5 Natural Xanax Alternatives to Help Reduce Anxiety and Stress
Reduce Anxiety with These 5 Natural Xanax Alternatives
Xanax (Alprazolam) is a common prescription drug and anti-anxiety medication used to treat various mental health conditions, namely generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. Alprazolam, the active ingredient in Xanax, is a benzodiazepine first marketed in 1981. It works by modulating gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmission in the central nervous system (CNS).
Many Xanax users report significant sedative and hypnotic effects, thereby helping alleviate symptoms of anxiety and tension. However, Xanax comes with a long list of possible side effects and withdrawal symptoms, such as xerostomia (dry mouth), dizziness, constipation, irritability (mood swings), brain fog, and disinhibition .
As such, potential Xanax candidates wonder if the benefits are worth the drawbacks. If not, are there similar anti-anxiety medications or natural alternatives to Xanax that can help manage anxiety and reduce stress?
There sure are! We'll detail how prescription drugs like Xanax work and five of the best Xanax alternatives.
Medical Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended as medical advice. Always consult with a licensed physician or psychiatrist before self-medicating or stopping the use of prescription medications.
How Does Xanax Work?
Alprazolam is an allosteric modulator of the benzodiazepine-GABA-A-chloride ionophore receptor complex expressed in neurons of the limbic, thalamic, and hypothalamic regions of the brain. An "allosteric modulator" is a molecule that binds to a receptor at a locus distinct from the endogenous ligand and enhances or reduces the affinity of that ligand for the receptor. In the case of Xanax, binding to the GABA-A receptor complex increases the receptor's affinity for GABA, the endogenous ligand.
When GABA binds to GABA receptors, associated chloride channels open, and the flow of chloride ions across the neuronal membrane leads to a polar moment (hyperpolarization). Ultimately, this inhibits further action potentials and reduces neuron excitability. Hence, GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that works to "calm" the nervous system.
A more straightforward summary is that Xanax, along with other benzodiazepines like Valium, enhances the effects of the GABA your body naturally produces. GABA receptor activity subsequently modulates the function of several different neurotransmitter systems to engender a restful, calm state of mind.
Illustration of the GABA Receptor
Since GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, an increase in GABA receptor activity elicits anticonvulsant, hypnotic, muscle-relaxant, and ataxic effects. The effects of GABA are essentially the inverse of caffeine, which stimulates the central nervous system (and may potentiate anxiety).
Xanax is unequivocally an effective prescription medication for treating anxiety and panic disorders . It also alters wakefulness and sleep-wake cycles by regulating brainwave activity. Research suggests that Xanax significantly decreases the length of rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep stages and the frequency of REM burst activity . REM sleep is when dreaming typically occurs and paradoxically exhibits similar neurophysiology to being awake. In fact, energy use by the brain during REM sleep is commensurate with energy use during waking hours .
By reducing REM sleep duration and frequency, Xanax may help users get more deep sleep. Since Xanax targets GABAergic transmission exclusively, natural ingredients with similar pharmacology can also induce relaxation, improve sleep, and foster feelings of well-being.
Why You Shouldn't Buy Xanax Online
Studies corroborate that Xanax tends to be as effective as Valium (diazepam) for treating clinical anxiety disorders, but it's not without drawbacks. Due to a high potential for drug abuse and addiction, Xanax is a controlled substance in the United States. Purchasing Xanax online without a prescription is a) a federal crime, b) highly unsafe, and c) more likely to cause problems than solve them.
If you're considering buying Xanax online for recreational purposes or to self-medicate, please be aware of the risks and consequences. The best thing you can do is consult with an appropriate medical professional.
Natural Alternatives to Xanax for Relieving Anxiety
The term "natural Xanax" is somewhat misleading since alprazolam is not a naturally occurring chemical, nor does it refer to any specific natural substances. Self-professed "biohackers" will often use "natural Xanax" as a catch-all term for natural remedies that produce GABA-mediated anxiolytic effects (since benzodiazepines work through the same mechanism of action).
However, by virtue of its synthetic origin, alprazolam is much more potent than any GABA agonists that occur in nature (e.g. L-theanine and constituents of valerian root). Comparing Xanax to natural GABA agonists is like comparing apples to oranges.
For these reasons, we prefer the term "natural alternatives to Xanax" as it's more concrete and unambiguous. With that in mind, let's take a look at five of the best Xanax alternatives for managing anxiety naturally:
If you're considering natural Xanax alternatives, L-theanine should be near the top of your list. L-theanine is a non-dietary amino acid found predominantly in green tea leaves. Instead of being incorporated into proteins like other amino acids in the body, theanine exerts nootropic effects by crossing the blood-brain barrier and regulating brainwaves and GABA receptors .
A major advantage of L-theanine is that it will not make you tired, nor will it compromise your cognitive function. Numerous studies show that L-theanine can simultaneously enhance mental acuity and reduce stress .
A recent research review concludes that subjects taking 200 – 400 mg L-theanine per day consistently experience significant improvements in their sleep quality, cognitive function, and mental stress symptoms .
Adaptogenic herbs are all the craze these days, and rightfully so. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) stands out as one of the most promising adaptogens due to its multifarious benefits in the human body.
The main bioactive constituents in ashwagandha are withanolides, notably withaferin-A. These compounds are steroidal lactones that modulate brain chemistry through several proposed pathways, especially one involving the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis responsible for stress response .
Ashwagandha has been used for the treatment of anxiety and depression in multiple clinical trials, and the results are consistently favorable with subjects showing upwards of 50% reduction in symptoms . KSM-66® Ashwagandha tends to be the most popular extract used in clinical studies. You can find this specific ingredient in Transparent Labs KSM-66® Ashwagandha capsules.
Magnesium is a mineral found in various green vegetables and some lentils and supports bone mineralization, protein building, muscular contraction, nerve impulse transmission, and immunity. Since the modern Western diet tends to lack magnesium, supplements are prudent for combatting the deleterious effects of magnesium deficiency, including constipation, chronic stress, mental disorders, muscle cramps, and dehydration .
Rather compelling research has shown that treatment with magnesium supplements can rapidly relieve anxiety and panic attacks . Magnesium supplementation can also support immune function and reduce oxidative stress, imperative for overall health and longevity .
How magnesium can treat anxiety remains somewhat of a mystery. Preliminary findings suggest a mechanism mediated by the HPA axis — a key regulator of the stress hormone cortisol — and the GABAergic system .
Magnesium supplements come in several forms; some are well-absorbed, some are not. Sadly, most magnesium supplements contain an inferior form –magnesium oxide – which has poor bioavailability . Transparent Labs Magnesium Bisglycinate capsules contain chelated magnesium which is gentle on the gut and readily absorbed .
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is a long-living flowering plant with a naturally sweet scent that has been used for centuries in perfumes. In contrast, the plant roots commonly extracted for herbal remedies have a pungent, putrid odor that's tough to subdue with masking agents and flavoring.
Valerian contains numerous phytochemicals, notably the eponymous sesquiterpenoid valerenic acid and its natural derivatives (e.g. acetoxy valerenic acid and hydroxy valerenic acid). Valerian root ostensibly mitigates anxiety and improves sleep by enhancing GABA interaction with GABA-A receptors.
Valerenic acid and its derivatives are structurally similar to the GABA molecule and bind to subtype-A GABA receptors . Valerenic acid is an allosteric modulator of these receptors, much like alprazolam (Xanax) .
Curiously, valerian extracts with a high concentration of acetoxy valerenic acid and hydroxy valerenic acid abolish the anxiolytic effects of valerenic acid, suggesting the former two constituents compete for the same binding site as the latter but don't allosterically modulate the receptor . In other words, valerenic acid derivatives are silent antagonists of GABA-A receptors.
Constituents of valerian root also appear to increase serotonin receptor activity, though the specific compounds responsible for this effect — aside from valerenic acid — remain unclear . The serotonergic and GABAergic properties of valerian are likely responsible for its sedative and calming effects.
While valerian has been used as popular herbal medicine for ages to reduce stress, treat insomnia, and alleviate anxiety, there is still a lack of clinical research supporting its anecdotal benefits. Much of the extant data is based on rodent and in vitro models. Hopefully, future human studies of valerian root will focus on treating mental health conditions.
Nonetheless, valerian root tea and supplements are worth a try if you're looking for a natural alternative to Xanax to help manage anxiety. Valerian is also a reliable natural sleep aid.
Melissa officinalis, more commonly known as lemon balm, is an herb with similar properties as valerian and appears to have cognitive benefits as well . It has been used for thousands of years as a calming and relaxing herb in traditional Chinese medicine.
Lemon balm extract and tea are often studied as treatments for anxiety symptoms, like panic attacks and stress-related eating behaviors. Indeed, there is substantial evidence that lemon balm extract has a potent calming effect by acting on GABA .
Clinical trials of lemon balm extract have shown this herb can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression by as much as 30% . There is also limited data suggesting lemon balm promotes healthy sleep-wake cycles and may combat anxiety-related insomnia .
Major nootropic constituents of lemon balm are caffeic acid and caffeic acid derivatives, notably rosmarinic acid and ursolic acid . Despite having a similar name as the stimulant alkaloid caffeine, caffeic acids are unrelated to the former in their structure and mechanisms of action.
Mechanistically, caffeic acid is a potent antioxidant that fights inflammation and may protect against cancer . Moreover, caffeic acids in lemon balm appear to inhibit an enzyme called GABA transaminase, which is responsible for metabolizing GABA to succinate semialdehyde.
Therefore, lemon balm extract is a natural Xanax alternative that has putative synergy with other natural alternatives like valerian root and L-theanine.
Is Natural Xanax Better?
While the natural alternatives to Xanax mentioned above won't have the same overwhelming anti-anxiety effects as alprazolam, they come with the advantage of being much less likely to cause side effects and withdrawal symptoms. Depending on your circumstances, the trade-off might be worth it for managing anxiety naturally.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is another prudent Xanax alternative to consider for treating mental health conditions. Taking supplements or medications can help, but sometimes more is necessary for anxiety sufferers.
Lastly, remember that every person is unique and may respond differently to specific treatments. Work with a qualified healthcare practitioner or psychiatrist to determine what's best for you. And to reiterate, do not buy Xanax online. Relying on black-market sources for an addictive drug is a slippery slope, and it most certainly won't lead be a safe and effective long-term solution.