Gabapentin is a prescription drug that’s garnering a lot of attention right now because of its abuse potential. Gabapentin isn’t a new drug, but it’s increasingly being seen in drug overdoses involving opioids. So what is gabapentin, what is gabapentin used for and do people use gabapentin to get high?
What is Gabapentin?
What's In This Article?
First and foremost, what is gabapentin?
Gabapentin is a prescription anticonvulsant drug primarily used for the prevention and control of epileptic seizures.
Gabapentin is also a treatment for nerve pain related to shingles in adults. This antiseizure drug is available under the brand name Neurontin, as well as Gralise.
There are quite a few off-label uses for gabapentin as well including for the treatment of different types of nerve pain, fibromyalgia, and restless leg syndrome.
Gabapentin was first approved in 1993, and a generic version of the drug has been available in the U.S. since 2004.
There is currently research looking at the potential to use gabapentin to treat mental health disorders like anxiety and depression too.
How Does Gabapentin Work?
People often wonder how does gabapentin work. Gabapentin is believed to work by affecting the brain and central nervous system.
When gabapentin is used as a treatment for seizures, it is thought to reduce nerve impulse firing that leads to those seizures. Gabapentin likely stabilizes electrical activity occurring in the brain and also impacts how nerves send messages from the body to the brain.
Specific details of how gabapentin works include:
- Gabapentin may affect electrical signals that build up in the nerve cells, and it affects brain neurotransmitter activity. Neurotransmitters are naturally occurring body chemicals that are integral in the sending of messages between nerves.
- GABA is a natural neurotransmitter that calms nerve activity and keeps the activity balanced in the brain—gabapentin seems to increase the production of GABA.
- Gabapentin may also affect glutamate, another neurotransmitter that causes nerve excitement. It is believed to be part of epileptic seizures and the sending of pain signals to the brain. Doctors and researchers believe gabapentin helps reduce the amount of glutamate released in the brain.
What is Gabapentin Used For?
Gabapentin’s primary use is for the treatment of epileptic seizures, but there are other uses as well. These include:
- The treatment of partial seizures
- Neuropathic pain
- Hot flashes
- Restless leg syndrome
- Diabetic neuropathy
- Postherpetic neuralgia
- Central neuropathic pain
Off-label uses not currently approved by the FDA include for the treatment of anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, and insomnia. It’s estimated that around 90% of gabapentin use is to treat off-label conditions.
How Is Gabapentin Used?
Gabapentin is used orally in tablet form primarily. The dosage of gabapentin someone uses depends on individual factors and the condition being treated. An example of common gabapentin dosages include:
- For partial seizures, someone might take a 300 mg dose of gabapentin by mouth every eight hours. This may go up to 600 mg taken orally every eight hours.
- For the treatment of postherpetic neuralgia, someone might start with a once-a-day 300 mg dose of gabapentin, and then move to taking a 300 mg dose of gabapentin every 12 hours.
Gabapentin Side Effects
Along with the question of “what is gabapentin” often comes another question, which is what the side effects are. There are common side effects but also potentially severe side effects. Some of the gabapentin side effects may include:
- Loss of muscle coordination
- Excessive sleep
- Repetitive eye movement
- Dry mouth
- Water retention leading to swelling in the arms, hands, legs and feet
- Changes in mood
- Flu-like symptoms
Gabapentin and Suicidal Thoughts or Behaviors
While it’s considered a rare side effect of gabapentin, suicidal thoughts or behaviors can occur when someone uses this medication. The possibility of suicidal thoughts or behaviors to occur when someone uses gabapentin led the FDA to issue a warning in 2009.
There are now packaging inserts not only with gabapentin but some other anticonvulsant drugs that mention this risk.
Some studies have also shown that the use of gabapentin in people with bipolar disorder almost doubles the rate of suicidal ideation.
Gabapentin High and Abuse
Gabapentin is one of the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States. In 207, it was the fifth-most prescribed drug in the country. Much of this is related to the crackdown on the prescribing of opioids occurring in the U.S. Due to the opioid epidemic; many doctors have to look outside of opioid pain medications to treat pain in their patients, so they’ve started using gabapentin.
Gabapentin is widely available, and it’s not a federally controlled substance, unlike opioids.
That widespread availability coupled with the effects of the drug has led to growing gabapentin abuse.
Can You Get High From Gabapentin?
People wonder can you get high from gabapentin. The answer is maybe. Gabapentin is not an opioid, but it can create a relaxing effect that some users describe as being similar to marijuana. While a gabapentin high on its own isn’t very powerful, what’s more common is for people to use gabapentin with other drugs such as opioids to increase the high.
A study published in the Addiction journal in 2016 found that around a fifth of the people who abuse opioids also misuse gabapentin. Another study that looked at adults in the Appalachian region of Kentucky found that 15 percent of research participants who abused opioids had also used gabapentin in the previous six months to get high.
Due to the growing abuse of gabapentin, many states have taken their own measures to curb how much is prescribed. For example, Kentucky recently classified gabapentin as a controlled substance and many states are considering doing something similar.
There have also been moves in Tennessee, Virginia, Ohio and several other states to control how much gabapentin doctors prescribe.
Can You Get Addicted to Gabapentin?
It is possible to get addicted to gabapentin, although it’s not common to become addicted to the drug on its own. What’s more common is for people to develop polysubstance addictions—often to opioids and gabapentin. Another combination people may utilize are gabapentin and benzodiazepines like Xanax.
While gabapentin addiction on its own isn’t very addictive, physical dependence can form. When someone is dependent on gabapentin if they don’t gradually taper down their dosage, they may experience withdrawal symptoms.
Gabapentin withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Stomach problems
In severe cases, gabapentin withdrawal can include delirium and withdrawal seizures.
The development of tolerance and dependence can occur in recreational gabapentin users as well as people who use it medically. For most people, gabapentin withdrawal symptoms will start to occur within 12 hours after taking the last dose, and up to 7 days after the last dose.
Can You Overdose On Gabapentin?
So far we’ve answered key questions about gabapentin including what is gabapentin, what is gabapentin used for and what are gabapentin side effects.
Another frequent question is “can you overdose on gabapentin.”
The answer is yes, you can.
In fact, one of the reasons Kentucky made gabapentin a controlled substance is because of how frequently it’s reported as part of overdose deaths in the state. According to data from the coroner’s office in Kentucky, gabapentin was involved in almost one-fourth of all of the state’s overdose deaths. Reports go on to say gabapentin shows up in about 1 in every three overdose deaths that occur there.
Gabapentin on its own isn’t a very strong drug, so to feel effects, someone would need to take very high doses, which is one reason overdoses can occur.
Gabapentin is also a central nervous system depressant, as are opioids, alcohol, and benzodiazepines. When someone combines gabapentin with another central nervous system depressant, it increases the likelihood that they will experience respiratory depression and an overdose.
The Takeaway—What is Gabapentin?
To sum it up, what is gabapentin? Gabapentin is not an opioid, but it is a central nervous system depressant primarily for the treatment of seizures, as well as nerve pain. It’s also being used off-label for various purposes including the treatment of chronic pain.
What are gabapentin side effects? Most are mild such as drowsiness or dizziness, but severe side effects can occur, like suicide ideation.
Finally, what is gabapentin abuse? Gabapentin abuse most often occurs when someone combines the drug with other substances and in particular, opioids. This increases the feeling of being high, but also the risks of becoming addicted and overdosing.
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