Disclaimer: None of the information in this article constitutes medical advice, and is just the opinion of the writer(s) and published for informational purposes only. 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 chemical compound.
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.
In this article we’ll analyze published medical studies on BuSpar to determine if it’s safe and effective for reducing anxiety and stress. We’ll highlight side effects of the drug, dosage information, and suggest a natural, over-the-counter (OTC) anxiety treatment that patients with mild anxiety may want to speak with their doctor about.
Does BuSpar Work for Anxiety?
BuSpar has been extensively studied for its efficacy in treating anxiety.
A 2002 meta-study of different treatment options for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) found that the medication 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.
How Does BuSpar Work?
We believe it’s important for patients to understand the mechanism of action of their prescription drugs, so that they can note trends of which class of medications help them the most.
BuSpar is part of a class of medications called “serotonin agonists.” Medical studies show that the mechanism of action of this drug is to artificially increase circulating levels of serotonin in the brain.
Researchers aren’t entirely sure why increasing serotonin levels is effective on average 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 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.
Does BuSpar Cause Weight Gain?
Many patients often ask 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 seem to document a side effect of increased weight gain relative to placebo, we find it relatively conclusive that BuSpar does not cause weight gain.
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.
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 and 30 mg, as reported by the previously-linked StatPearls page on the drug. This is considered the standard effective dosing range for anti-anxiety effects.
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 GAD. 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 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.
OTC Anxiety Option
Ashwagandha is one of the most well-studied dietary supplements for anxiety. As we noted in our best ashwagandha supplement review article, this herb can be effective for reducing anxiety without any notable side effects if it’s dosed appropriately.
A 2014 meta-review on ashwagandha for anxiety analyzed five clinical trials on the topic. In all five reviewed studies, the botanical compound was effective for treating anxiety on average.
Ashwagandha is available OTC, both in retail stores and online. As we highlighted in our review article, the only downside to this supplement is it tends to absorb heavy metals to a greater degree than the average plant, because it’s a root, so selecting an ashwagandha brand that performs quality testing is imperative.
We typically recommend Organic India ashwagandha root powder as it passed ConsumerLab’s independent testing for label accuracy and purity.
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 seems logical to take the drug at bedtime if it has 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 not be taken at bedtime.
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 causes heart attacks more than placebo.
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.
Even if BuSpar is accessible in other markets, we would strongly recommend that patients only use the drug if obtained via a doctor’s prescription, because the risk of fake drugs increases drastically when a drug’s manufacturer takes it off a major market.