The use of anti-anxiety drugs has skyrocketed in recent years, and now a new study from the UK has found that these drugs can affect brain cells and pose long-term risks.
Experts from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization (ANTSO) said the use of these drugs could interfere with dendritic spines, which play a key role in neurons and contribute to the part of the brain that activates cells.
According to one of the authors of the study, Professor Richard Banati, the study is important because it shows that the prolonged use of anxiety medications can contribute to an acceleration of dementia.
Banati explained that the study focused on studying microglial cells in the brain. “These are small, highly mobile cells that are part of the non-neuronal matrix in which nerve cells are embedded,” the professor told Neurosciencenews.
“This matrix makes up a substantial part of the brain and is actually directly influencing the functioning of neural networks.”
The specific experiment closely looked at how long-term use of anxiolytic drugs such as diazepam can alter the brain’s complex wiring.
Diazepam is used to treat anxiety, alcohol withdrawal, and seizures. It also relieves muscle spasms and provides sedation before medical procedures as it has a calming effect on the body.
The researchers realized that this type of drug did not go directly to synapses and instead went to microglial cells, altering their activity and function.
“If connections between neurons are disrupted by microglial cell activity, it’s almost like disconnecting neural connections, and this would explain how very subtle changes can lead to further progression of dementia or – more speculatively – cause severe fatigue,” explained the study. Professor Richard Banati.
The researchers believe that the knowledge gained in the research can help in the development of anxiolytic drugs without such harmful cognitive effects.