What Is Baclofen?
Baclofen is a prescription drug used to treat muscle spasms from multiple sclerosis and Huntington's disease as well as spinal cord injuries and spinal cord diseases.
Medical experts do not recommend baclofen for muscle spasms caused by rheumatoid arthritis, cerebral palsy, Parkinson's disease, or stroke, because research to date does not support such use.
Baclofen is an antispastic muscle relaxant. Researchers don't know exactly how baclofen works; however, in general, it blocks nerve signals from muscles at the level of the spinal cord and it may also depress the central nervous system.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved baclofen in 1977 under the brand name Lioresal, which was made by Novartis. The FDA approved generic baclofen in the 1980s.
Today, only generic versions of baclofen are available.
A case report published in Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology in 2014 suggested that baclofen might be effective for treating marijuana dependence, particularly for those who have used the drug heavily for a long time. The research also showed that baclofen may help reduce withdrawal symptoms as well as the effects of marijuana.
A separate study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience in 2014, found that baclofen may also help people with drug addiction avoid possible triggers and prevent relapse. The drug works by interfering with the brain's early response to drug cues.
You can take baclofen as a pill or via an intrathecal baclofen (ITB) pump.
In ITB therapy, your doctor will insert a small catheter under the skin of your abdomen, near your waist. The pump stores and releases the prescribed amount of baclofen through the catheter, using a small motor, directly into your spinal fluid.
ITB can be an option for people who experience side effects taking baclofen in pill form as it requires smaller doses of the drug and thus keeps side effects to a minimum.
Your doctor will need to refill your ITB pump system every one to three months. The system battery typically lasts five years, at which time your doctor will need to replace the device.
Once you start taking baclofen, don't stop taking it suddenly on your own. If you need to stop, your doctor will lower your dose gradually.
Stopping baclofen suddenly can lead to a dangerous withdrawal reaction that can include hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not there) and seizures.
Your kidneys eliminate baclofen from your system. Take baclofen with caution if you have kidney disease and reduced kidney function because the drug can build up in your system.
Baclofen is not recommended to treat muscle spasms caused by a stroke. Baclofen can cause more side effects in people with a history of stroke.
Baclofen can make you drowsy and affect your balance, so don't drive or operate heavy machinery until you know how baclofen affects you.
Other conditions you should tell your doctor about before taking baclofen include:
The FDA has not approved baclofen for children younger than 12.
Baclofen and Pregnancy
Studies have linked baclofen to birth defects in animals. Because of this, it is considered unsafe to use during pregnancy.
Before taking this drug, tell your doctor if you are pregnant or may become pregnant.
Baclofen may pass into breast milk, so also tell your doctor if you are breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed.
If you're a woman, ask your doctor about a possible risk for developing ovarian cysts while on baclofen. Make sure you doctor knows if you have a history of ovarian cysts.
Baclofen “High” and Recreational Use
Numerous online and anecdotal reports have suggested that some people abuse baclofen for a narcotic-like "high," because it can cause drowsiness.
There is a high risk of overdose associated with recreational use of baclofen, as high doses are needed for narcotic-like effect. Baclofen overdose can lead to:
Take baclofen only as directed by your doctor, and keep this and all other drugs away from children, teenagers, and anyone for whom the drug has not been prescribed.
Baclofen Side Effects
The most common side effect experienced by people taking baclofen is drowsiness.
Other common side effects include:
Less common side effects of baclofen include:
Serious side effects can also occur. If you have any of these side effects, get emergency help or call 911:
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing
Some drugs may affect the way baclofen works, and baclofen may affect other drugs you're taking. It's very important to let your doctor know about all drugs you're taking, including any other prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, recreational or illegal drugs, herbs, vitamins, or supplements.
Other drugs that depress the central nervous system may make some side effects of baclofen worse. These drugs may include:
- Sleeping pills
- Muscle relaxants
Don't drink alcohol while taking baclofen because that can worsen side effects such as drowsiness and dizziness.
Because baclofen relaxes muscles, it may cause weakness and imbalance, especially if you have muscle stiffness. Talk to your doctor about how baclofen may affect your balance.
Baclofen comes in tablets of 10 and 20 milligrams (mg), and you'll usually take an equally divided dose three times a day. Tablets have a score mark, which is an indented line down the middle, so you can cut them in half if necessary.
Your doctor may start you at a low dose and then gradually increase it as needed. The goal is to take the lowest effective dose.
A typical dose schedule is:
- 5 mg three times a day for the first three days;
- 10 mg three times a day for the next three days;
- 15 mg three times a day for the next three days;
- 20 mg three times a day for the next three days.
It may take a few weeks for the drug to reach the peak effectiveness.
The usual daily dose is 40 to 80 mg. The maximum dose should not be higher than 80 mg a day.
An overdose of baclofen can cause:
- Severe muscle weakness
- Difficulty breathing
If you think you or someone else may have taken an overdose of baclofen, call your poison control center at 1-800-222-1222. For severe symptoms of an overdose, call 911.
Baclofen Missed Dose
Take baclofen exactly as directed by your doctor.
Don't take more or less, and don't stop taking baclofen on your own.
If you miss a dose, take it as soon as you remember. But if it's almost time for your next dose, skip the missed dose and continue your regular dose schedule.
Don't double your dose to make up for the missed one.
By Chris Iliades, MD | Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
Latest Update: 2014-07-23
Copyright © 2014 Everyday Health Media, LLC
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