Can You Take Xanax and GABA Together?

Xanax is a benzodiazepine with sedative and anxiolytic properties, whereas GABA is a major inhibitory neurotransmitter. GABA supplements have become popular for their potential calming effects, but little is known about how much of the supplement reaches the brain. This blog discusses whether it is safe to take Xanax and GABA together.
Klara Hatinova

Klara Hatinova

Klara is postgraduate researcher in experimental psychology at the
University of Oxford.

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Can You Take Xanax And GABA Together?

In brief

No, you should not take Xanax and GABA together due to risks of coma and respiratory and cardiac failure.

What is Xanax?

Xanax is a benzodiazepine drug also known as alprazolam. It is primarily used to manage conditions such as anxiety, depression, and panic attacks [1].

Benzodiazepines work by positively modulating the binding of GABA, the inhibitory neurotransmitter to the GABA receptor. This pharmacological action is critical to understanding the link between Xanax and GABA. Compared to previous medications, such as barbiturates, Xanax and benzodiazepines only potentiate the role of endogenous GABA without mimicking GABA, reducing the risks of lethal overdose and minimising side effects [2].

It's important to mention that Xanax is considered a controlled substance due to its potential for addiction and misuse. According to the European Union, benzodiazepines belong to the top three most abused drugs alongside alcohol, especially when driving [1]. Since Xanax is a sedative, using it without a prescription reduces alertness, which can have detrimental effects beyond driving.

What Is GABA

Gamma-aminobutyric acid, commonly known as GABA, is a naturally occurring amino acid that is a critical inhibitory neurotransmitter in your brain, a chemical messenger that makes neurons less likely to send signals [3]. GABA plays a crucial role in reducing feelings of anxiety, stress, and fear and is important for promoting sleep [4]. It can also help prevent seizures. When GABA attaches to a protein in your brain known as a GABA receptor, it produces a calming effect [3]. These are the same GABA receptors that Xanax modulates.

GABA can be taken as a supplement or from various food sources, although whether or not the oral supplement can cross the blood-brain barrier was debated. For example, a recent meta-analysis included studies where participants supplemented GABA in food staples such as chocolate and rice, combined with other amino acids, or as regular pills [4]. Foods that naturally contain GABA are limited and include kimchi, miso, and tempeh [3].

Xanax and Gaba

Xanax and GABA have a common pharmacological target of increasing GABA neurotransmission in the brain. This commonly reduces stress and anxiety, helps with sleep, and even reduces seizure tendencies. They work in slightly different ways. Xanax can enhance the ability of the GABA receptor to communicate the inhibitory GABA signal. In contrast, GABA supplements (if they reach the brain!) could directly increase neurotransmitter levels, thereby increasing the activity of the GABA receptors. Furthermore, GABA supplements would act across all the different types of GABA receptors, whereas Xanax is specific to a sub-group of GABA receptors.

However, combining these Xanax and GABA is not recommended.

For one, Xanax is a controlled prescription drug which must not be taken unless otherwise prescribed [2]. On the other hand, GABA is a commonly available dietary supplement, but with limited efficacy in terms of actually altering brain activity [5].

Second, Xanax and GABA both increase inhibition in the brain, which could have lethal consequences. By excessively inhibiting brain activity, there is a risk of central nervous system depression, a symptom that can lead to coma and respiratory and heart failure. In milder cases, combining Xanax and GABA increases sleepiness and can be dangerous when driving or operating heavy machinery. Furthermore, how dietary GABA works is still not fully clear, and the amount of the supplement that reaches your brain will be highly individual. Therefore, do not take GABA supplements if you are also taking Xanax for medical reasons.

Summary: Can You Take Xanax And GABA Together?

Xanax, a benzodiazepine prescription sedative and GABA, a dietary supplement with limited bioavailability, should not be taken together. This is because they have additive effects on the GABA-inhibitory system, which can lead to excess sedation or more serious adverse events, such as respiratory or cardiac failure.

If you experience fear, anxiety or insomnia, make sure to seek help from a healthcare professional and inform them of all medications and supplements you may be taking.

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Klara Hatinova

Klara Hatinova

Klara is a postgraduate researcher in experimental psychology at the University of Oxford. She has worked across a spectrum of hot topics in neuroscience, including her current project measuring reinforcement learning strategies in Parkinson’s disease. Previously, she studied the efficacy of psilocybin as a therapy for critical mental health conditions and examined molecular circadian rhythms of migraine disorders. She completed her undergraduate degree in Neuroscience at the University of Glasgow and participated in a year abroad at the University of California, where she worked on a clinical trial for spinal cord injury.