Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 4/13/2022
The more you understand about medical science, the more you realize that The Rolling Stones may have been nerds, all along. “You can’t always get what you want,” Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote in 1969, “but if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need.”
Maybe it was about disillusionment at the end of a decade, but it could just as easily have been about the variety of medications found to offer accidental benefits, like relief for symptoms of anxiety.
Penicillin was like that — discovered by accident. So was Viagra®. And so, in its own way, was Buspar®.
Buspar is an anxiolytic drug — an anti-anxiety medication — but when it went into development in 1968 (a year ahead of the Stones), the goal was to have this medication treat psychosis. It’s not the drug they wanted, but since Buspar works for anxiety, it’s the drug we needed.
Buspar is a brand-name version of the generic anxiolytic drug buspirone, which was originally created as an antipsychotic. That career path didn’t work out, but luckily buspirone was able to pitch, switch gears, and circle back into a position in the anxiety field.
Buspirone is mostly employed in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder, also known as GAD. It’s effective for short-term anxiety symptom relief specifically, and also the long-term use and management of anxiety disorders.
Typically, it’s employed as a second option — because of its common side effects (which we’ll get to in a moment), it’s not an ideal first line of treatment.
Instead, healthcare professionals typically employ buspirone when another treatment modality (typically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs) aren’t working for a particular patient, or aren’t being tolerated well by a patient.
Interestingly, there’s some evidence to show that buspirone can be used alongside SSRIs — if employed correctly, it can reduce the sexual side effects sometimes associated with the other medication.
A review of literature on Buspirone collected data from over 1,000 outpatients with anxiety. What it found was that a 20mg dose per day was as effective as other medications like diazepam and clorazepate, while managing to cause fewer side effects.
Buspirone was less likely to intensify the effects of alcoholic beverages than other medications, did not seem to cause abuse of the medication itself, and impaired motor performance less significantly than other medications.
The biggest limitation to this data, however, is that it was compiled in 1984. There hasn’t been significant research into buspirone since then, with a few exceptions.
One exception is a review from 2015, which updated current opinions on buspirone. That review found that buspirone is effective for generalized anxiety disorder specifically, but failed to treat other forms of anxiety.
They did however note additional benefits to treating irritability and aggression in patients with dementia, and posited that there was promise in a combination of melatonin and buspirone for treatment of depression.
How buspirone works is a bit complicated, but in the simplest explanation, it’s in a class of medications called azapirones, which affect serotonin receptors in the brain.
From the way the NIH explains it, buspirone seems to thread the needle in the world of neurotransmitters: it weakly affects certain dopamine receptors, avoids the receptors affected by benzodiazepines, and targets the 5HT2 and 5HT1 serotonin receptors, both of which seem to make it effective in managing anxiety.
In other words, buspirone tends to affect a lot of things a little bit. Since everyone’s brain chemistry equilibrium is a little different, this medication has significant value — it’s great for people for whom the undesirable effects of other medications are a little too much, or not quite enough.
How you take Buspar or any form of buspirone will ultimately be determined by a healthcare professional — we’re not writing the prescriptions here. But how a healthcare professional prescribes buspirone to you may differ depending on your needs.
Typically, tablet doses of buspirone are packaged between 5mg and 30mg. A normal first dose of buspirone is typically around 15mg, but in your life, that may look like two 7. mg doses or three 5mg doses. It’s common for this medication to be taken multiple times a day.
Typically, a daily dose will only go as high as 30mg for a day for adults. But maximum doses can range greatly — studies have seen effective responses to a maximum of up to 60mg daily, and 20mg for children.
Interestingly, because of how your body metabolizes buspirone, your healthcare provider may advise you to take it with or without food — both options offer different benefits that a healthcare professional may employ to make your treatment more effective.
The side effects of Buspar can vary greatly. Diarrhea, nausea, blurred vision, tinnitus, chest pain, tremors, confusion, dizziness, headaches, and other adverse effects occurred in between 1 percent and 10 percent of patients, depending on the side effect.Seek medical attention if you see evidence of any of these potential side effects.
Research has noted that buspirone has minimal sexual side effects — this is an important feature of these medications for anxiety, as they are often what someone might be switched over to from SSRIs if they are experiencing adverse events in the bedroom or other sexual side effects of buspirone.
It’s important to be cautious about potential drug interaction dangers. People who have recently used or are currently using MAOIs or monoamine oxidase inhibitors should let their healthcare provider know, and should not take this medication for anxiety for up to 14 days after discontinuing use.
If you’re interested in Buspar for anxiety, you have a few conversations to have with your healthcare provider.
First, you’ll want to establish firmly that you do have an anxiety disorder, and specifically generalized anxiety disorder or another condition for which Buspar offers benefits.
Ultimately, it’s your healthcare provider’s decision what to prescribe you, and Buspar or a generic of Buspar may only be right for you if other medications haven’t been as effective as desired.
For anxiety, there are other treatments that should be considered. In all likelihood, you may be prescribed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs at first — they’re the go-to solution for anxiety and the popular first choice when a healthcare provider is beginning your treatment.
When coping with anxiety, research has found that the response to therapy is usually positive, and cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT is one of the most effective ways to begin to learn how to control those anxious thoughts (and eventually make them very rare).
These are just a couple of the treatments a healthcare provider might suggest.
Will Buspar or buspirone work for your anxiety? There’s only one way to tell. Anxiety medications and anxiety therapy today are such individualized treatments that no one can say for sure what effects they’ll have on you.
That’s why it’s important to talk to a healthcare professional about your needs. Individualized treatment is an important piece of the anxiety solution — there’s no one-size-fits-all treatment (and if there were, we wouldn’t have to write so many articles like this).
What should your next steps be? Contact a healthcare professional and talk about your concerns. A healthcare professional will be able to direct you to the right medications and therapies, which may include things we’ve mentioned, or other options entirely.
Your mental health is important — get the tailored help you need today.