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What’s The Best Over The Counter Xanax Alternative? We Review The Leading Alternatives To Benzodiazepines For Anxiety.

Best Over The Counter Xanax Alternative At A Glance

Best CBD

Joy Organics Full Spectrum CBD

CBD (or “cannabidiol”, a non-psychoactive part of the cannabis plant) helps balance the mind-body axis and has anti-anxiety, anti-pain, and anti-depressant properties.

Drink Root Kava

Best Kava

Drink Root Kava

The active chemical in kava, called kavalactones, has sedative and euphoric effects.

Double Wood Supplements GABA

Best GABA

Double Wood Supplements GABA

GABA inhibits neural activity and leads to greater relaxation and a better overall mood.

Thorne L-Theanine

Best L-Theanine

Thorne L-Theanine

L-theanine has demonstrated incredible results towards improving NREM sleep and can also be used to promote relaxation throughout the day as well.

KAL Lithium Orotate

Best Lithium Orotate

KAL Lithium Orotate

Lithium orotate gives you enough lithium to stabilize your mood without the side effects that come from medically-dosed lithium.

Kraken Kratom Red Borneo Capsules

Best Kratom

Kraken Kratom Red Borneo Capsules

Red Vein Borneo is ideal for achieving an anxiolytic effect without inducing drowsiness.

Toniiq Ashwagandha

Best Ashwagandha

Toniiq Ashwagandha

Withanolides give ashwagandha its ability to help the body with mental and physical stress.

Alprazolam, better known as Xanax, is a popular prescription medication for anxiety that belongs to the benzodiazepine family.  It’s widely used due to its effectiveness and rapid onset – but also widely feared for its side effects and withdrawal symptoms.

While there are people who will sing the praises of Xanax, many others have felt compelled to wean themselves off it due to the side effects and rapid tolerance build-up.  And that begs a few questions– why is Xanax both so effective and so problematic, and what can you replace it with?

What Does Xanax Do To The Brain?

Xanax binds to GABAa receptors in the brain, modulating their function.  This enhances the effects of GABA- gamma-aminobutyric acid, the brain’s main inhibitory neurotransmitter.  The effect of this is a reduction of anxiety and a relaxing effect on the brain.

Xanax also suppresses the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.  In other words, it reduces adrenaline secretion, suppressing your fight-or-flight response.  As such, it tackles anxiety from both directions– increasing your main inhibitory neurotransmitter while suppressing one of the main excitatory neurotransmitters.

Interestingly, however, low-dose Xanax actually increases levels of dopamine in the striatum of the brain.  Dopamine is, of course, a stimulatory neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and motivation, and not typically something that an anxiolytic would increase. 

The effect is small, but significant, and occurs acutely after taking the equivalent of about .2 to .3 mg of Xanax – which is lower than the dosage typically prescribed.  At higher dosages in line with those normally prescribed, this effect is overshadowed by the increase in GABA.  

How Long Does Xanax Stay In Your System?

Xanax lasts around 6 hours or 11 hours for the extended-release version.  The half-life is 11-13 hours for immediate-release Xanax or up to 16 hours for extended-release Xanax.

This means that significant amounts of Xanax can remain in your system for 2-4 days, depending on how much you took and how long you took it for, although the effects will no longer be noticeable within a day.

What Does Xanax Feel Like?

Xanax feels calming, relaxing, and perhaps even sedating.  As with any drug, however, the effects are dose-dependent.  Higher doses can make you feel drowsy, especially in the evening.

People with severe anxiety frequently describe Xanax as making them feel “normal.”  Some people describe Xanax as making them feel almost drunk– although this is likely indicative of dosing too high. Even higher doses can lead to blackouts.  

How Long Does It Take For Xanax To Work?

Xanax typically kicks in within 30 minutes.  The effects peak around 90 minutes, but they last for at least 6 hours.

Why Is Xanax So Addictive?

On one level, Xanax is addictive because it feels good.  However, other benzodiazepines with similar effects are far less addictive.  To a large extent, this comes down to timeframes.

Other benzodiazepines have much longer half-lives and a slower onset of action.  In fact, most of them derive their effects from active metabolites rather than the drug itself, and those metabolites can have half-lives of several days.  These drugs also take days to take full effect– even if you front-load the dosage, it takes a few hours.

When you quit Xanax, you usually have to taper the dosage to avoid withdrawal symptoms.  Other benzos, because of their long half-lives, are effectively self-tapering.  So, to put it simply, drugs that take effect quickly and don’t last very long are inherently more addictive than drugs that work similarly but more slowly. 

Alternatives To Benzodiazepines For Anxiety

As mentioned earlier, other benzodiazepines are less addictive than Xanax.  There are also several natural supplements and over-the-counter nootropics which are safer and still quite effective.

The most similar to Xanax would be phenibut, a modified form of GABA with an attached phenyl ring to help it cross the blood-brain barrier.  Phenibut can be ordered from a variety of nootropics websites.  Phenibut can also be addictive, however, and heavy users can suffer withdrawal symptoms.

GABA itself is safer, but since it doesn’t cross the blood-brain barrier as readily, you have to make up for that by taking more of it.  It has more effect on the peripheral nervous system, however, so it’s good for physical anxiety symptoms like twitching and fidgeting.

Ashwagandha is probably the best long-lasting herbal option and has been shown to be moderately effective in combating anxiety.  It is readily available in supplement shops and on Amazon.

Rhodiola rosea acts as a mild anxiolytic and stimulant combined, and also combines well with ashwagandha.

L-theanine is an amino acid with mild anxiolytic properties.  It doesn’t really hold a candle to Xanax, but it’s also side-effect-free and tends to aid rather than impair focus.  

Magnesium is perhaps the most “natural” anxiolytic, being an essential mineral.  In fact, many people with anxiety are magnesium deficient.  That said, the magnesium salt you pick matters– avoid magnesium citrate or oxide, and opt for magnesium threonate, glycinate or malate instead. Magnesium threonate is the most effective form of magnesium for anxiety, but it is also the most expensive, so it’s often mixed with other magnesium salts for cost reasons.

Kratom can sometimes be helpful if you pick a “slow” strain.  However, kratom users can build up a tolerance if they use the same kratom strain every day, so this is better for occasional use.

Lithium can help with anxiety but is mainly useful for depression and bipolar disorder.  Low-dose lithium in the form of lithium orotate is a great option for people who suffer from anxiety in conjunction with pre-clinical depressive symptoms.  

Finally, kava is an effective anxiolytic and a safer substitute for alcohol.  It has a relatively short duration of action and rapid onset, making it ideal for people who experience occasional and sudden bouts of acute anxiety.

Our Top Picks For The Best Over The Counter Xanax Alternative 

Best CBD

Joy Organics Full Spectrum CBD Tinctures

Joy Organics CBD tincture is a full-spectrum CBD product containing less than 0.3% THC.  It comes in a variety of flavors, all sweetened with stevia to make it more appetizing than other CBD oils. 

What we really love about it, though, are the lab reports.  Joy Organics offers lab analyses for every one of their CBD products, organized by lot number.


Drink Root Kava

Best Kava

Drink Root Kava

Drink root offers a novel approach to kava– dehydrated kava juice.  It’s designed to closely mimic the taste and feel of traditionally-prepared kava while being easy to use– so not micronized for faster absorption like many kava products, but neither is it whole or shredded root. 

Rather, it’s a powder you can quickly mix with any liquid.  It’s made from noble kava (sourced in Vanuatu), which is smoother and lower in side effects than the other major strain, tudei kava.


Double Wood Supplements GABA

Best GABA

Double Wood Supplements GABA

Double Wood is one of our favorite nootropics sellers because they only sell supplements that work, and their products always contain exactly what they claim at the concentrations they advertise. 

Unlike most GABA supplements, theirs is dosed high enough to have anxiolytic effects despite GABA’s relatively low ability to cross the blood-brain barrier.


Thorne L-Theanine

Best L-Theanine

Thorne L-Theanine

Thorne Research is known for selling some of the most high-quality, lab-tested supplements around.  While not the cheapest, their theanine is pure, their manufacturing process is transparent, and users consistently give it top marks for effectiveness.


KAL Lithium Orotate

Best Lithium Orotate

KAL Lithium Orotate

Lithium orotate is the low-dose, over-the-counter version of lithium.  At 5 mg of elemental lithium, KAL lithium orotate gives you enough to stabilize your mood without the side effects that come from medically-dosed lithium


Kraken Kratom Red Borneo Capsules

Best Kratom

Kraken Kratom Red Borneo Capsules

As per our article on kratom strains, red vein Bali, Borneo or Indo kratom is what you usually want for a sedative effect.  Kraken’s red vein Borneo isn’t quite as sedating as Bali kratom strains– at low to moderate doses, it’s ideal for achieving an anxiolytic effect without inducing drowsiness.


Toniiq Ashwagandha

Best Ashwagandha

Toniiq Ashwagandha

We like Toniq’s highly-concentrated ashwagandha extract not only because it’s potent and effective, but also because it’s lab-tested and completely clear about its concentration of withanolides, the active ingredient in ashwagandha. 

One dose of this, twice a day, will be roughly what most people need to achieve a moderate anxiolytic effect without the side effects associated with stronger anxiolytics like Xanax


Also read our article Supplements To Take With Adderall.


Editor’s note: we are regularly updating this review. If you see any problems, weird interpretations of the data, or just want to say hi, please reach out to hello@the-unwinder.com.

Photo by Towfiqu Barbhuiya on Unsplash

About the author

John Fawkes is the Managing Editor of The Unwinder. John is an NSCA-certified personal trainer and Precision Nutrition-certified nutritional counselor who has been featured on over two dozen websites and podcasts. He works with clients in Los Angeles and online, and can be reached on Instagram and Twitter.

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