Gabapentin for Anxiety: How can it Help?
There are a variety of different prescription medications that people suffering from anxiety utilize to help them cope. Benzodiazepines, like Valium and Xanax are by far the most commonly prescribed by doctors.
However, Gabapentin has seemed to recently increase in popularity when it comes to anxiety treatment. How can it help? Are there side effects? That information is important to have before making a decision on whether Gabapentin is the right choice for you.
What is Gabapentin
Gabapentin is the generic name for a popular anti-convulsant (meaning it helps to prevent seizure activity). It is also commonly used to treat nerve pain, especially the type that is associated with shingles and restless leg syndrome.
It may also be known by its brand names: Fanatrex, Gaborone, Gralise, and Neurontin. It was first approved by the FDA in 1993, and comes in a variety of different forms, including oral capsules and tablets (both immediate and extended release), as well as an oral solution.
On a chemical level, gabapentin is known as a synthetic analogue (basically, an artificial version) of gamma-Aminobutryic acid, better known as GABA.
How Does Gabapentin Affect The Brain?
Gabapentin works by affecting both the nerves and the chemicals in the body that are associated with both pain and seizure activity.
However, even after much research, experts still aren’t sure of exactly how gabapentin does that. The research that is out there does show that the drug binds very strongly to a very specific area called the alpha2-delta site. This site is located inside the cell, on the voltage-gated calcium channels. It’s that binding action that researchers believe leads to its anti-seizure properties and ability to reduce nerve pain.
Once they bind, they work together to help calm down any nerves that seem to be overly excited. It stops nerves from being able to receive messages that further trigger anxiety and the fight or flight response, essentially dulling the nerves and receptors and mutes the effects.
How Does That Translate To Treating Anxiety?
It’s important to start with acknowledging that gabapentin has not been officially approved for any type of mental health or psychiatric treatment. Using it to treat those conditions is what’s known as “off label” use.
For those that believe that it works to help treat anxiety, though, the method of action is thought to be similar to how it works for its approved uses. Because of the way that it binds with those alpha2-delta sites, it actively reduces abnormal excitatory activity in the brain. That activity may also be the same as the type that triggers the fight or flight response, and is why gabapentin is so similar to the neurotransmitter, GABA.
However, while gabapentin may show a lot of potential for helping with anxiety, it isn’t normally recommended for treating anxiety alone. Instead, it is used far more frequently to help people suffering with other mental health conditions, like bipolar disorder and depression, reduce their anxiety while undergoing other treatments. That’s where there are very few studies on the usage of gabapentin simply for anxiety -- it just doesn’t happen much. The concern is, it may not actually be effective for just anxiety. There may need to be another condition (called comorbidities) for it to work effectively.
When it comes to using gabapentin for any mental health condition, you’ll be relying on anecdotal evidence more than real research studies.
Does Gabapentin Have Any Side Effects?
Just like every prescription medication, gabapentin may come with a few different side effects. Most of them are more likely to occur in the first few weeks after starting the medication and will disappear as your body adjusts to the treatment.
Common side effects:
- Double vision
- Nystagmus (involuntary eye movements)
Less common side effects:
- Chest pain
- Abnormal bowel movements (black/tarry)
- Sore throat or swollen glands
- Painful/difficult urination
- Memory loss
- Depression, irritability, or similar mood changes
- Pain or swelling in the arms and/or legs
- Shortness of breath
Unfortunately, there are also side effects that are common specifically for people who have mental illness:
- A change in libido (either increased or decreased)
In addition, unlike many natural products that can help with anxiety, gabapentin does have the possibility of causing a toxic reaction or even potential overdose. While that does need to be a fairly high dose, it is a concern (especially for those with small children in the home).
Are There Natural Options to Help with Calmness and Overwhelm?
If those side effects are a concern or if you’re just more interested in pursuing help with your anxiety from a more natural approach, the great news is that there are plenty of naturally-derived mental wellness options.
One of the most effective options is GABA. GABA is a neurotransmitter, but to call GABA just a neurotransmitter really minimizes its importance in the body. It does such an important job of transmitting messages between nerves that gabapentin was designed to mimic its effects (which is why gabapentin is known as GABA’s synthetic analog).
GABA is also considered an “inhibitory” neurotransmitter. That means that it actively works to calm the mind and body when it is in the presence of excessive stimulus.* Those with low GABA levels tend to also exhibit the worst cases of anxiety. There just isn’t enough GABA in the system to tell the body to relax, so it continues to spiral out of control.
GABA works even better when it is taken in tandem with an amino acid known as L-Theanine.* Our bodies can’t naturally produce this amino acid, so we have to get it through wellness supplements or consuming foods rich in it like green tea.
When we have L-Theanine in our bodies, it helps the brain to further produce GABA.* It’s a match made in heaven, which is why you’ll find the two ingredients in our own mental wellness supplements. The combination is also said to help increase both the quality and the duration of sleep, which is another critical factor in emotional health and calmness.*
One additional natural mood supplement is Rhodiola Rosea, which is an adaptogen that not only helps increase energy without stimulants, but also works to help calm and soothe your mind even during times of stress.* It can also protect the nerves during these times, essentially working as a neuroprotective supplement.*
What Else Should I Be Doing To Decrease My Anxiety?
In addition to using either prescription medication or natural supplements to help manage your wellness on a chemical level, there are other things that anyone can do to help with their stress and anxiety levels.
Exercise is one of the best recommendations out there. Not only does it give you something else to focus on while you’re in the middle of an anxiety attack, it is also helpful on a chemical level.
Exercise, especially vigorous exercise, releases chemicals known as endorphins into the system. Endorphins are commonly referred to as being the “feel good” chemicals. They increase your sense of well-being, creating a natural sense of wellness that can help not only with anxiety but also with pain, stress, and the immune system.
Instead of sitting and thinking about everything that seems like it’s going wrong, go for a run or even a brisk walk to help clear your mind.
A balanced, whole foods-rich diet is another excellent way to help reduce the symptoms of anxiety. When you follow a healthy, well-balanced diet that focuses on vitamins and minerals that help support the body and fight stress, it may be possible to change the way your body reacts to stress and anxiousness.
This includes incorporating items like tea (for L-Theanine), cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and kale (for GABA and vitamin B), and bananas (a “super” fruit with beta-blocker potential). Plus, you’ll just feel better overall. When you eat healthier, your body works better, which calms the mind and helps with your emotional wellness.
Gabapentin has been seen by some as an off-label medication with some potential to help reduce anxiety. However, because it has not been studied and evidence is all anecdotal, it is generally not recommended.
Trying to focus on supplementing with natural products, changing your diet, and exercising more has much more research behind how it can help with anxiety, stress, and feelings of being overwhelmed, with far fewer side effects.
So take your daily mood chew, buy those extra leafy greens at the market this week, and add a little walk to your daily routine -- your mind will thank you.
*FDA Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.