Central nervous system (CNS) depressants are drugs that reduce brain activity.
These drugs are used to treat anxiety, muscle tension, pain, insomnia, acute stress reactions, panic attacks, and seizure disorders. In higher doses, some of them produce coma and anesthesia.
Throughout history, humans have sought relief from anxiety and insomnia by using substances that induce a drowsy or calming effect. CNS depressants include a wide range of drugs such as alcohol, the most widely used depressant, narcotics, barbiturates (Amytal, Nembutal, Seconal), benzodiazepines (Ativan, Halcion, Librium, Valium, Xanax), chloral hydrate, Buspirone (Buspar), and Zolpidem (Ambien). Street names for illegal CNS depressants include Reds, Yellows, Blues, Barbs, and Downers.
- Most CNS depressants have the potential to be physically and psychologically addictive.
- The body tends to develop tolerance for CNS depressants, and larger doses are needed to achieve the same effects.
- Sudden withdrawal from some CNS depressants can produce rebound insomnia or anxiety, occasionally resulting in life-threatening seizures.
- When depressant medications is discontinued, it should be done gradually to give the body time to adjust.
- The difference is small between effective doses and overdoses for some CNS depressants, such as barbiturates.
- Elderly people are subject to more profound and prolonged effects from CNS depressants.
Adverse effects include confusion, dizziness, slurred speech, loss of muscle coordination, and impaired thinking and judgment.
Interactions with benzodiazepines (Xanax, Ativan, Valium) include:
- These drugs can increase the effects of narcotics and other pain management medications.
- Antifungal drugs, Diflucan, Nizoral, Sporanox, greatly increase and prolong the effects of benzodiazepines.
- Anti-seizure medications, like Tegretol, can decrease the effectiveness of benzodiazepines.
- Cimetidine (Tagamet) can increase the effectiveness of benzodiazepines.
- Calcium channel blockers, like Cardizem, can increase and prolong the effects of benzodiazepines.
- Grapefruit juice can increase the effects of benzodiazepines.
- Macrolide antibiotics (erythromycin, Biaxin) can increase and prolong the effects of benzodiazepines.
- Modifinil (Provigil) may reduce the effects of benzodiazepines.
- AIDS and antiretroviral drugs may increase and prolong the effects of benzodiazepines.