What is Clonazolam, and Why is it Dangerous?
Clonazolam is a so-called research chemical, meaning it was developed in the lab to mimic the actions of other chemicals. These chemicals tend to be dangerous, and clonazolam is no exception.
What is Clonazolam?
Clonazolam is another name for triazolobenzodiazepine. Many benzodiazepines have medical purposes. They are sedatives used to treat anxiety and aid with sleep, and they work by raising the levels of the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain. They are effective medication, but pose a significant risk of addiction.
Clonazolam, however, has not been licensed as a pharmaceutical. It is sold only as a research chemical and reagent. Created in the 1970s, it is a potent combination of clonazepam and alprazolam (both approved for short-term use). Even a small dose can produce intense sedation and induce amnesia.
What Are the Risks of Clonazolam?
Clonazolam is typically sold as an illicit drug, but can also show up on prescription drug marketplaces. In the latter case, it may be being sold as Valium or another prescription sedative.
Clonazolam has no benefits and carries with it significant risks. These include:
1. Addiction. All benzodiazepines can be highly addictive, and clonazolam is no exception to the rule. However, because it is so potent, physical dependence tends to develop more quickly. Withdrawal from benzodiazepine is particularly unpleasant, and going off it cold turkey can lead to muscle and joint pain, nausea, migraines, nightmares, delusions, anxiety, seizures, irritability and digestive disturbances. This is a physical addiction as the body becomes dependent on the presence of the benzodiazepine to produce correct amounts of neurotransmitters.
2. Accidental overdose. This is more likely if the drug is consumed in liquid form or if it is snorted. Snorting clonazolam tends to cause extended, often multiple day blackouts. Overdosing on clonazolam can lead to respiratory depression and death.
3. Impaired judgment while high. Clonazolam can cause both physical and mental side effects that can last for a few hours. These can include loss of physical coordination, resulting in falls, slowed reflexes, and trouble thinking clearly. All of these can lead to a risk of physical injury while under the effects of the drug.
4. Potential long-term damage to the brain, including depression, impaired memory, disinhibition, reduced response times and coordination and overall cognitive issues. Slurred speech and trouble walking have also been reported. Clonazolam users are more likely to get into accidents.
5. Legal issues. Clonazolam is a schedule I drug.
Why is Clonazolam Hard to Detect?
Another issue with clonazolam is that it cannot be distinguished on urine tests from other benzodiazepines, meaning that drug testing cannot distinguish between a clonazolam addict and somebody who is taking a benzodiazepine to handle a short-term sleep issue after a stressful event. This makes it impossible to truly detect clonazolam in screenings.
Either employers end up having to quiz legitimate benzodiazepine patients, with the privacy issues that involves, or they end up letting the addict through. This is a particular concern given the impaired judgment, reflexes, and coordination associated with the drug. Clonazolam users, as mentioned, are more likely to get into accidents. Their safety as drivers tends to be compromised, as is their safety operating heavy machinery, even when they are not actively “high.”
Why Do People Abuse Clonazolam?
In some cases, people ingest clonazolam because they were trying to get an approved benzodiazepine on the black market. This can be a result of high prescription drug costs. Also, in some cases people get addicted to prescribed benzodiazepines and want more. Their doctor may be trying to wean them off the drug, but they may have cravings making it hard for them to reduce their dosage. Because clonazolam is so addictive, these people can become strongly addicted to the drug in a relatively short period of time. Others may mistakenly think that clonazolam has benefits. For example, in Poland, a 26-year-old woman consumed clonazolam powder to try and get to sleep because she was coughing due to bronchitis. She ended up spending 8 days in the hospital.
Clonazolam is also know to produce an extremely intense high. Some abusers may, thus, be simply using it recreationally. Likely, they were told about the drug by another user.
However, much benzodiazepine abuse starts with use, particularly to induce sleep. Also, the drug is often mixed with opioids, resulting in a complicated addiction profile with, potentially, multiple physical dependencies that need to be addressed.
How is Clonazolam Addiction Treated?
Again, clonazolam is extremely addictive. It’s important not to judge somebody who has become addicted, especially as so many addictions start with self-medication (or even with a prescription for another benzodiazepine). Clonazolam overdoses can be treated with flumazenil, but because clonazolam is so potent, it sometimes requires a higher dose.
Because clonazolam withdrawal is so intense, many people will go back to taking the drug rather than go through it. Medical detox is thus an essential part of treatment. Generally, detox for clonazolam is not done cold turkey. Instead, the drug is temporarily replaced with another benzodiazepine, typically Valium, and then the dosage is reduced over time. This helps the body adjust to not having the benzodiazepine.
This is then followed by a rehabilitation program including group and individual therapy to help the person avoid a relapse and improve their relationship with drugs and other substances. In some cases it may also involve working with a doctor to deal with issues related to how the addiction started. For example, a referral to a sleep doctor to help individuals develop a sustainable way to manage insomnia, or treatment of other issues that are resulting in anxiety or sleep disruption. Family therapy may also be used, especially if the root of the addiction lay in anxiety. Family members can be educated on how to help their loved one recover.
Finally, the person will be released with an aftercare plan. Likely they will keep attending therapy sessions afterwards, which can help reduce the risk of a relapse. This care is always highly individualized as everyone recovers at their own pace.
Clonazolam is a dangerous research chemical with no legitimate pharmacological use. Addicts require medical detox and rehabilitation, but can recover and go back to their normal lives.