Clonazepam Side Effects & Uses
Clonazepam is a benzodiazepine used to treat a variety of conditions, including essential tremor. While the drug can be effective in many cases, it poses some dangerous risks, such as addiction, withdrawal symptoms, and disruptive side effects.
In this article, we’ll explain what clonazepam is, what it’s used for, how its side effects may impact you, and finally, we’ll discuss alternative options.
What Is Clonazepam?
Clonazepam is an anticonvulsant drug that belongs to a class of benzodiazepines and is primarily used to control epileptic seizures. Other clonazepam uses include the treatment of panic attacks, drug-resistant schizophrenia, restless leg syndrome, and burning tongue syndrome to name a few. Clonazepam’s main function is to increase the amount of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain and enable it to decrease abnormal electrical activity that causes seizures and related disorders.
Benzodiazepines work by depressing the transmission of nerve signals throughout the central nervous system. Clonazepam is used for treating seizures, including myoclonic, absence, generalized and atonic seizures. It’s also indicated for use in panic disorders with or without agoraphobia, and is also used as an essential tremor medication.
What Are The Side Effects Of Clonazepam?
Clonazepam has serious side effects that can impair your ability to function normally in the short and long term. The following is an in-depth look at the most common side effects and allergic reactions of clonazepam.
The more common side effects include:
- Inability to coordinate
- Excess saliva production
- Pain in muscles or joints
- Blurry vision
- Poor memory recall or thinking processes
- Frequent urination
- Changes in sex drive or ability to perform
Drowsiness is a common side effect of clonazepam due to its intended action of relaxing the central nervous system and muscles. The level of drowsiness that’s experienced usually depends on the severity of the prior physical or mental state, but there is no predicting how drowsy someone will feel after taking the medication. This is why operating a vehicle or any other type of heavy machinery is to be avoided after taking clonazepam.
Clonazepam’s action on the GABA receptors in the brain can increase the risk of depression or reveal the existence of depression in general. It can also increase the risk of suicidal thinking. The odds of experiencing depression increase when taking other medications that have sedative properties.
Allergic reactions to clonazepam are rare, but not unheard of. They include itching and/or swelling of the face, tongue and throat, rash, severe dizziness, and trouble breathing. If you experience any one of these symptoms, seek medical treatment immediately.
An overdose of clonazepam is typically non-life threatening, but it can suppress the functioning of the cardiovascular system and put the individual into a coma for a few hours. Clonazepam and benzodiazepines in general have a respiratory depressant effect which can worsen the symptoms in someone who has an existing respiratory illness. There is a suggestion of birth defects caused by clonazepam when taken by pregnant women in the form of inability to nurse, hypothermia, and a risk of withdrawal symptoms in the baby after birth.
Elderly individuals who take clonazepam are at higher risk of experiencing its side effects. This leads to a greater potential for falls and injuries resulting from a fall. These risks are also increased in people who consume alcohol, other benzodiazepines, and any other central nervous system depressant while taking clonazepam.
Rare Side Effects
Additionally, clonazepam can cause less common side effects. You should call your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following after taking clonazepam.
- New seizures
- Current seizures have become worse
- Shallow or weak breathing
- Unexplainable changes in mood or behavior
- Suicidal thinking
- Involuntary or unusual eye movements (nystagmus)
Clonazepam can also cause paradoxical reactions that are directly opposite the intended effect of the medication. Clonazepam used for treatment of anxiety and seizures can cause an individual to become excitable, aroused, and talkative.
How To Take Clonazepam
As previously mentioned, you can take clonazepam with or without food, and you should follow the dosing intervals as prescribed by your physician. The biggest risk associated with taking clonazepam, or any benzodiazepines in general, is physical dependence. Taking clonazepam for more than two weeks can create a physical dependence on the medication and can come with withdrawal symptoms when seeking to reduce dependency on the medication.
The size of the dose is based on your overall health, your age, and how well you respond to treatment. Older individuals are typically started on a lower dose due to the risk of falling that is inherent with the use of clonazepam.
Outside of the warnings that come with taking clonazepam to avoid dependency and the potential side effects, most people tolerate taking the medication with few adverse effects.
Do not stop taking the medication without talking to your physician about it first. Clonazepam is known to lose its effectiveness over time, and you may decide that you should stop taking it. However, a sudden withdrawal from clonazepam can make existing conditions worse, or cause you to experience uncomfortable effects of withdrawal. Your physician may prefer you to reduce your dosage over time and let your body slowly adjust to a tapering dose of the medication.
Some medications are known to amplify the effects and amount of clonazepam in the body. They include:
In contrast, taking the following medications can decrease the effectiveness of clonazepam:
Taking medications that cause drowsiness can also increase the drowsiness effect of clonazepam. It’s important to talk to your doctor about any other medications you may be taking with clonazepam. Medications that may enhance drowsiness include:
- Narcotic pain medications that contain opiates
- Codeine cough syrup
- Zolpidem (sleeping medication)
- Anti-anxiety medications
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has applied a type of warning known as the black box on all classes of benzodiazepines. That includes clonazepam. The black box warning consists of language that highlights the dangers of taking benzodiazepines with opioids that can lead to extreme sedation and slow and labored breathing. Talk to your doctor about any drugs you are taking in addition to clonazepam to reduce the risk of negative drug interactions.
Are There Alternatives To Clonazepam?
Yes, there are alternatives to clonazepam, depending on the reason the drug is being prescribed. For example, drugs such as gabapentin and pregabalin are considered effective alternatives to clonazepam when treating certain sleep disorders. Additionally levodopa and ropinirole are used as alternatives to treat the stiffness and delayed movement characteristic of Parkinson’s disease.
As for non-invasive treatments, Cala TAPS therapy is a wrist-worn medical device used for essential tremor treatment. The device reduces the symptoms of essential tremor by stimulating the wrist’s nerves with electricity – a method called neuromodulation – to target ET symptoms at the root. The device is considered an alternative to essential tremor medication and has been cleared by the FDA for use in the treatment of hand tremors due to essential tremor.
Cala TAPS therapy is a safe, non-invasive alternative to the use of clonazepam to stop essential tremors. There’s no risk of addiction, no drug side effects, and no withdrawal period. Individuals with essential tremor should discuss the possibility of engaging in Cala TAPS therapy with their physician to find out if it’s right for them.
After considering what clonazepam is and its uses for treatment, it’s clear that it has its benefits, but the risks of taking the medication can quickly outweigh its beneficial qualities. Benzodiazepines have been in use for decades and their effectiveness is well-known. However, the addictive properties and risk of falling in older patients makes them less attractive for use in those who have existing health conditions that can be aggravated by the effects of clonazepam.
Cala TAPS therapy is a non-pharmaceutical alternative to medications used to treat ET. Since it is not a pharmaceutical, there are no drug interactions and it doesn’t interfere with other medications, and is non-invasive. Regular users of Cala TAPS therapy report the ability to live a more normal life without the difficulties caused by essential tremor. Cala TAPS therapy offers the opportunity to regain control of your hands without fear of a tremor.