smoking cigarette, quit smoking

Chantix helps many people stop smoking. That’s the good news. But there is a darker side to Chantix. There used to be a black box warning (the FDA’s strongest message to doctors about drug dangers) about suicide and Chantix. That now goes away because the FDA has determined the problem is not so great that it requires a special alert. The person who contacted us below has a sad story to share:

Q. My brother took Chantix for two months before he died from suicide. He had no previous mental health history, and was a mellow, wonderful, happy-go-lucky person. He was a very successful software engineer and loving husband and father with everything to live for. He loved life.

His vice was chewing tobacco, and he turned to Chantix to help quit. He had blackouts, hallucinations and fits of rage that he did not remember afterwards. He became intensely depressed and angry.

My sister-in-law took him to the ER; they sent him home after determining that he was “low risk.” They were very wrong: he killed himself four days later. The fact that he was on Chantix should have been a red flag, but no one seemed to take it seriously.

A. We are so sorry to learn about your tragic loss. For the last seven years there has been a prominent black box warning on the stop-smoking drug Chantix (varenicline). It stated:

“Serious neuropsychiatric events including, but not limited to, depression, suicidal ideation, suicide attempt, and completed suicide have been reported in patients taking CHANTIX.”

The company that makes Chantix has long objected to this conspicuous warning. In the last several weeks the FDA has agreed to remove the black box. The agency notes that mental health side effects are still a risk. Health professionals should have taken note that your brother was on Chantix.

Suicide and Chantix: Other Stories from Readers

Phil in NC says:

“I also suspect that Chantix figured in the suicide of a brother in law.”

Susan T writes:

“Strongly suspect Chantix involvement in death of a friend by suicide. The black box warning should remain.”

David B. in Washington relates:

“I cannot even begin to express my thoughts about this corrupt decision by the FDA. I am irate on my own behalf, having suffered an ‘endless’ six months of hell from Chantix, and on behalf of others who will certainly suffer collateral damage when their smoker loses his/her sanity, then life, due to the medication!

“These are serious psychological side effects, in some cases fatal, to the smoker, his/her family, even neighbors, and I find that most physicians are not even aware! I thank God I kept my depression and suicidal thoughts (barely) under control for all that time, but believe me, it caused lasting damage to my loved ones as well!”

CC still reports complications:

“I’ve been off Chantix 2 yrs now and still suffer from short term memory loss. Taking the medication was awful because I have every single side effect possible. I isolated myself to the point that I slept in the guest room with the door locked and my husband slept in our room. I considered suicide all the time.”

J.E.T. shared this story:

“I learned so much about Chantix reading message boards that I thought it only fair to post for someone else’s benefit.

“I took Chantix twice to quit. Once in 2009 and again this year. I was successful in quitting both times but both experiences were completely different for me. The first time I took it, I followed the dosing instructions to the letter. On day 7, I upped the dose to the full blue pill twice a day and I actually quit on day 11. By day 15 or 16, I was in the hospital with a suicide attempt.

“I was perfectly happy when I started the Chantix. Despite all of the warnings about depression etc., I was really positive when I started it. I also lived alone at the time with my one child and I worked from home so I did not have a lot of human interaction. I think if I did, someone might have seen me becoming depressed and warned me about how I was acting. I didn’t notice it myself.

“It came on really quickly and I was oblivious to how I was feeling. I didn’t feel depressed like crying all the time; it was more like I became number and number until I didn’t feel anything at all. I had really vivid dreams the first time around but the Chantix did not make me nauseated. Within 24 hours of the suicide attempt, I was back home and looking back on it like it was an out of body experience.”

D.C. is a marine with a bad Chantix experience:

“I am a poster child for the ‘rare’ psychological side effects of Chantix. I am a U.S. Marine stationed in California. I quit taking Chantix 11 days ago and have been on it since last April.

“I quit smoking, which is nice, but I have completely changed. I am no longer me. Since I have quit, I have been having anxiety attacks at least twice a day, suicide ideation, and an overall feeling of being completely lost.

“I’ve had an MRI done on my brain yesterday and they found no problems. I have made two trips to the ER for some sort of panic attack where I just feel like the world is being taken away from me and I am going to die. I am supposed to get out of the Marines in about 3 months, but they think I’m going to be a medical hold. I have no past history of mental or psychological disorders.

“I am looking for anybody that has experienced this, I need to know if this is permanent. I can barely function now. A psychiatrist here has me on anti-anxiety meds. The doctors here don’t really think this is from the Chantix because they haven’t really had any experience with it yet. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.”

We wish we could tell D.C. what to expect. This is unchartered territory. Although many people seemingly take Chantix without experiencing serious psychological side effects, we have heard from a great many who do report anxiety, anger, panic, irritability, insomnia, nightmares, depression, suicidal thoughts, impatience and problems concentrating.

Most health professionals assume that the side effects of Chantix should disappear within a few days or weeks of discontinuing the drug. We have heard from many people that the complications from Chantix may last a lot longer for some individuals.

It is clear that the FDA now believes it can eliminate the suicide and Chantix black box warning. Hopefully, doctors will still warn patients that there are potentially serious psychological side effects associated with this drug.

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  1. D

    I’m currently starting week 3. Suicidal thoughts are an almost constant mental background noise. I see it for what it is and can’t imagine ever doing anything to myself but I can see it becoming a real problem for some people. My wife has noticed a personality change and said I’ve become antisocial but my heavy work schedule is definitely a big part of that. The point is the mental health side effects are a real concern and the removal of the warning is a mistake. If your depressed of your life isn’t going well this drug can kill you.

  2. Brenda R.

    Champix made my husband quit smoking in 5 days: said it made him feel calm until week 4 when he became withdrawn. He felt lonely, and lost feelings came over him. He had vivid dreams that he found disturbing. He even managed to hide these feelings from me for a couple of weeks.

    Then he started crying spell, and once he said he thought of stepping in front of a bus. He started to take one a day to wean off but completely quit them after 3 days. He couldn’t handle the pill anymore. It’s been out of his system for a week now, and he is smoking six cigs a day for 2 days now. He feels much better, and I feel like I have my husband back. I wouldn’t recommend this drug to anyone, and there should ABSOLUTELY be a black box warning.

  3. Gray

    Being a relatively young drug (only available here in Australia for about 5 years), champix is bound to have some unanticipated effects on the user which present after clinical trials. Also, any drug that alters the chemical balance in our brains is going to have to be counterbalanced by certain restrictions and guidelines. This is my third time taking the drug (relapsed the first two times after it finishing the full course), and after reading about many other people’s experiences- and taking my own into consideration- i think I have it worked out re: side effects.
    •nausea: this is the easiest to deal with, you need to eat with the pill- or at least have a couple of glasses of water.
    •vivid dreams: there isn’t anything you can actively do to suppress this, so just go along for the ride, you’ll only have as many nightmares as you would normally; you’ll just remember them and they’ll be lucid and vivid.
    •depression and suicidal thoughts:
    This is the big one. In almost all of the recent articles and blogs I have read, there is a key point missing in these experiences.
    Four years ago when I first used champix, I had what could be deemed a psychotic episode out one night, after *literally* two glasses of wine. Luckily for me I was heavily supervised and didn’t manage to harm anyone else or myself aside from a couple of bites. I learned in the following days, after doing my own research- trolling through forums and the like- that this was an incredibly common experience. Here’s where it gets chilling: there where over 50 cases, almost exactly the same; patient has a COUPLE of drinks, has an aggressive fit, and then kills themselves. It was enough to put me off at the time and I stopped taking my prescription. The second time around I was in a place of desperation when I got my prescription, I had just gone through a breakup and was not feeling altogether happy and in control. After the second week my mood steadily dropped to the point where my friends and family were concerned for my wellbeing and I had to abandon the treatment again. I hadn’t even noticed how depressed I was getting- so I wasn’t do anything to counteract my moods.
    There is a clear message in these experiences that became apparent to me before my third attempt, and sadly it involves our medical practitioners;
    Do not trust your doctor to fully prepare you for a drug they don’t know everything about.
    The solution here is twofold: first, find a doctor that cares. Every time I have been prescribed this drug I have walked into a clinic and five minutes later walked out with the papers in hand. This drug is a SERIOUS threat to mental health and should be treated as such. Prescribing it should involve and in depth consultation, wherein it can be explained how you can successfully complete the course without drama. It should be clear that during the treatment there should be ABSOLUTELY no consumption of alcohol or any other mind altering drug. As for the effect on moods, preparedness and awareness is key. When beginning treatment in other powerful drugs ie: antidepressants and anti anxiety medication it is well know that the patient will be subject to depressed moods and suicidal thoughts. The solution is to know it isn’t real. Have family and friends close by that can monitor you and try to be more aware of yourself, it really works. Those feelings will eventually pass after your body and brain has adjusted to the change. You can also try to counterbalance moods with exercise and other activities that stimulate endorphin and will overall make you feel a little better about yourself. Of course if you have serious mental health issues that predate treatment you shouldn’t be on the drug in the first place. The main point in all of this is that doctors need to make the effort to correctly prescribe these kinds of drugs, as the consequences of not being aware of how to manage your treatment can be tragic and catastrophic. With all of this knowledge in hand, in my third attempt at the treatment; I have found the course to be much easier and my mood has remained elevated throughout, I am now smoke free, nearing the end of treatment and I couldn’t be happier! On a side note I’ve also found I’ve had less nightmares which I assume is due to my moods being more stable.

    Let’s recap the important bits:

    Basically I think at least in the states, where such a warning exists, the black label acts as a reminder for our doctors that this is a serious treatment and needs to be addressed as such.

    (NB: I have no history of serious mental illness and meet the basic requirements of successful treatment with vareniciline, people who dont, or who lie to their doctors will experience extreme psychological repercussions. Consult your doctor to see if you are compatible)

  4. Paula J.
    south carolina

    My jaw bone is crumbling due to another side effect from the drug Boniva. My dentist told me i needed jaw surgery (done bone transplant) but would not do it unless i quit smoking. I began taking Chantix a month ago and it worked. However, I feel that my death would be better than the cost of the jaw surgery. My script ran out and my doctor is off so it will be 4 days before i can get another month’s of Chantix. I am really fighting the urge to end it. Just have to wait and see i guess. Mad that doctor’s office could not get another doctor to fill my script.

  5. Ben

    Champix is causing problems in the brain. Many drugs and poisons are enzyme inhibitors, varenicline is an enzyme inhibitor. Inhibitors are molecules that decrease enzyme activity. Activators are molecules that increase activity.

    Both RDA and DNA are nucleic acids, which are base pairs nucleotides as a complementary language that can be converted back and forth from DNA to RDA by action of the correct enzymes. A DNA sequence is read by an RNA polymerase, which produces a complementary, antiparallel RDA strand. As opposed to DNA replication. In enzymatic reactions, the molecules at the beginning of the process, called substrates, are converted into different molecules, called products. Almost all chemical reactions in a biological cell need enzymes in order to occur. The set of enzymes made in a cell determines which metabolic pathways occur in cell. Metabolic pathways are series of chemical reactions occurring within a cell. In each pathway, a principal chemical is modified by a series of chemical reactions, enzymes catalyze these reactions, and often require dietary minerals, vitamins, and other cofactors in order to function properly.

    This is why it is like playing poker with peoples lives. If you have a mutation gene, or a vitamin deficiency, it can make champix not work how it should, interferes with transcription of the gene, resulting in a deficiency of the protein encoded in that gene. Once brain cells die you don t make them again. This is why people need to have a gene analysis done before they take this tablet, because without one, you would not know who it is going to affect and who it is not.

      • Ben

        A recent article on the newswire services summarizes new information that a drug used to treat nicotine addiction (Chantix) and an anti-obesity drug (Acomplia) may produce depression as an unwanted side effect because they disrupt the nerve circuits in the brain’s reward pathways. Chantix is a drug that attaches to but does not activate the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor in the reward pathway. Therefore, the receptor is blocked and can not respond to stimulation by the nicotine in cigarette smoke. The individual taking Chantix as part of a nicotine cessation program no longer experiences the rewarding effects of nicotine and this makes it easier to quit smoking. The problem is that Chantix also blocks signals that come from other types of rewards and this might lead to depression.

  6. Candis

    My father was great. Everything changed once he started Chantix. He took his life Thursday.

  7. Elizabeth

    Nicotine is a drug then you are given another drug to stop taking nicotine then another drug to overcome anxiety/depression /panic attacks caused by Chantix!!
    mind altering drugs (medicines or street drugs) have different effects on different people because one cannot really study the mind.

    We cannot cure BEHAVIOR with drugs only with self control
    of course that is difficult but with the help of God and only with His help can we achieve success

    Jesus said “without me you can do nothing!’
    Let us stop making big Pharma rich and get down on our knees and take control of our lives.

  8. Grace

    I have never been a smoker, so I may not fully appreciate the difficulty of quitting, However, I know several people who have quit by using hypnosis. Yet I seldom hear mention of this method. Seems preferable to using a powerful drug with risky side effects. My heart truly goes out to all who have suffered after using or having a relative use Chantix.

  9. Stephanie Faulkner
    North Carolina

    Doctors and pharmacies need to strongly warn people about side effects and stop with the TV Ads!

  10. Hilary
    Dorset, England

    As a previous NHS Stop Smoking Adviser, I saw many patients who used Champix or even demanded it, and on average would see adverse reactions of varying degrees weekly. I saw at least three patients who had suicidal thoughts from it and regularly had to make out “yellow cards” to our medicine watchdogs to report reactions. I was very reluctant to recommend it, but did also see many people give up smoking successfully on it with very few or no side effects.

    We had guidelines never to advise it for patients with mental health problems, but some were so keen to use it, they would still obtain it from their GPs despite being warnings against it.

    So on the whole, I think it should be avoided if possible and only used in strictly monitored conditions.

  11. David B
    Washington state

    Just a thank you, Graedons, for keeping this Chantix thread going. You might truly save some lives. I am retired military, so I especially wish the best for the Marine who shared his status. I would not be surprised if Chantix is causing long term brain problems, but I’m sure we’ll never see any research on this. I just know my “personality” has changed since Chantix, nine years ago, and not for the better! The VA has granted me 50% disability for PTSD, but now I wonder if that was all service-related, or aggravated by Chantix.

  12. Heather

    In response to D.C
    I took chantix 5 years ago. After taking it I was rushed to the hospital with symptoms of a stroke which turn out to be a panic attack disorder. I was perfectly “normal” before thanking this. I am still taking men’s daily to deal with the attacks. My life will never be the same

  13. Evelyn C.
    Charleston, WV

    My husband had smoked over 50 yrs and tried quitting many times. He got Chantix and took it a week and never had a cigarette after that. He swears by them and repeatedly tries to get other smokers to try Chantix. I myself didn’t but had success with the patch. So Chantix is like any other medicine and should be stopped immediately if there are any side effects and should still be listed as a warning just like other meds have allergic warnings, etc.

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