Gabapentin: Everything That You Need to Know

Gabapentin is a prescription drug that is commonly sold under the name of Neurontin. It is an anticonvulsant that is used to treat painful seizures and other neuropathic pain, most commonly caused by postherpetic neuralgia. It is popularly prescribed in the treatment of epilepsy. It is mostly available in the form of oral tablets and oral solutions.

How Does Gabapentin Work?

Gabapentin is a drug prescribed commonly for pain relief. It is available as pills or in liquid form and is sold under the brand names Neurontin, Horizant, and Gralise.

How it exactly works is still under the area of research, though it is proven that it works similar to that of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) by binding with voltage-gated calcium channels connecting neurons (nerve cells) of the brain. Hence the name.

Neurotransmitters are chemical substances in the brain that are released by the neurons that help themselves to communicate with each other and function all the tasks of the central nervous system that regulates the body. GABA is a major inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, and therefore, on its release, results in decreasing the communication and activity of other neurons in the brain.

This leads to gabapentin’s ability to address issues like seizures and pain.

Is Gabapentin an Opioid?

While Gabapentin works similarly as an opioid, it cannot be classified under opioids. It is often prescribed as a painkiller but has considerably fewer side effects than an opioid. It has a much lower potential for drug abuse and therefore creates lesser dependence than an opioid. Gabapentin is thus a safer alternative to an opioid.

Can Gabapentin Get You High?

Gabapentin produces similar euphoric effects to the consumption of cannabis or other opioids. It can make one high. This drug works as a tranquilizer as it has sedative effects. It relaxes and calms the body as the drug blocks certain receptors inhibiting the sensation of pain or discomfort.

Due to its intoxicating effect, this drug is often abused and taken along with other anti-anxiety medications or opioids to amplify the feeling of sedation. Getting high on Gabapentin is quite unlikely if taken in the prescribed dose and form.

It is due to this nature, Gabapentin is preferred over other sedatives. However, overdosage or snorting crushed tablets of Gabapentin can cause similar effects to that of cocaine. Abuse of Gabapentin can definitely get one “high”.

How Effective and Quick Gabapentin Is?

Immediate-release capsules of Gabapentin start to work within 2 to 3 hours of administration. However, for improving seizures and nerve pain problems, this drug needs to be taken regularly for a few weeks for a persistent result. Immediate-release capsules are requisites three times daily dosing for symptom relief.

Gabapentin enacarbil, a prodrug of Gabapentin, under the brand name of Horizant, calls for a single daily dose for relieving symptoms of postherpetic neuralgia or Restless Leg Syndrome. This prodrug is rapidly absorbed and easily hydrolysed into Gabapentin, thus imparting speedy results.

Is Gabapentin A Good Painkiller?

Gabapentin is prescribed as a painkiller that is often combined with other painkillers. It is less addictive than opioids and also is proven to have fewer side effects. Gabapentin is mostly used to treat painful seizures and other neuropathic pain like postherpetic neuralgia, central pain, or diabetic neuropathy.

Can Gabapentin Be Addictive?

The easy availability and low price of Gabapentin had led some opioid users to abuse the drug. Due to its tranquilizing effect, some users are reportedly using it unprescribed, often along with other drugs, to get high.

Experts believed Gabapentin to be a safer alternative to other pain-relieving sedatives, however, long-term users have revealed that it is quite addictive. People experienced withdrawal symptoms and hence physical dependency on this drug while consuming it for a longer period of time.

What Is The “Off-label Use” of Gabapentin?

“Off-label” or unapproved use of Gabapentin refers to the use of the drug for purposes not recognized by The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In case a doctor has observed good results in the off-label use, has prescribed the drug within safe limits.

For example, Gabapentin has been used off-label in the treatment of:

  • Alcohol withdrawal
  • Trigeminal neuralgia
  • Fibromyalgia

According to research at Stanford University School of Medicine, “When patients received gabapentin before and after surgery, the need for continued opioid painkillers was reduced by 24%”.

For such off-label uses, one should follow the prescription strictly and abide by the mentioned dosages for minimal or no side effects.

What Are the Side Effects of Gabapentin?

Dizziness and drowsiness are the most frequently reported side effects of the drug. Other common side effects include:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Pain
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Swelling
  • Weakness
  • Diarrhea
  • Involuntary eye movements

Other reported side effects that require serious medical attention are:

  • Involuntary Body Movements
  • Memory Loss
  • Aggression
  • Loss of Coordination
  • Respiratory Problems

Drug overdose of Gabapentin can also lead to death if not taken care of. Being a sedative, it lowers the heart rate or sometimes increases the heartbeat. There is a loss in muscle and body coordination, slurred speech, depression of the respiratory system, and other noticeable body malfunctions.

Drug abuse of Gabapentin or its combined consumption with other opioids can cause significant organ damage or brain damage, respiratory depression, or even death from a drug overdose.

Gabapentin also reacts adversely with certain drugs like mefloquine, losartan, or can interact with other medicines on prescription. Hence, one should make the doctor aware of the list of all medications one consumes before starting with the dose of Gabapentin

How Long Does It Stay in The Body?

Gabapentin can be consumed in immediate-release pills, extended-release pills, or solutions. The available information and research suggest that the half-life of the drug varies somewhere around 2 to 4 hours from person to person for a single dose.  The half-life of a drug refers to the time that it takes to break itself down in half of its original concentration in the system’s bloodstream.

Unlike other drugs, Gabapentin is metabolized and broken down by the kidneys and not the liver. Therefore, people with kidney problems are warned of its use, and an overdose of Gabapentin affects the kidneys directly. Because of this distinctive nature of metabolization in kidneys, it is eliminated from the system faster.

However, it is obvious that extended-release forms will take more time to get eliminated than the usual immediate-release forms. Similarly, intake of Gabapentin in regular and high doses will take further more time to get eliminated from the body.

Other factors like hydration could also speed up the elimination of gabapentin from the system since the drug is metabolized in the kidneys and can be eliminated through the urine. Thus, frequent urination will speed up the process of elimination.


Gabapentin might be prescribed for the treatment of seizures, nerve pain, Restless Leg Syndrome, or postherpetic neuralgia, but can cause side effects like dizziness or drowsiness. Gabapentin is a drug that has a serious effect on the nervous system, hence should be taken only under medical supervision in the correct dosage and form. Pregnant or lactating mothers, diabetic patients, or people taking other drugs should be aware of the time of intake as certain drugs might interact with it.

Persons experiencing serious side effects, should discontinue the usage and consult the physician immediately.

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