Gabapentin (Neurontin) is a pharmaceutical drug that has received a lot of mainstream attention in part due to the fact that it is frequently prescribed “off-label” or to treat conditions for which it is not FDA approved. The drug was originally approved in 1993 for the treatment of epilepsy, and has been found to be an effective adjunct when used with other anticonvulsants. The drug would later get approval for the treatment of neuropathic pain in 2004.
Due to the fact that the drug has both anticonvulsant and analgesic properties, it has been commonly dispensed to help mitigate post-surgery pain and improve recovery efforts. The drug functions via modulation of GABA synthesis. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that slows activity in the brain and central nervous system; this leads to reductions in arousal.
Some studies suggest that prescribing Gabapentin as an anxiolytic works extremely well, likely due to its GABAergic effects. One published report went as far as to suggest that Gabapentin behaves similarly to Diazepam, the benzodiazepine more commonly known as “Valium.” Due to the fact that drug users are often drawn to substances that inhibit CNS activity, Gabapentin has become a target for recreational use and abuse.
Gabapentin Recreational Use: Growing in Popularity
In the 1990s, Gabapentin wasn’t subject to significant recreational use nor abuse. Those prescribed Gabapentin in the ’90s took it as directed for epilepsy. When the drug was granted approval for the treatment of neuropathic pain in 2004, the number of Gabapentin prescriptions skyrocketed. During this time, doctors also began doling out more off-label prescriptions for conditions like drug and alcohol withdrawal.
The fact that the drug has been on the market for over 20 years indicates that many people have used it. While most of those individuals have taken the drug as directed, many people have experimented with doses greater than recommended (supratherapeutic) and have allowed friends to “try” the drug. Since the drug can be attained for an extremely low cost in generic format (just over $10 for 90 pills), it makes it a popular recreational drug.
While Gabapentin certainly won’t pack the same overall punch as benzodiazepines or opioids, the fact that it has subtle analgesic effects and acts on GABA makes it appealing to some. In fact, certain recreational users have gone as far as to suggest that Gabapentin or Neurontin is their new “drug of choice.”
Why Gabapentin’s Recreational Use Has Increased
There are several reasons why Gabapentin (Neurontin) has become a target drug for recreational use. Perhaps the most common reason is that it is available via prescription and is commonly prescribed off label. The drug is also extremely cheap and therefore is relatively easy to obtain by individuals with a variety of conditions.
Alternative to benzodiazepines: Gabapentin is believed to elicit an effect on synthesis of GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter. While its exact mechanism of action hasn’t been fully deciphered, many believe it acts on voltage-gated calcium channels, just like benzodiazepines. This has lead early researchers to compare its effects to Diazepam (Valium).
The fact that it is closely related to benzodiazepines means that the effect may be similar in terms of anxiety reduction. Many studies suggest that using Gabapentin for anxiety may be an effective intervention. This may appeal to those seeking a recreational “relaxation” effect similar in some ways to that derived from benzodiazepines.
Cheap cost: The drug is manufactured in several dosing formats including: 100 mg, 300 mg, and 400 mg. For a 120 count of pills, you probably won’t pay more than $20 for generic Gabapentin. If we do the math, this averages out to less than 60 cents per pill; a price most recreational drug users can afford. Even if they are “marked up” – the cost likely won’t be that steep due to the fact that Gabapentin is widely available.
Drug withdrawal: Many people are able to attain prescriptions for Gabapentin while undergoing withdrawal from alcohol and other drugs. It is common for someone to take Gabapentin during opiate withdrawal to help reduce the severity of symptoms. In some cases, individuals that were addicted to opioids may turn to Gabapentin as a new drug of choice to attain a “high.”
Easy to obtain: The widespread off-label use of Gabapentin has made the drug easy to obtain. It is not classified as a “controlled-substance” and is therefore available via prescription. The prescriptions can be refilled electronically without an additional doctor visit – this makes the drug different than other substances that are subject to strict regulation.
High (Intoxication): While the “high” associated with Gabapentin may not appeal to everyone, some people really enjoy it. The high that can be attained from Gabapentin is said to be filled with relaxation. This makes sense due to the fact that it acts similarly to various benzodiazepines. Certain recreational users claim that the drug makes them feel calm, boosts mood, and even makes them more social.
Minimal side effects: Gabapentin is also appealing to many recreational drug users for the fact that it isn’t associated with many unwanted side effects. The most common side effects include some drowsiness, dizziness, and lack of coordination. The fact that no significant agitation, teeth grinding, restlessness or weight gain from Gabapentin makes it appealing to recreational users.
Noticeable “buzz”: Despite the fact that Gabapentin is regarded as being less potent than its successor (Lyrica), it is still a potent drug – especially when taken at high doses. Most recreational users take doses exceeding 900 mg to attain an intoxicating high. Though the bioavailability decreases as the dose increases, some anecdotal reports have documented taking up to 5000 mg at a time.
Legal classification: The drug isn’t regarded as a “controlled substance” like other similar drugs, including Lyrica which is classified as a “Schedule V” substance. Gabapentin is not formally documented as having significant potential for abuse. Therefore the drug is legal to take via prescription as directed by a medical professional.
Safety: Compared to other prescription drugs used recreationally, Gabapentin is thought to be safer. As long as recreational users aren’t trying to inject it, snort it, or mix it – the drug is regarded as relatively safe when taken within a therapeutic dosage range. In addition, the drug is not considered to be addictive. That said, there are always health risks when taking any drug recreationally rather than as directed by a professional.
Slow onset: Though the drug will not “kick-in” immediately, it typically only takes about an hour to feel some sort of an intoxicating effect. This feeling of intoxication usually lasts several hours, and as it fades, recreational users often will ingest another dose in effort to maintain their already-established “high.” While a slower onset of effect may not be appealing to everyone, the intoxication is said to last several hours.
Is using Gabapentin recreationally dangerous?
Many would agree that Gabapentin is significantly less risky to use recreationally than other addictive drugs. That said, whenever a person fails to use a prescription drug as directed by a medical professional, danger may result. Especially if the individual mixes Gabapentin with another substance or overdoses by taking a dose significantly higher than medically approved.
- Adverse reactions: Like any pharmaceutical drug, adverse reactions can occur with recreational Gabapentin users. Adverse reactions associated with Gabapentin include things like: vomiting, faintness, and even coma. When taken under medical supervision, serious adverse reactions are more likely to be avoided due to the fact that patients aren’t taking super high doses of the drug like recreational users.
- Dependence: Despite the fact that Gabapentin is not thought to be “habit forming” this doesn’t apply to everyone. Some people have clearly developed a habit of using Gabapentin as frequently as possible. Though the drug may not lead to physiological dependence, many recreational users may display signs of psychological dependence; needing the drug to maintain a happy, relaxed mood.
- Overdose potential: Though most people are unlikely to overdose on Gabapentin, it can occur – especially during first time recreational usage. Someone who has never used the drug before won’t have any tolerance, and may ingest a high dosage (e.g. 900 mg to 5000 mg) and end up in a coma. While many people know that the drug’s bioavailability decreases as higher doses are ingested, the sheer potency of a supratherapeutic dose may not bode well for an new user.
- Interactions: Gabapentin may interact with other drugs, increasing the likelihood of adverse reactions that could lead you into the emergency room. Sometimes recreational drug users may “mix” other substances with Gabapentin thinking they will achieve a more noticeable “high.” While the increased “high” may occur for those that mix drugs with Gabapentin, it could also result in death. Mixing other substances with Gabapentin without medical permission should be considered dangerous.
- Lack of medical instruction / supervision: It is dangerous for someone without medical instruction and supervision to be taking Gabapentin. Without medical instruction, you won’t know if the dosage you’re taking is safe, nor will you know whether the drug could be interacting with any other substances you commonly ingest. The lack of medical instruction and supervision may lead some recreational users into the emergency room.
- Tolerance: It is possible to become tolerant to the effects of Gabapentin over time. As you continue to take high recreational doses, the intoxicating effect becomes minimized with each successive usage. The more frequent the usage and the higher the dose, the more likely you are to develop tolerance. Should you become tolerant to the effects of Gabapentin, you may find it difficult to function when your supply “dries” up.
- Withdrawal: Recreational users of Gabapentin that use the drug on a daily basis may not be prepared for (or even knowledgeable of) discontinuation symptoms. Discontinuation from this drug, especially from a high dose may be more than you bargained for, including things like sweating, depression, anxiety, and dizziness. Gabapentin withdrawal symptoms may be protracted and long-lasting, making it difficult to function mentally or physically without the drug.
How Gabapentin is Used Recreationally
Below is a brief breakdown of how people use Gabapentin on a recreational basis.
1. Prescription or Unauthorized Purchase
Due to the fact that Gabapentin is prescribed for a variety of conditions, many people are able to get prescriptions. Of individuals getting prescriptions, some are going to use the drug “recreationally” without following proper medical instruction. Other individuals are going to locate the individuals that have managed to get a prescription and request to purchase and/or steal their supply or a portion of it.
2. Oral Ingestion
After the recreational user has attained the Gabapentin, they generally take the drug orally at a relatively high dose. Various circulating publications on the internet suggest that a majority of recreational users are ingesting between 900 mg and 5000 mg at a time. Some anonymous users claim that doses under 600 mg have no intoxicating effect.
Most users will ingest a minimum of 600 mg orally (in pill format). The amount ingested often depends on how “tolerant” an individual is to the drug’s effect. Someone who has established a tolerance to Gabapentin may take supratherapeutic doses (exceeding 3000 mg) to attain a high; this is not medically recommended.
Other modalities of Gabapentin administration have been discussed including: snorting, intravenous injection, etc. Most experts agree that these alternative modalities of administration are problematic and may result in various adverse reactions – leading to an emergency room visit. Additionally these alternative methods of administration are more likely to result in an overdose – which could put an individual in a coma.
3. Person experiences a “high” (intoxication)
Gabapentin has a relatively slow onset of action, taking approximately an hour before a recreational user notices any effect. When the drug’s intoxicating effect “hits,” a person tends to notice physical sensations of relaxation. Some have suggested that the effect is like a “wave of relaxation” starting off relatively subtle, and ramping in intensity.
This intoxication is maintained for several hours and may be accompanied by a mood boost. For some users the mood-boost is characterized as a light euphoria, while for others, no noticeable mood boost is reported. Many people report the “high” as being pleasant and promoting socialization and laughter.
Perceived mood boosts and pro-social effects are largely subjective and subject to individual variation. The intoxicating effect of Gabapentin is thought to last several hours before it begins to fade.
4. “High” Maintenance
After several hours, recreational users often attempt to maintain their initial high by taking another dose of the drug. After the initial dose, most users will take smaller consecutive doses (e.g. 300 mg) to keep the high that they’ve established. Many users have suggested that taking higher doses may not be necessary due to saturation of the amino acid transporter.
Saturation of this transporter results in decreased bioavailability, which some users have suggested can be enhanced via consumption of food. The maintenance of the initial high is often done by those with a large supply of the drug, as to keep them “intoxicated” for an entire day.
Followed by the intoxicating high, a recreational users may “crash” or experience withdrawal symptoms the next day and/or week. This may be characterized by unpleasant symptoms that were the exact opposite of the “high.” In other words, a person may start to feel angry, agitated, restless, anxious, and possibly depressed. This often leads a person to seek out more Gabapentin as a means to avoid this miserable “crash” in the future.
Have you used Gabapentin on a recreational basis?
If you’ve personally used Gabapentin on a recreational basis, feel free to share your experience in the comments section below. What was appealing about Gabapentin compared to other drugs? Did it produce an intoxicating “high” that you found pleasurable and/or addictive? Be sure to share how frequently you used Gabapentin recreationally and the typical dosage you ingested.