Xanax: what you need to know | British GQ – British GQ

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Xanax is a type of sedating benzodiazepine drug better known by our transatlantic American friends. And yet, since 2017, it has slowly been drip-feeding into British society through private prescriptions and dark web orders. Ten times stronger than the British preference, diazepam, Xanax comes with a warning. Yet what therapeutic purpose is it, and other benzodiazepines, actually meant to serve? And, more importantly, will taking too much leave your head numb in the freezer? Here’s what you need to know…
Xanax is a trade name for the short-acting benzodiazepine, Alprazolam.
It’s essentially a tranquilliser, serving to sedate you. It works like other drugs in the benzodiazepine class, by attaching itself to your brain’s main inhibitory gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors. The result is an increased release of this inhibiting neurotransmitter, GABA, that causes increased sedation and calming of your central nervous system. Basically, your head gets put in the freezer for a while.
As with other benzodiazepines (diazepam and lorazepam, for example, and the more commonly used in the NHS), they are mainly used clinically in the acute management of panic attacks and anxiety disorders – although there are also other peripheral roles such as managing nausea from chemotherapy and insomnia. It takes just under an hour before the effect of Xanax really starts to kick in, with the peak in blood concentration at anywhere between one and two hours after ingestion. The effects, well, they can last for up to 22 hours (the half-life of the drug – the time it takes to clear out half the drug from your body – being eleven hours). That’s a lot of freezer time.
No, it’s not. It’s big in the US but here in the NHS, diazepam (trade name: Valium) is the most widely used short-acting benzodiazepine. That’s partly because Xanax is faster acting and ten times stronger than, say, diazepam, and this can cause dangerously rapid sensations of sedation. With that said, you can still get it on private prescription (outside the NHS) and, if you wish to play drug roulette (which I’d definitely advise against), by buying it online.
Well, because we are seeing a rise in its recreational – and illegal – use in the UK, especially among young adults. It seems that since 2017 and in line with society’s rising mental health challenges, some are taking to procure and self-medicate with Xanax. This caught media attention back in early 2017 when 20 teenagers in Wiltshire were hospitalised after Xanax ingestion.
Aside from the fact that many Xanax tablets ordered online are fake, made up from who knows what, yes, actual Xanax can be harmful. After all, like any drug, there can be side effects to Xanax – and generally for any benzodiazepine for that matter. The common ones include excessive sleepiness, depression, dry mouth and memory problems. This makes sense, because if you think about it, this drug is essentially switching off your brain. The hole gets deeper too, with links to increased hallucinations, aggression or mania (you are disinhibited with more GABA activation), respiratory depression (you stop breathing) leading to death, and suicide. Naturally, taking them with alcohol will only make, well, all of the above worse.
If you’re taking Xanax, diazepam or any kind of benzodiazepine for that matter and you want to stop taking them, then you should see a doctor, preferably your GP. The main reason being that they can help you do this safely. This is very important because if you’re on them for a long time, alongside physical dependence (meaning you need more drug to get the same effect), there are physical, emotional and psychological withdrawal symptoms that can occur and which need to be managed.
Do hugs, not drugs. Not just a Clintons card gesture but more a plea. If you are in a position where you think you need a benzodiazepine drug like Xanax, then you should be seeing your doctor anyway. If it is anxiety, a topic we’ve covered before, then there is a bucketload of management options, from cognitive behaviour therapy, exercise and support groups, before you may need a drug like this. And even if you do need it, your GP can then safely prescribe, monitor and adjust the dose and frequency. The internet is a place for many things, but just remember, buying your benzodiazepines should never be one of them.
Dr Nick Knight is a GP. Follow him on Instagram @dr.nickknight
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