If you suffer from any sort of neurological condition, you know how it can impact your life.
Whether it’s seizures, restless leg syndrome, or peripheral neuropathy, you just want it to stop…
Or, at the very least, manage it in such a way that makes life a little easier.
Well, that’s exactly what Gabapentin is supposed to do, but does it?
In this article we’ll discuss everything you need to know about this relatively recent, unique drug, including:
- What It Is
- How It (Probably) Works
- The Gabapentin High
- Side Effects
- It’s Addictive Potential
As well as a ton of other important information you should take the time to understand fully before even thinking about using or experimenting with it.
The truth is that every useful drug has pros and cons that need to be weighed before deciding whether that particular drug is for you, and this one is no exception.
So, if you’re ready to learn everything you need to know about Gabapentin, let’s start from the top…
What Is Gabapentin?
Gabapentin is a non-narcotic medication developed by Parke-Davis–a subsidiary of Pfizer–and introduced in the early 1990’s.
Sold under the brand name Neurontin, it was originally intended for treating symptoms of:
- Restless Leg Syndrome
But, like many pharmaceutical drugs, it has been prescribed for off-label purposes.
In fact, Parke-Davis was sued for urging physicians to prescribe Gabapentin for off-label uses, beyond what the FDA had approved it for.
Since the expiration of the original patents, Gabapentin is now available as a generic medication, sold by many pharmaceutical companies and it’s use has sky-rocketed in recent years.
How Does Gabapentin Work?
The mechanism by which Gabapentin works is not fully understood.
It may seem odd for a drug to receive FDA approval without understanding how exactly it works, but it’s actually nothing new.
Tons of medications are approved simply because they work and the safety data is encouraging enough.
That said, the chemistry is fairly simple.
Gabapentin was originally developed as a form of GABA that would easily cross the blood brain barrier.
GABA is the chief inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. It’s job is simple.
To stop other neurotransmitters (like Dopamine, Noradrenaline, and Glutamate) from firing as rapidly. In other words, it slows down brain function.
The problem with GABA–which is available as a dietary supplement by the way–is that it isn’t particularly bioavailable.
It has trouble crossing the blood brain barrier upon oral ingestion, meaning you either need A LOT to achieve any sort of GABA-related action, or it just doesn’t do anything.
Gabapentin is simply GABA with a cyclohexyl group attached, with some other slight differences in structure as well.
A highly bioavailable form of GABA that is capable of crossing the blood-brain-barrier and increasing GABA activity in the brain.
At least, that’s the working theory.
The truth is, we really don’t know EXACTLY how Gabapentin works…
Just that it does.
So, although we don’t know exactly how it works, we do know that it does the trick as far as treating certain types of neurological conditions.
Further research will hopefully elucidate.
Depending on the brand, Gabapentin can be found in variety of different doses.
Generally speaking, you’ll find it in capsules containing 300mg and most dosage recommendations are intervals of 300 such as:
The optimal dosage is a function of age, weight, gender, and the condition it’s being used to treat.
In other words…
There is no “clinically effective dose” for Gabapentin, but as with any new drug, it’s always a good idea to start at the low end before determining (with your physician) whether or not to increase the dose.
Gabapentin Side Effects And Safety
The typical Gabapentin side effects include:
- Dry mouth
- Sexual Dysfunction
- Muscle weakness
- Lack of coordination
In 2008, the FDA raised concerns over Gabapentin potentially increasing the likelihood of suicide. In 2010, a study confirmed these concerns, finding that anticonvulsant played a role 26 suicides and 801 attempted suicides.
The authors of this study concluded that drugs like Gabapentin do appear to increase the likelihood of suicide or suicidal behavior.
Now, it’s important to understand that this doesn’t mean you’ll take Gabapentin and then kill yourself. We’re talking about a very small percentage (a mere fraction of 1%) of total users.
Still, it’s worth understanding the risks–even the rarer ones–especially if you have any kind of history (or family history) of suicidal thoughts/behavior.
Does Gabapentin Get You High?
The Gabapentin high is similar to that of other drugs that increase GABA activity in the brain. This includes benzodiazepines, alcohol, and barbiturates.
We’re not talking about a high like opiates, hallucinogens, or amphetamines.
We’re talking about things like:
- less social anxiety
- lack of inhibitions
- mild euphoria
- drowsiness/sluggishness (if that’s what you’re into)
So, does Gabapentin get you high? Sort of…
The high isn’t like other highs that you may have experienced. It’s really not meant to get you high, despite being used in pain management and sleep-disorders.
If anything, the high is similar to that of muscle-relaxants like Cyclobenzaprine. It’s not exactly a “party drug”, that’s for sure.
Still, recreational use has exploded in recent years, so there must be something to it, right?
Is Gabapentin Addictive?
Although Gabapentin isn’t considered nearly as addictive other substances, research shows that it can be addictive.
As is the case with pretty much any drug that increases GABA activity in the brain, suddenly discontinuing use can lead to withdrawal symptoms which typically set in between 12 hours and 7 days after stopping.
How quickly withdrawal occurs and how severe it is depends on 2 things:
In other words:
The more Gabapentin you take, and the more frequently you take it, the worse the addiction and subsequent withdrawal.
It’s strongly recommended that you taper off slowly with lower and lower doses, rather than stopping suddenly.
If you’re taking Gabapentin on a regular basis and then suddenly stop, you’re asking for some pretty nasty withdrawals.
As with any drug that can potentially be addictive, personal and family history of drug abuse should be taken into account before any (good) physician prescribes Gabapentin.
Is Gabapentin A Narcotic?
The term narcotic is defined as:
“a drug or other substance affecting mood or behavior and sold for non-medical purposes, especially an illegal one”
The originally meaning for the term came from the Greek word for “to make numb”, and applied mostly to opiates.
Although it originally applied to substances that induced sleep such as:
But the definition has been expanded by law enforcement agencies to include drugs like Cocaine, which is somewhat controversial since Cocaine does quite the opposite of what a “narcotic” is supposed to do (dull pain, induce drowsiness).
Interestingly enough, Gabapentin is NOT considered a narcotic even though it basically fits the definition of:
- dulling pain
- inducing drowsiness
But that’s our legal system for you!
The important takeaway here–and the real reason Gabapentin is not considered a narcotic–is because it’s not chemically related to Opiods.
So, although it’s still potentially addictive in some respect, it’s non-narcotic classification makes it an attractive alternative for people experiencing certain types of pain and/or sleep-disorders.
In the US, Gabapentin is not a federally controlled substance, but does require a prescription.
This means it’s not illegal to buy, sell, or possess, but not with the intent of human consumption.
Yes, this is a bit of a legal gray area, but that’s what happens when you have a federal government that’s slow to act until something becomes an actual epidemic.
While recreational use of Gabapentin is definitely on the rise, it hasn’t reach the level where federal agencies feel it deserves much attention.
They’re much too busy dealing with the Opiod epidemic to bother scheduling a non-opiod pain-reliever. In fact, it makes sense that the FDA would be more lenient with these types of drugs…
Due to the massive opiod epidemic, non-opiod alternatives are top priority.
Perhaps that’s how Gabapentin slipped passed the FDA so easily, even though:
- It’s addictive
- How it works isn’t entirely understood
Typically, a drug like this would at least be schedule IV because, although it has legitimate medical uses, it still has abuse potential…
The Bottom Line On Gabapentin
Gabapentin can potentially be a useful medication if you have
- restless leg syndrome
Or any kind of condition that is in part mediated by the the neurotransmitter GABA.
If you’re just trying to get high, however, you may be disappointed…
Of course, like any drug that impacts GABA function, the potential for abuse is there and caution should be exercised just like any other pain management drug.
Just because it’s non-narcotic doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous, especially when combined with other drugs.