Drug overview: Alprazolam is a benzodiazepine with an intermediate onset of action. It is best known by the brand name Xanax (pronounced zan~ax). It was introduced as a treatment for anxiety and panic disorders in the US in 1981 and became a popular recreational drug.
Background: Although reports of alprazolam use and adulteration date back a decade or more the recreational use of benzodiazepine in the UK has typically involved those prescribed by the NHS, in particular diazepam diverted from regulated supplies or imported. A number of unlicensed benzodiazepines, such as phenazepam and etizolam have emerged on the new psychoactive substance (NPS) market in the last decade.The availability and popularity of alprazolam in the UK appears relatively recent.The current size of the illicit UK benzodiazepine market is unknown, but a 2018 parliamentary debate reported that over 130 million benzodiazepines and other hypnotics were diverted from the regulated supply chain in the last three years. Alprazolam accounted for over 3% of total UK dark-web trades in a 2017 study.There are no accurate UK estimates of alprazolam prevalence but there are numerous indications that the drug has become more widely available and popular for both self medication and as a recreational drug.
Availability: Alprazolam is not available on the NHS, but is available in 0.25mg (250mcg) and 0.5mg (500mcg) tablets with a private/online prescription.15 Other websites offer alprazolam in 1mg and 2mg doses without a prescription16 (see ‘Legal Status’ page 6).
User forums and local intelligence suggest alprazolam is readily available in 1mg tablets and 2mg bars from street deals and from foreign and crypto (dark-web) markets.6,7,8 It is believed that counterfeit Xanax can be more potent than the stated dose and/or may also be sold in more potent ‘pressed high dose’ form.
Chemical name: 8-chloro-1-methyl-6-phenyl-4H-[1,2,4]triazolo[4,3-a] [1,4]benzodiazepine.
Brain chemistry: Alprazolam, like other benzodiazepines, binds to benzodiazepine receptors (BZR) which in turn change how GABA-A receptors function. Benzodiazepines effectively “enhance” the effect of GABA at GABA receptors, reducing electrical charge within neurons.
Brand names: Xanax is by far the most well known brand name for alprazolam, but there are numerous other brand names such as Alprazolan, Alprox, Alpraz, Cassadan, Ralozam, Tafil, Trankimazin etc.
Classification: Alprazolam belongs to a class of benzodiazepines called triazolo benzodiazepines and is classed as a depressant drug.