People who take prescription drugs for anxiety or to induce sleep are significantly more prone to early death than others, suggests a new study recently published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ). A team of researchers from the U.K. found that taking anti-anxiety medications like Valium (diazepam) and Xanax (alprazolam), or sleeping drugs like Ambien (zolpidem), are more than twice as likely as others to die as a result of the medications.
For their research, the team from the University of Warwick, Keele University and St. George’s Hospital compiled data on more than 100,000 individuals, roughly one-third of whom had filled prescriptions for one or more of the aforementioned drugs, or for other kinds of sleeping medications like Sonata (zaleplon) and Lunesta (eszopiclone). Nearly 70,000 controls who did not take the drugs, but were of similar age and practice, were also included for comparison.
After accounting for a wide variety of influencing factors like alcohol use, socioeconomic status, age and various other health and behavioral characteristics, the team observed specific dose-response associations between each class of drug and likelihood of early death. Based on the data, taking such drugs caused four excess deaths per every 100 participants; non-drugged individuals experienced fewer deaths.
“In this large cohort of patients attending UK primary care, anxiolytic [anxiety] and hypnotic drugs were associated with significantly increased risk of mortality over a seven year period, after adjusting for a range of potential confounders,” wrote the authors in their conclusion.
The study’s lead author, Dr. Scott Weich, told The New York Times (NYT) that, though imperfect, his study reiterates the extreme dangers associated with anti-anxiety and sleep-inducing drugs. A professor of psychiatry at the University of Warwick, Dr. Weich says he has prescribed many of these drugs to his patients in the past, and their dangers are impossible to overlook.
“[This research] adds to an accumulating body of evidence that these drugs are dangerous,” he is quoted as saying. “I prescribe these drugs, and they are difficult to come off. The less time you spend on them the better.”
Cannabis: the safe, effective alternative to mood pills and sleep drugs
For many people, the natural compounds found in cannabis, including the plant’s wide range of cannabinoids — cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are among the most well known — are far more effective at alleviating stress and anxiety, as well as promoting restful sleep. And unlike pharmaceuticals, cannabis is not dangerous and does not harm the body.
A 1986 study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, for instance, found that cannabis, which is often referred to as marijuana, produces clear anti-anxiety effects in the body. Compared to controls not consuming the plant, subjects taking cannabis during this study manifested very low anxiety scores, the result of cannabis compounds interacting with the body’s benzodiazepine receptors.
Similarly, cannabis makes a far better sleeping aid than prescription sleeping pills like Ambien, as the appropriate strains act as a natural, gentle sedative to put the mind at ease. Pharmaceutical sleeping pills, on the other hand, are highly addictive, can cause extreme psychosis and dangerous behavior, and as the new UK study has shown, are extremely harmful to the body.
“One of the effects of THC administration is sedation,” wrote Karen I. Bolla, the lead author of a 2008 study published in the journal Sleep. “One group of marijuana users report… they use marijuana to help them sleep. Interestingly, the marijuana users report negligible use of alcohol, sleeping pills, or other medicines to induce sleep.”
Sources for this article include: