Before anything, I want to put a BIG disclaimer and a personal experience.
Xanax is nasty stuff.
I took it on and off for several years from age 21 to 30, and while it helped massively with generalized anxiety disorder, it’s a double edged sword. You get to a place where you can’t function without it, and when you don’t have it, your anxiety levels go through the roof. Stopping abruptly can lead to seizures, and I must stress how important it is to speak with your doctor before you begin to taper or stop taking xanax. Abruptly stopping can have serious consequences.
Few drugs are as addicting as xanax. The initial euphoric carefree lift spirals down into an anxiety triggering dependence. Best thing is to not start in the first place. I still remember the very first 1mg xanax pill I took, simply because of the euphoric and peaceful effect it had. But once you’re in the grips of a full blown addiction, at the mercy of a little pill, trust me, it’s not so great.
In the past few years alprazolam, better known as xanax (bars, xannies) has become hugely popular, especially among teens. That’s partly because it became really easy to get them without a prescription thanks to darkweb marketplaces like the Silk Road and Alphabay that gave rise to xanax kingpins who sell their own mass produced, 2-3mg pressed bars in bulk. Now kids all around the country think it’s cool to get “bartarded”.
When benzos were first created, nobody knew the long term effects. They were meant for short term use, a few weeks at most.
What is Xanax?
Xanax is in the class of medication known as benzodiazepines. It works by balancing the chemicals in the brain that are unbalanced in people with anxiety. The medication increases a chemical known as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This chemical is made naturally in the brain. It’s the primary “feel good” neurotransmitter.
Alprazolam was developed in the 1960s by Upjohn Laboratories and along with other benzos like valium and klonopin it has remained a fixture in the medical world since being first placed in the U.S. market in 1981. It is a preferred medication because it works immediately and it can be taken for many years without losing its effect.
Risks of Xanax
With Xanax, there is a high risk of dependency. The body becomes used to the effects of the medication and wants them to continue. A new baseline is established, and if you stop taking xanax suddenly, the results can be deadly because your body stops regulating its own GABA. Seizures are fairly common among people who quit without tapering. Even people who taper carefully can experience PAWS (post acute withdrawal symptoms) for months. Along with this comes the withdrawal symptoms of sweating, tremors, increased anxiety, vomiting, and muscle cramps if one stops taking the medication.
In addition, there are many other risks and side-effects of using Xanax. These include: confusion, dizziness, low energy, insomnia, headache, heart palpitations, nasal congestion, weakness, ringing in the ears, chest pain, sweating and slurred speech to name a few.
Another risk is that Xanax has interaction concerns with many other medications and food as well. Possible interactions can occur with grapefruit, certain antibiotics, some heart medications, some blood pressure medications, St. John’s Wort and anti-depressants. Not to mention alcohol, which can lead to utter disaster when combined.
Natural Alternatives to xanax and other benzodiazepenes
Fortunately, there are several natural alternatives that can be used to relieve anxiety without having to rely on Xanax.
This is derived from the Asian tea Camellia sinensis and two other Camellia species. In other words, tea contains l-theanine. Especially darker black teas.
Studies focusing on recordings of brain activity after consuming L-Theanine show it can have a powerful relaxing effect1. Another study reported that l-theanine “relaxes the mind without inducing drowsiness”2.
It’s worth noting that highest levels of this compound come in black tea, which also has high caffeine. If you are sensitive to caffeine you may consider taking taking an l-theanine supplement.
I’m also fond of yerba mate tea, which contains not only l-theanine but two other compounds, theobromine and theophylline, both of which work as vascodilators which help keep your blood vessel.
This is Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid. GABA is a neurotransmitter that blocks impulses between nerve cells inside the brain.
Essentially gaba works to calm you down. Low levels of GABA cause anxiety, and your body will essentially stop producing the stuff once you start taking a benzo like xanax. Thus taking GABA increases the amount present in the brain, relieving anxiety.
Ashwagandha is by far my favorite “adaptogen”. Adaptogens are described as natural substances that help your body cope with stress and anxiety, typically used in alternative medicine practice. It has many uses, one of which is to calm the brain, which is needed when trying to treat anxiety. One study discovered that ashwagandha is as effective as certain anxiety medications3.
Before you go out and buy some ashwagandha you should know about the different types. There are two specific variations worth trying, both using standardized extraction methods. I prefer the KSM-66 version, which is a standardized extract containing 5% withanolides (the active compound in ashwagandha). I think it’s better for daytime use.
There’s also a version called “sensoril” that has twice the amount of extract, at 10%, and many people report this version makes them sleepier, so if you want something extra calming to take at night, try this one out.
Several studies have found a link between 5-HTP and anxiety. Within the body 5-HTP is produced by L-tryptophan. It is also produced from the seeds of an African plant, Griffonia simplicifolia. It works to produce a calming effect in the body, thereby reducing anxiety.
In one study of young adults dealing with romantic stress, they reported improved levels of both serotonin and brain derived neurotrophic factor after three weeks4.
Another study found people who suffer from chronic anxiety attacks found relief by taking 200mg 5-HTP5.
Finally a third study found 5-HTP supplements increased GABA levels and promoted increased relaxation((https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12559480)).
This is my second favorite adaptogen. It’s also known by the common name of golden root and it has been used for centuries. This plant is grown at high altitudes of Asia and Europe. Studies have found that this plant has a adaptive effect which is linked to mood stabilization.
Rhodiola rosea actually combines very well with other supplements like 5-HTP and L-tryptophan, both of which work as serotonin precursors. One study found self reported decrease in anxiety and stress6 and while not the most scientifically rigorous it still supports the notion that rhodiola can help reduce anxiety.
While anecdotal, another user on a social anxiety reported that after trying all sorts of supplements and anti-depressants, he finally found rhodiola rosea, saying “It’s awesome. Amazing. Life-changing. I have never before felt so good in my life. Not once. Anxiety, depression, OCD traits, it’s all nearly gone. Anhedonia is gone, I get excited about regular stuff now, which is quite the opposite of how I’ve always been.”7
CBD oil is extracted from cannabis plants, but it does not contain THC, the component that getsyou high.
CBD effects the CB1 brain receptor and alters the signal related to serotonin. By increasing serotonin, one is decreasing anxiety. This was researched by the National Institute on Drug Abuse8.
This is an antioxidant amino acid supplement. NAC works by detoxifying your body, especially through the liver. As it balances out your neurotransmitter activity it reduces oxidative stress, thus reducing anxiety.