Gabapentin is a prescription medication that’s used to treat seizures and other medical conditions. It’s sold in as an oral capsule that can be prescribed by a doctor and taken at home. Though the drug is relatively safe and well-tolerated when it’s used as directed, it can cause uncomfortable and even dangerous side effects. When you’re taking any prescription drug, it’s important to pay attention to how it’s affecting you.
Pay attention to symptoms and side effects. If you experience new, persistent, or severe symptoms, it’s important to speak to your doctor. It’s also important to know the potential adverse effects of a prescription like gabapentin. If the drug is unpleasant or dangerous to take, your doctor can help you find other treatment options.
How Does GABA Work?
Gabapentin is in a broad category of drugs called anticonvulsants, which are used to treat seizures. Anticonvulsants often suppress nervous system excitability, so they may also be used to treat pain, migraines, and anxiety disorders. Gabapentin is also approved in the United States to treat neuropathic pain, which is pain that’s caused by nervous system damage.
Gabapentin is also a class of drugs called gabapentinoids that work in the brain to produce anticonvulsant, analgesic, and anxiolytic effects. Despite its name, it doesn’t work by influencing GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) like other central nervous system depressants. Instead, it inhibits excitability through other means.
Gabapentin is taken by mouth and absorbed into the intestines to reach the bloodstream and then the brain. It takes about five to seven hours for it to reach its half-life.
Gabapentin Side Effects
Gabapentin comes with several relatively common side effects. When these side effects are mild, they may be tolerable, but even common side effects can become a nuisance if they’re persistent or severe. Common side effects include:
- Swelling in hands and feet
- Involuntary eye movements
- Poor coordination
Fewer common side effects have also been reported, including sexual dysfunction, loss of libido, and erectile dysfunction in men. Gabapentin may also harm the kidneys of people with kidney problems. If you have a history of kidney disease, your doctor may want to find another option.
Other uncommon adverse effects have been reported and warrant consideration because of their severity. Anticonvulsants like gabapentin often come with a warning that it may increase the risk of suicidal thoughts or actions, which is possible with other central nervous system depressants as well.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning about the suicide risk of anticonvulsants in 2008. However, a 2010 study found that gabapentin doesn’t seem to increase the risk of suicide and may even reduce the risk of suicide in psychiatric patients.
In preclinical rat studies, gabapentin showed to form cancerous and noncancerous tumors, though they didn’t metastasize. These studies might not have any significance in clinical contexts or in the use of gabapentin in humans.
In 2019, the United Kingdom classified gabapentin as a controlled substance. In the U.S., the drug is not considered a controlled substance except on the state level in Kentucky. Gabapentin may have the potential for abuse and addiction. When it’s combined with other CNS depressants like benzodiazepines or alcohol, the drug can suppress breathing.