Benzodiazepine was first synthesized in 1955 and was quickly recognized for it uses as a strong sedative, muscle relaxant and anticonvulsant. The introduction of benzodiazepines led to the marketing of Valium in the 1960s, resulted in a decrease in prescribed barbiturates, replacing most drugs for sedative and hypnotic use by the 1970s. Benzodiazepines are among the most widely prescribed medications, with a little over two dozen types of benzodiazepines marketed in the United States alone. In general, Benzodiazepines act as hypnotics in high doses, anxiolytics (anti-anxiety) in moderate doses and sedatives in low doses. Benzodiazepines are categorized as either short-, intermediate- or long-acting.

Generally used to treat insomnia, some short-acting benzodiazepines include temazepam (Restoril®), triazolam (Halcion®), flurazepam (Dalmane®) and estazolam (ProSom®). Midazolam (Versed®) is a short-acting benzodiazepine available in the United States as an injectable and as a syrup used for sedation, amnesia and anxiety.

Long-acting benzodiazepines are used to treat patients suffering from insomnia with daytime anxiety. Some of these benzodiazepines include alprazolam (Xanax®), lorzepam (Ativan®) and prazepam (Centrax®). Clorazepate, diazepam and clonazepam (Klonopin®) are effective anticonvulsants.

Benzodiazepines are central nervous system depressants that result in a sedated, hypnotic effect. This psychoactive drug is used to treat anxiety, insomnia, agitation, seizures, muscle spasms, alcohol withdrawal and also used as a preoperative sedative for dental work. Benzodiazepines can be categorized into groups relative to how long they last and the size of the administered dose. Flunitrazepam (Rohypnol®) is a type of benzodiazepine that is smuggled into North America illegally and trafficked as the “party drug” or “date rape” drug. Benzodiazepines are widely used as a drug of abuse due to its ability to increase aggressiveness and uninhibited behaviour, but also for its ability to sedate and incapacitate so as to prevent resistance during sexual assault. This tasteless, colourless “roofie” can go undetected if placed in an alcoholic drink of an unsuspecting victim.

Short-term effects of benzodiazepines include drowsiness, aggression, headaches, dizziness, disinhibition, as well as loss of memory, consciousness and motor control. Long-term effects include potential psychological and physical effects, tolerance and dependence. Particularly high amongst cocaine and heroin users, the use of benzodiazepines can be life threatening, especially if used in conjunction with alcohol or another drug of abuse. The two most frequently abused benzodiazepines on the illicit market today are alprazolam and diazepam.

The withdrawal symptoms of benzodiazepine use are very similar to that of alcohol consumption, but the benzodiazepine user is at a greater risk of seizure. Toxicology detection is approximately 7 to 30 days.

Benzodiazepine Street Names

  • Rohypnol
  • Roofies
  • Flunitrazepam
  • Ruffies
  • Roches
  • R-2
  • Valium