In 2006, the Food and Drug Administration approved Chantix, made by Pfizer, Inc, as a drug to help combat the addictions to cigarettes. Since that time, it’s had its ups and downs as far as how it’s worked and how it’s also affected some people in negative ways.

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First, let’s take a look at what Chantix is. It’s a prescription medication that works by blocking nicotine from reaching the receptors in the brain that are normally associated with cravings and addiction to nicotine. In clinical studies, patients using Chantix said that their urge to smoke was reduced, and as many as 44% of patients tested abstained from smoking.

It’s known that nicotine affects the brain by increasing levels of dopamine, which brings about pleasure by stimulating neuroreceptors. Chantix does pretty much the same thing in stimulating those neuroreceptors, but prevents dopamine from being released. It ends up countering the effect of having nicotine in the body, which helps wean people off cigarettes and their nicotine craving. People who go on Chantix usually do a 12 week treatment, which seems to work for most of them, although some receive a recommendation to go further, just to make sure it works.

However, the veneer of perfection came off in May of 2008, when a report by the nonprofit group Institute for Safe Medication Practice came out saying that more than 3,000 people had suffered some fairly serious side effects, with one quarter in 2007 actually having recorded more than 1,000 people suffering side effects. Some of those side effects included vision loss, changes in heart rhythms, seizures, severe skin reactions, diabetes, and, scarily, suicidal tendencies. It was estimated that possibly 40,000 people in the United States might be suffering from some pretty serious side effects.

Almost at the same time, the U. S. Public Health Service came out in support of Chantix, while recognizing that it could have some psychiatric risks with some patients. In their opinion, Chantix was the most effective method of getting people to stop smoking. However, they weren’t absolute in their approval of the drug. They also recommended other methods to helping people remain smoke free, reporting that combining counseling and medication were the most effective way to kick the tobacco habit, saying “both counseling and medication should be provided to patients trying to quit smoking.” It was also recommended that physicians should keep an eye on their patients while being on the drug.

However, indications that Chantix might cause suicide tendencies have hurt sales since that report, along with reports of depression, headaches, and sudden mood swings, including rages. In the first quarter of 2009, sales dropped by 36%, and Pfizer has had to entertain many lawsuits against the product, saying they didn’t properly warn anyone about the potential side effects. Pfizer is thinking about studying the drug to see if it can help prevent heart attacks, in an attempt to validate the drug and hopefully stimulate sales again.

Meanwhile, in July 2009, the FDA decided to require Chantix to have depression warnings on its packaging. And if you’ve ever watched the commercial on TV, it’s a long one, around 2 minutes and 30 seconds, most of which are the contraindications of what could happen if you take it. So, it’s a scary proposition; some people need something this strong to quit, but are the risks worth it?

As with most pharmaceuticals, they can affect different people in different ways. Chantix might be an effective way to stop smoking, but as some reports show, it might have unintended negative consequences that end up being worse than smoking, at least for some people. Make sure to talk to your doctor, as well as including your family in those discussions, if you decide this is a course of therapy you wish to embark on.

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