and sudden fatigue, fever, hives, seizure or uncontrolled movements while taking drugs of this class, he seek emergency medical treatment immediately.
When used under a doctor's supervision, CNS stimulant medication can be a safe, effective way to manage certain disorders. When used improperly, CNS stimulants can become addictive. Due to the awake, alert feelings they promote, drugs that affect the central nervous system have a high potential for abuse. Therefore, it is important to speak to a doctor about the best course of treatment and any related concerns.