Bupropion HCL (hydrochloride), commonly known as Wellbutrin (one of its commercial names), is prescribed by doctors to patients with depression, anxiety, and seasonal affective disorder, among other conditions. It has also been aptly named the “Poor Man’s Cocaine” for reasons we’re disclosing below. First, as a note for the use of this medication indicates that it’s versatility in treating depressive disorder and its application in helping to reduce tobacco (smoking) use make it a viable prescription for its users. While the FDA considers it to be a non-addictive prescription medication, there is some indication that, when abused, Wellbutrin can cause addiction. Further, it’s one of the more popular and easily accessible prescription drugs.
Overall, Wellbutrin is made to improve mood by increasing the concentration of dopamine. When abuse begins, a user may seek to uplift their mood or attain a rush through misuse. Similarly, trauma and life events like death, divorces, or break-ups can trigger initial use and lead to overuse or dependency. But why is this medication referred to as the “Poor Man’s Cocaine”? Because it elicits stimulant effects to cocaine and cracks, Wellbutrin is often called by this name. Read more below
What is “Poor Man’s Cocaine?—Bupropion Abuse and Addiction Potential
While the drug is known to help people overcome mental obstacles, it also comes with a potential for addiction and can be abused when not used responsibly. The side effects of misuse and “abusability” of the drug have led to it being called “Poor Man’s Cocaine” by those who use the drug for recreational purposes.
What is bupropion, what does it do and what is it prescribed for? At what point does responsible use turn into abuse? In order to answer these questions (and more) we’ve laid out some of the facts about buprop and its negative alter-ego, “poor man’s cocaine”.
What Is Bupropion Used (Responsibly) For?
Doctors prescribe Wellbutrin and other forms of bupropion HCL to patients experiencing depression, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and other problems. Essentially, the drug functions by recalibrating the chemical levels in the brain. Many of the issues that bupropion can help fix are caused by an imbalance of neurotransmitters and the drug works to restore proper function of these natural chemicals.
Its mechanism of action is enabled by the nervous system. One theory about depression is that is caused by the constant recycling of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. Instead of reusing these chemicals, which cause us to feel joy and other positive emotions, bupropion prompts our bodies to produce a healthy supply of them. It also regulates the speed at which our brain reuses them, making sure that our nervous system isn’t deprived of these important chemicals.
Does It Help For Quitting Smoking?
Bupropion does help some people quit smoking. It is also known to help certain people kick other bad habits such as drinking alcohol or overeating. Experts aren’t exactly sure why this is the case, but doctors will often prescribe Wellbutrin or similar drugs for this purpose.
Whereas nicotine patches, gum, and lozenges feed cravings by giving their user a small supply of the drug, bupropion does not contain any nicotine. Therefore, it doesn’t work as a substitute for cigarettes but seems to help in the reduction of cravings. People who use the drug to quit smoking will be recommended to start dosing a week before they have their last cigarette and to take it for up to 14 days afterward. It isn’t intended to be a long-term replacement for nicotine, just a helpful aid in the process of quitting.
Doctors usually recommend that people who still crave and smoke cigarettes one month after they start using Wellbutrin should wean themselves off of the drug.
Is Bupropion an SSRI?
Wellbutrin and other forms of bupropion are not classified as SSRI drugs. It is, however, often prescribed to treat similar conditions like depression and anxiety. The main difference between SSRI and bupropion is the component of the brain that they target. SSRIs work to raise the uptake of the serotonin transporter, while bupropion does not.
Instead, bupropion works to increase the production of dopamine and norepinephrine. For this reason, it belongs to a class of drugs called NDRIs (Norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitors) as opposed to being an SSRI. Bupropion is currently the only substance belonging to that specific class of substances.
What is A Normal Prescribed Dosage?
Given that bupropion is prescribed for a number of different conditions, the prescribed dosage will vary depending on the purpose that it is being used for. The drug comes in three different forms: extended-release (XL) pills, sustained-release (SR) pills, and immediate-release pills. Each one has its own benefits and risks.
With all three forms, doctors will usually start by prescribing a bupropion HCL dose smaller than 150 mg to be taken once daily. If this doesn’t help to treat the patient’s condition, their dosage might be increased by 10-20 mg. They may also be instructed to double their daily dosage, taking it two times throughout a 24-hour period with a few hours in between.
Each form of bupropion has a different advised maximum dose. Those using immediate-release or extended-release pills should not take more than 450 mg per day, while a sustained-release prescription should not exceed 400 mg per day. Even in cases of extreme depression or anxiety, doctors will not generally prescribe such high quantities of the drug as they do present a risk of abuse or addiction.
Poor Man’s Cocaine
The name “poor man’s cocaine” comes (I’m sure you could have guessed) from the fact that bupropion is much cheaper than coke. Most often prescribed by doctors, the drug is available in large quantities and can, therefore, be purchased for very little money. While it is not the most common form of drug abuse, buprop has seen a steady rise in its use on the streets for a few years now.
Although bupropion is a helpful drug for anxiety and aids many people in their battle to overcome depression, it does carry the risk of being abused. One of the reasons for this is that the effect it can have on the brain when taken in too large of quantities or consumed in the wrong manner is similar to the effect that cocaine has. People with addictive tendencies or those who are unable to obtain cocaine, therefore, can use Wellbutrin or a similar prescription drug to get high.
Bupropion is abused in several different ways. Some people overuse the drug by taking quantities that are way higher than their prescribed dosage. Taking several thousands of milligrams each day (up to ten times more than the drug is most often prescribed), some people use the drug as a stimulant.
Even worse, some bupropion users abuse the drug by snorting it or injecting it. Particularly with sustained or extended-release dosages, these methods remove the time-lapse quality engineered into each capsule and enable them to experience the maximum effect of the drug all at once. This process, in turn, floods their brain with neurotransmitters in the same way that other stimulants do.
Side Effects of Bupropion Abuse
While the responsible user of bupropion should feel an uplift in their overall mood during the time in which they use the drug, people who abuse it will experience negative side effects. Misusing Wellbutrin can lead to:
Hallucinations: An unnaturally large rush of dopamine to the brain can result in auditory or visual hallucinations. This is, in part, why those with severe cocaine addictions often start to see or hear imaginary things. Bupropion works similarly if taken in too large quantities or if consumed without a time-release inhibitor. Misusing the drug can cause the user to become paranoid and to begin behaving or thinking irrationally. In some cases, abusing bupropion can lead to long-term psychosis.
Although the user may feel good while high on the effects of bupropion abuse, this won’t last for long. Abusing the drug, after all, will flood the system with increased levels of norepinephrine. This is a positive effect when it’s regulated and happens over a number of weeks but has potentially long-lasting negative effects afterward. A sudden flood of the neurotransmitter will create a need for the body to have more in order for the user to feel good, creating a dependency on the drug that is unsustainable.
A flood of neurotransmitters can send the brain into shock, triggering physical and cognitive functions to cease. In this case, the user will have a seizure as the body attempts to organize all of the activity that it’s been burdened with. Seizures can be deadly if the user is alone and unable to be helped.
It is important to note, here, that certain bupropion-based drugs can be helpful to those who have epilepsy or are at risk of seizures. Wellbutrin XL, for example, is one of them. However, when taken for epilepsy, the drug is highly regulated by the prescribing doctor and only taken in safe amounts.
Other Potential Side Effects
Misuse or prescription dependency can result in mental and bodily harm. It’s important to seek help. If you believe you or a loved one is suffering from ongoing prescription addiction, give us a call at (855) 281-5588. In particular, there are certain health side effects of bupropion that users may experience even if they aren’t addicted to or misuse the drug. The likelihood of a user experiencing these side effects is exponentially increased if the substance is abused:
- Irregular metabolism
- Decreased sex drive
- Muscle and joint pain
- Ringing ears
- Trouble with vision
- Profuse sweating
- Loss of appetite
Treating Bupropion Carefully
Bupropion is a helpful drug, but should only be used under the supervision of a doctor. Because its method of action and addiction potential are still not entirely understood, even by experts, the drug still carries some big risks. Those who decide to use the drug should stick to their prescribed dosage and only take it in pill form.
Particularly for those who have addictive tendencies or are prone to drug abuse, drugs like Wellbutrin should be seen simply as a temporary prescription. Over a long period of time, after all, the body can become dependent on the drug. People who are considering the use of bupropion to help with depression or other conditions should do so while also seeking help from a dual diagnosis treatment centers, like AspenRidge, as we are experienced in treating prescription misuse use and addiction, as well as underlying mental health issues. Depression is a multi-tiered condition, after all, and can’t be fixed by simply throwing medicine at it.
Does Someone You Know Abuse Bupropion?
If someone you know is addicted to or abusing bupropion, it is important to get them help. Oftentimes, it can be difficult to identify when someone is misusing a prescribed substance. However, by recognizing that somebody has a problem, you can help them take the first steps toward overcoming their addiction and potentially save them from facing long-term health consequences. Our compassionate and supportive staff has extensive experience treating a variety of addictions. Give us a call today at (855) 281-5588.