Disclaimer: None of the information in this article constitutes medical advice. All statements are merely the opinion of the writer(s). We recommend that patients follow their doctor’s guidance in regard to prescription medication.
BuSpar is a prescription drug that’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S. to treat anxiety. The generic name for this drug is buspirone, and we’ll use these terms interchangeably throughout this article as they refer to the same active drug ingredient.
One notable fact about this medication is that it’s not a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) like the majority of prescription anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) drugs.
But is BuSpar actually proven in clinical trials to reduce anxiety, and to what degree? Does it cause side effects? How do real users react to it? And was it taken off the market?
In this article we'll answer all of these questions and more as we review medical studies on BuSpar, explain whether it causes side effects and weight gain, highlight dosage information, and share real, unsponsored user reviews of the drug.
Does BuSpar Work for Anxiety?
BuSpar has been extensively studied for its ability to treat anxiety.
A 2002 meta-study of different treatment options for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) found that BuSpar was significantly more effective than placebo. 54% of the trial participants using BuSpar had “significant clinical improvement” of their anxiety symptoms compared to only 28% of patients taking placebo pills.
The review also documents that BuSpar is as effective as benzodiazepines (commonly referred to as “benzos”), which typically have more severe side effects.
A long-term medical study on BuSpar for the treatment of chronic anxiety found it to be effective throughout the 52 week study. Over 70% of patients taking BuSpar categorized their mental health as “much better” between months 4 and 12 of daily use of the medication. This study didn’t use a placebo group for comparative purposes, which makes the quality of data weaker, but we still find this to be a positive set of results.
A medical review published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that BuSpar combined with therapy was more effective than taking BuSpar alone. This suggests that patients with health insurance and the capacity to do so may benefit from seeking a licensed therapist with experience working with anxious patients.
We will conclude from the available medical data that BuSpar is effective for treating anxiety. This isn’t surprising, because the drug is FDA-approved to do so, and the FDA approval process requires an extensive amount of clinical research backing.
BuSpar Side Effects
BuSpar has a milder side effect profile than many prescription anxiety drugs.
Medical studies show that drowsiness is the most common side effect of the drug, but the rate of drowsiness in the linked study was no higher than that of placebo, meaning this side effect necessarily can’t be attributed to the drug.
The rate of drowsiness reported by BuSpar patients was significantly lower than all other anxiety drugs reviewed in the linked study. It was 58% lower than lorazepam, which is the generic version of Ativan.
Dizziness and headache (reported by 9% and 7% of patients respectively) were the next most commonly-reported side effects of BuSpar, and are relatively mild side effects.
It’s worth noting that BuSpar doesn’t have a black box warning on its FDA label. The black box warning is the most severe type of warning required by the FDA, and indicates life-threatening risks such as increased suicide risk. Many prescription drugs we’ve reviewed on Illuminate Health carry a black box warning, and we consider the side effect profile of BuSpar to be very favorable compared with some other anti-anxiety drugs we've reviewed.
Real, Unsponsored User Review of BuSpar
A YouTube creator named Botanical Queens published a review of her experience using BuSpar. She explains the dose she uses, whether it has caused side effects, and what positive results she's seen on the medication:
Does BuSpar Cause Weight Gain?
Many patients are curious about whether BuSpar can cause weight gain as an unintended side effect, because some anti-anxiety meds do. We didn’t find any evidence of this side effect in medical literature.
Since tens of medical studies on BuSpar have been published, and none of them documented weight gain as a side effect, we do not believe that this is something patients need to worry about.
BuSpar was even categorized as “weight neutral” in a medical review on the body weight effects of psychotropic drugs. This means that it does not cause weight loss or weight gain on average.
How Does BuSpar Work?
BuSpar is part of a class of medications called “serotonin agonists.” Medical studies show that the mechanism of action of this drug is to partially activate serotonin receptors, leading to an overall increase in serotonin activity in the brain.
Researchers aren’t entirely sure why increasing serotonin levels is effective for treating anxiety, but it’s theorized that serotonin may have sedative and mood-stabilizing effects. It’s an important neurotransmitter that directly influences mood and emotional state.
Some scientists propose that increased serotonin levels in the prefrontal cortex of the brain may help prevent the brain’s fight-or-flight response from chronically overreacting.
BuSpar is prescribed at a wide range of dosages. Oral tablets of the medication range from 5 to 30 milligrams (mg), and the dose is typically titrated up from the minimum effective dose over the course of several weeks.
Most adult patients work up to a daily dose between 20 mg and 30 mg, as reported by a leading medical database called StatPearls. This is considered the standard adult dosing range to treat anxiety disorders.
One medical study published in the Clinical Therapeutics journal compared the effectiveness of one large dose of BuSpar (30 mg) and two or three smaller daily doses. No difference in effectiveness of the drug was noted, so it seems sensible to take the one larger daily dose, as this will reduce the risk of a patient forgetting to take one of their multiple daily doses.
BuSpar Vs. Xanax
Xanax is one of the most commonly prescribed anxiety medications, so patients are often curious about whether it’s more or less effective than BuSpar.
A clinical trial published in 1991 compared which drug was more effective on a patient population with anxiety. Both medications were found to be equivalently effective, but Xanax worked more rapidly. Xanax caused “rapid and sustained improvement” within one week, while BuSpar required several weeks of daily dosages to achieve significant anxiety reduction.
Even though Xanax may be effective in a shorter time duration, we would recommend that patients speak with their doctor about BuSpar over Xanax. The side effect profile of BuSpar is superior in our opinion. Xanax is a benzo drug with a serious risk of addiction.
BuSpar does not appear to be addictive, and we haven’t come across any medical evidence that it causes withdrawal symptoms when treatment is stopped.
Should I Take Generic BuSpar?
As referenced in the intro section of this article, BuSpar is the brand name of the drug and buspirone is the generic name. Both names refer to the exact same active pharmaceutical compound.
We would recommend that patients speak with their doctor about the generic buspirone rather than BuSpar. An extensive medical review found that generic and branded medications were equivalently effective. This is unsurprising because they contain the same active ingredient.
Generic drugs are often significantly cheaper, for patients with or without health insurance, so it seems logical to consider buspirone over BuSpar.
Should I Take BuSpar at Bedtime?
Since many patients with anxiety struggle to sleep well, there is often a question of what time of day is the optimal time to take BuSpar. It would make sense to take the drug at bedtime if it had relaxing properties.
However, somewhat counterintuitively, medical research suggests that BuSpar actually decreases sleep quality and duration. The linked study found that BuSpar had stimulatory properties, rather than sedative properties. The study authors suggested that the drug be taken earlier in the day to prevent sleep disturbances.
Only a doctor will know what the optimal medication timing is for an individual patient, but research suggests that on average it may be beneficial to take BuSpar in the morning rather than at bedtime.
Can I Take BuSpar and Wellbutrin?
Wellbutrin is an antidepressant medication. Since it’s relatively common for patients to experience both anxiety and depression, many patients ask about whether it’s safe to take BuSpar and Wellbutrin together.
We could only identify one published medical study on this combination, and it was a case study. This means that it documented the effects in one single patient. While this type of research can be useful and spur further research, it’s certainly too small of a sample size to be definitive.
In the linked case study, a patient with depression experienced favorable results when taking both BuSpar and Wellbutrin. The study authors suggested that there may be a synergistic effect between the two drugs.
Patients with both anxiety and depression should speak with their doctor prior to using this combination.
Can BuSpar Cause Heart Attacks?
There doesn’t appear to be any legitimate medical research suggesting that BuSpar can cause heart attacks. If this side effect existed, it would almost certainly be listed on the drug’s FDA label in a black box warning. Since no such warning exists, we believe that this isn’t a concern worth worrying about.
Of course, any patient could have an allergic reaction or adverse reaction to any drug due to individual sensitivity and biology, but there doesn’t appear to be any evidence suggesting that BuSpar increases the risk of heart attacks.
Why Was BuSpar Taken Off The Market?
BuSpar appears to have been voluntarily taken off the market by its manufacturer. There is a lot of misinformation online about whether this drug was taken off the market due to its ineffectiveness or legislative action.
According to the Federal Register, which is a reporting wing of the U.S. government, BuSpar was not taken off the market for safety reasons. This means that the drug’s manufacturer chose to remove it from the market for other reasons; likely business-related. Perhaps the drug wasn’t generating as much profit as expected.
The generic buspirone appears available for sale in the U.S. at the time of updating this article.
Our Mental Wellness Platform Recommendation
We recommend a platform called Brightside to patients dealing with mental health issues. It's an online therapy and medication platform that connects patients with licensed doctors and therapists from the comfort of their home.
A medical review published in the Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy journal found that online therapy was equally effective to in-person therapy for treating depression, anxiety and PTSD. Therapy may be a good first option for patients who want to avoid the side effects of medication.
Brightside also can connect patients with licensed psychiatrists that can prescribe medication. Some patients choose only therapy, some choose only medication, and some choose both. The brand reports that 86% of members feel significantly better within 12 weeks of treatment.
Patients with and without health insurance can use Brightside. For many patients with health insurance, treatment is entirely covered by insurance.
The cost for medication without health insurance is capped at $95/month and the cost for therapy without health insurance is capped at $299/month.
Interested patients can check out Brightside at this link to the brand's website.