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Pop a Pill? No! There’s a Better Way

By Shlomo Maital

Aziz Kaddan

Aziz Kaddan, Amir Khalaily, Hilal Diab, Anas Abu-Mukh

   Arab culture is highly entrepreneurial.   Given the right opportunities, Arab entrepreneurs could transform the Arab world, shifting Western attention from ISIS and its vicious violence to IS (Innovation Startups).  Here is an example (thanks to Sharona, my wife, who drew my attention to this story).

     ADHD attention deficit hyperactivity disorder  is widely treated with a drug, Ritalin.  Novartis sells $350 m. worth of methylphenidate (Ritalin) each quarter.  When kids have problems in school, it’s super easy for teachers to demand that they pop a pill – even if the problems could be addressed differently, with a little effort.  In general, our pop-a-pill society plays into the hands of Big Pharma, and sometimes does immense harm to us all.  Ritalin is now used widely as a recreational drug, too.   For Big Pharma, it’s all just money.

      NASA developed a computer-based technique to improve attention, focus and learning.  Now, Aziz Kaddan, age 22, an Israeli Arab,  and three friends have launched a startup, Myndlift, that uses biofeedback to deal with ADHD.  It’s an app-based wearable solution, together with mobile games that work only through attention, and boost attention levels with only 10 minutes of play time a day.  Kaddan is the son of a neurologist, and got a computer science degree at the age of 19. 

       Friends urged Kaddan to up the price of his app (it’s only $15 for the premium version), but he and the founders believe that to keep this solution accessible, it has to be quite cheap.  (Big Pharma – don’t you just love it?). 

      Over the years, I’ve taught many students with ADHD.  Most of them avoided Ritalin, and instead developed their own personal unique ways to focus and deal with their challenges.  Sometimes, the ADHD was even a blessing, because it appears that those with ADHD happen to be very creative. 

      Next time you have a problem, and someone tells you to pop a pill,  think about it for a while.  Sometimes you really do need that pill.  Sometimes, you can manage better without it.

 Thanks to  Aziz and his friends for showing us another way, other than pill popping.  I hope their story will inspire other Israeli Arab entrepreneurs.

Ritalin  Surpasses Cocaine

By Shlomo Maital   


   Methylphenidate (brand name  Ritalin) is a psychostimulant drug approved for treatment of ADHD or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, developed by Novartis.  For some kids with ADHD it is without doubt helpful.   But the capacity of society to misuse drugs seems limitless.  Illegal Ritalin users outnumber by far those who use cocaine.  Here are some facts, published in an investigative report in the Israeli daily Haaretz:

  *  In 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimated that 5 percent of Americans in the 18-25 age bracket were using the substances illegally. According to a study whose results were published in the online community Her Company ‏(on the Huffington Post website‏), the number of illegal users is more than the percentage that use cocaine and LSD combined.

  *  The increasing use of Ritalin is a phenomenon that is occupying American universities. The extensive research being conducted about the use of the medications we know as Ritalin, Concerta or Adderall has led them to be dubbed “study drugs” or “smart drugs.” A staggering number of college kids in the US (and elsewhere) pop Ritalin before exams.

  According to the authors of the investigative study,   :

  “The present generation, particularly adolescents and children, is constantly subject to attention and concentration disorders. Accordingly, some will argue that this generation requires Ritalin as a steady diet.    In fact, this form of disorder is built into modern life. The extensive culture of screens, working on different subjects simultaneously − which is part of almost every field − the rapid shifting from Facebook to email to news sites and so on: all this requires parallel attention. The phenomenon is well known; in fact, it’s likely that while reading this article, you started to tap your foot nervously, checked your email from time to time and possibly also looked at a newly posted Facebook status.”

    So here is the dilemma.  Modern life involves serious multitasking…multiple screens, smartphones,  computer screens, conversations, all at the same time.  This creates massive stress.  To help us deal with the stress, we pop a pill,  Ritalin.  The pill is widely available, because some kids legitimately need it.  But the rest of us? 

   What about changing the underlying causes  in our lives that make   Ritalin helpful?   The fact you can pop a pill means that fewer and fewer people will bother to think about why they need it in the first place.   

Haaretz,  “Class A drug: Affluent Israeli highschoolers are taking Ritalin without doing their homework”    By Sivan Klingbail, Shay Fogelman, Naomi Darom and Shanee Shiloh.    Jul. 20, 2013

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital