The discovery that stimulants are helpful for behavioral problems in children was another of the serendipitous discoveries so common in psychiatry. Dr. Charles Bradley, in the 1930’s, was medical director of a small child psychiatric hospital. For new admissions, his standard medical work-up included a lumbar puncture. Post-procedure headaches were a real problem, were assumed to be caused by loss of spinal fluid, and Bradley sought some way to stimulate the choroid plexus to produce more spinal fluid. The most potent stimulant available was benzedrine, and Bradley tried giving this medication to some of the children before their spinal taps. While this did not prevent headaches, it led to dramatic improvement in behavior and learning ability. Based on this experience, Bradley conducted and published a study of 30 children, half of whom showed great improvement on benzedrine. While Bradley’s study was published in Archives of General Psychiatry in 1937, stimulant use did not become widespread until the introduction of Ritalin in the early 1960s.
Source: Gross MD: Origin of stimulant use for treatment of attention deficit disorder (letter). Am J Psychiatry 1995; 152:298-299.