Sodium Oxybate

Last updated: March 28, 2019

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We always think about amnesia, sleep apnea, or snoring when we talk about sleep disorders. However, there are a lot of other sleeping disorders. Some are just not as common as snoring or amnesia. One of these is narcolepsy.

Sodium Oxybate is a medication used as a treatment of narcolepsy. Aside from being effective in relieving the symptoms of narcolepsy, it is also a medication that drew unwanted attention when it received its FDA approval.

What is narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that results in daytime sleepiness. People with narcolepsy experience intermittent and uncontrollable episodes of falling asleep during the daytime.

When you have narcolepsy, you can experience sudden sleep attacks during any type of activity at any time of the day. You could be eating your lunch one minute and the next minute you have your face planted in your salad. And no, you can’t blame narcolepsy for that uncontrollable urge to sleep when you had one too many drinks the night before😁.

When you have a normal Circadian Rhythm or Sleep-Wake Cycle, you go through a series of stages before you reach Rapid Eye Movement or REM Sleep. You go to REM sleep immediately when you have narcolepsy. This happens even during the hours when you should be awake.

What causes narcolepsy?

We haven’t pinpointed the exact cause of narcolepsy. Scientists have identified some genes though that are frequently associated with the said disorder. These are genes that have control over the production of chemicals in the brain that control our sleep and wake cycle.

There are indications that narcolepsy may be because of a deficiency in the brain’s production of the chemical called hypocretin.

What are the symptoms of narcolepsy?

Excessive Daytime Sleepiness (EDS)

This is something that affects an estimated 20 percent of the population. When you have EDS, you are at risk of motor vehicle and work-related accidents. Imagine how dangerous it is to suddenly fall asleep while using a forklift or driving your car in the freeway.

Cataplexy

This is sudden and uncontrollable muscle weakness or paralysis. It comes on during the day. Cataplexy is often triggered by a strong emotion like excitement or laughter. When a person experiences cataplexy, they lose muscle tone. The jaw slackens, speech is broken, and the knees buckle. There is a total weakness in the face, arms, trunk, and legs. The person who is suffering from cataplexy is aware of what is happening but cannot move. This is akin to what you feel when you experience night terrors or nightmares. Or when your teacher asks you a question and you have no idea what the correct answer is.

Hallucinations

Hallucinations are sensations that appear real but created by our minds. It can affect all of the five senses. You might hear a voice that only you can hear.

How can Sodium Oxybate help against narcolepsy?

Sodium Oxybate is also known as gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB). It is a central nervous system depressant. It has been found to reduce daytime sleepiness and cataplexy. GHB does this by improving nighttime sleep in patients with narcolepsy.

What makes Sodium Oxybate controversial?

This is probably one of the most controversial medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration in recent years. An illegal form of gamma hydroxybutyrate is produced and used illicitly. They use it as a “date rape drug”. It is often used as a sedative at parties and nightclubs. Some hide this fast-acting and sedating drug in a cocktail. This renders the victims unable to defend themselves against assaults. The victims are also unable to recall details of what happened prior to the assault.

Some athletes also believe that the use of GHB enhances on-field performance. It works by increasing the production of growth hormones.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) considers GHB as a Schedule 1 drug. This means that it is an illegal drug. On the other hand, the prescription version is a Schedule 3 drug. This means that it can only be prescribed with refills if a DEA number is on the prescription.

In order to prevent misuse, Sodium Oxybate is dispensed only by a central pharmacy. They also mandate the use of a specific prescription form to ensure that the prescribing physician is familiar with the medication.

Does it have any side effects?

Yes, just like any other medications, Sodium Oxybate also has its side effects. The most common side effects of this medication include:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Shallow breathing

The use of Sodium Oxybate can cause some serious side effects aside from the effects listed above. If you experience any of the side effects listed below, you need to discontinue the use of the medication. Inform your physician immediately if you experience:

  • Mental/mood changes like depression and anxiety
  • Bedwetting
  • Unexplained weakness
  • Sleepwalking
  • Ringing in the ears

What should I avoid when I take Sodium Oxybate?

  • Do not take Sodium Oxybate together with other medicines that can make you sleepy or drowsy. This includes medications for allergies, muscle relaxants, medicine for anxiety, or medicine for colds.
  • Do not drink alcohol while using Sodium Oxybate.

Narcolepsy may not be as common as snoring or amnesia but it is still prevalent. Those who suffer from narcolepsy are always at risk because incidents can occur at any time of the day. Sodium Oxybate is an effective way to control narcolepsy. However, is a highly controlled substance. This is because of the potential for drug abuse. Make sure that you are properly educated by your physician about its risks and side effects if you need to take Sodium Oxybate.

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