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Effexor Review: Can The Drug Solve Mood Problems?

Effexor Review: Can The Drug Solve Mood Problems?

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Read our Editorial Guidelines to learn more about what makes our site the premier resource for online health information.

Read our Editorial Guidelines to learn more about what makes our site the premier resource for online health information.

Disclaimer: None of the information in this article constitutes medical advice, and is just the opinion of the writer(s). We recommend that patients follow their doctor’s guidance in regards to prescription medication.

Effexor is the brand name for a depression medication, and its generic name is venlafaxine. These two terms will be referred to interchangeably throughout the course of this article, since they refer to the same chemical compound. This drug is also prescribed to treat anxiety and other mood disorders.

This medication is a selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI), which is a similar class of compounds to the SSRIs used in many prescription antidepressants (like Wellbutrin and Celexa which we’ve previously reviewed).

In this article we’ll review the medical research on Effexor to determine if it should be effective for depression. We’ll also highlight some side effects shown in the medical data, and discuss some natural antidepressants which may have a more favorable side effect profile.

Does Effexor Work?

There have been a large number of medical studies published on the effectiveness of Effexor for treating depression and anxiety.

As one example, a clinical trial from 1998 tested whether Effexor was effective for treating major depression. Patients were instructed to take the drug or a placebo pill over the course of 12 weeks. The researchers found that the Effexor group experienced less depression throughout the trial, and that the effects were “dose-related”, meaning that those taking higher doses felt more benefit (to a limit).

A medical review published in the European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience journal compared Effexor with other leading antidepressants. The study authors noted that Effexor was more effective than SSRIs for major depression.

Effexor has also been proven to be effective for treating anxiety. A meta-review analyzed 14 individual studies on Effexor for anxiety and found favorable results.

Another study found that the extended release form of Effexor was effective both short-term and long-term for treating anxiety, and for treating comorbid anxiety and depression (which means both conditions presenting at the same time in a patient).

Overall, based on the above research, we can conclude that Effexor is effective for treating both anxiety and depression. This doesn’t mean it will be successful for all patients and it doesn’t mean it’s a risk-free treatment. If a drug is more effective than placebo for treating a condition, even if it causes more side effects than placebo, it will likely be approved.

How Does Effexor Work?

Effexor inhibits reuptake of two important neurotransmitters: norepinephrine and serotonin. In simple terms, this means that the medication slows the body’s ability to process these chemicals, which allows them to circulate in the brain at higher concentrations than they would otherwise.

Both norepinephrine and serotonin play a role in mood regulation, and this is why this class of drugs is thought to work. Depressed and anxious patients may have naturally low circulating levels of these brain chemicals.

The most common class of antidepressants are called SSRIs, as referenced earlier, and these only cause artificially high levels of serotonin but not norepinephrine.

Effexor Side Effects

As is the case with several other mental health medications we’ve reviewed, increased risk of suicidal ideation is a side effect of Effexor. A black box warning appears right on the homepage of their website, notifying users that subjects taking the drug experienced higher rates of suicidal thoughts and behaviors than those taking placebo during medical trials.

We also located an interesting medical study which directly suggests that Effexor is more dangerous than other commonly-used antidepressants. The researchers conducting the study noted that Effexor caused an increased risk of cardiovascular disorders compared with SSRIs, without any advantages over SSRIs on average.

The researchers also found that overdoses of Effexor were more often fatal than overdoses of SSRIs.

A broad review of Effexor notes that the most common side effects of its use are more minor, such as nausea, sedation and dizziness. The linked study also found that sexual dysfunction was a side effect, particularly in men, and likely due to the increased blood pressure response that’s common with the drug.

Should I Take Effexor Generic?

If the cost is cheaper, which it often is, we generally recommend taking the generic version of a drug. This is because the generic version has the exact same chemical compound as its active ingredient as the brand-name version.

The generic version of Effexor is called venlafaxine.

An extremely thorough medical review compared the effectiveness and safety of brand-name and generic drugs, and found that there was no benefit, on average, to taking the brand-name medications.

Natural Depression Alternatives

Since Effexor carries the risk of such significant side effects, it may be worthwhile for patients considering the drug to talk to their doctor about trying a milder natural alternative first; one without any significant side effects.

St. John’s Wort is an herb with a significant amount of medical backing for its antidepressant effects given that it’s an over-the-counter (OTC) product.

Research has shown that St. John’s Wort extract (a concentrated version of the raw herbal material) is as effective for mild and moderate depression as SSRIs, and has essentially zero side effects.

There is less research suggesting that the herb is effective for major depression.

Unfortunately, herbal supplements are almost never covered by health insurance, so that may be a consideration for consumers on a budget. The cost for the supplement will almost certainly have to be paid out-of-pocket, while the cost for Effexor may be fully covered by health insurance.

A more experimental antidepressant called ketamine also has some promising medical research suggesting it may be effective for treating depression. Ketamine therapy has been studied in comparison with pharmaceutical medications, and a recent clinical trial found that one single infusion of ketamine was more effective than a leading pharma antidepressant at least short-term.

We want to note that ketamine is illegal in many jurisdictions and we don’t at all recommend recreational use of the drug. We’re just highlighting it as an experimental therapy that patients may want to ask their doctor about. If it’s legal in your area, it can be administered in a clinical setting.

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Effexor can treat both depression and anxiety, but it carries the risk of serious side effects like cardiovascular events and suicidal thoughts. 

Even though a low percentage of patients will experience these severe side effects, we believe it makes sense for patients to talk with their doctor about more natural alternatives whenever possible. Compounds like St. John’s Wort may provide similar benefits for patients with mild-to-moderate depression without any of the side effects of Effexor.

For patients who do choose to take Effexor, it’s worth considering taking the generic venlafaxine instead, as it’s often cheaper and should have the exact same effect.

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