Although it is widely claimed that the benzodiazepine drugs have a specific calming or anxiolytic effect, their most prominent and easily quantifiable action is central nervous system depression. In very low therapeutic doses, this depression manifests as relief of anxiety that is often accompanied by a feeling of sluggishness or drowsiness. As the dose is increased, the degree of depression is intensified such that muscle relaxation, hyp nosis, and a more intense central nervous system depression occur. This depression is related to the ability of these drugs to facilitate the inhibitory actions of GABA.
A significant advantage of the benzodiazepines over other central nervous system depressants (e.g., the barbiturates) is that they possess a much greater separation between the dose that produces sleep and the dose that produces death. This increased margin of safety has been one of the major reasons benzodiazepines have largely replaced the barbiturates and other types of sedative-hypnotics in the treatment of anxiety and insomnia. In addition, benzodiazepine administration is associated with few side effects.
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