Herbs, Supplements, Foods That Can Aid in Withdrawal Symptoms

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When one is coming off of psychiatric pharmaceuticals, it’s common to experience withdrawal induced anxiety, panic and psychosis.  Here are some tips to help calm your body.

Herbs to help with withdrawal induced anxiety/insomnia/psychosis:

Herbs are best absorbed as tincture or tea (rather than capsules or pills).  If possible, buy (or forage or grow) loose organic herbs and steep your own tea.  Organic bag tea is also fine but use 2 tea bags and steep for awhile to get a stronger tea.

Chamomile, Angelica, Passionflower, Skullcap, Lemon Balm, Licorice, Lavender (also good as essential oil), Valerian (can help with sleep just be careful not to get dependent on it), St. Johns Wort (need to take regularly to experience results), Meadow Sweet (also for headaches), Ginko Biloba, Kava Kava (good for sleep), Hops, Melissa, Rescue Remedy/Rescue Sleep/Homeopathic sleep aid.

Essential Oils: Basil, Lavender, Frankincense, Orange, Melissa, Eucalyptus, Peppermint, Geranium, Rose.  Many other oils are good for anxiety.  These are my favorites for calming.

Supplements (take high quality food based when possible as liquid/chewable for better absorption): B Vitamins, Vitamin D (sublingual), Vitamin C (take powder but too much can cause digestive upset so mostly get it from fruit), Calcium, Magnesium, Melatonin (for sleep).

Synthetic vitamins should be used with care, similar to drugs.  Avoid taking a lot of new ones all at once and/or stopping a supplement regimen suddenly as most contain synthetic chemicals and mild toxins and should be withdrawn from slowly.  If you use high quality, you won’t need as much.  Intuition helps when choosing which ones to take.  Trust your instincts, be moderate, get as much as possible from food and broth.

Foods: fats (a spoonful or 2 of olive oil/sesame oil/coconut oil can help with insomnia/anxiety), proteins (if not vegetarian red meat is helpful though too much can increase aggression in some people; good in Winter and for anxiety and fatigue), lots of vegetables.

Protein powders from whey/hemp/pea/rice (not soy protein isolate).  Fruit and honey at bedtime. Whole milk goat dairy products if dairy is tolerated. 

Probiotics: miso, sauerkraut, kimchee, yogurt, kefir, cultured foods.

Bone broth: Cook organic bones in a crock pot or on the stove on low for a day or so with a dash of vinegar.  Recipes available online to get ideas.  Great source of calcium, magnesium, B Vitamins and soothing for digestion.  Drink this daily with salt and add it to cooking.

Also: warm baths with Epsom salt/sea salt/baking soda and essential oils before bed or when sleep is interrupted.  Rub coconut oil on feel/scalp/body for relaxation at bedtime.

With withdrawal induced panic and psychosis, remember it will pass.  Do your best with self care and know that once the drug has been mostly detoxified, you will return to homeostasis.  Usually the acute phase of withdrawal lasts less than a week with each reduction.  Go slower if needed.  

This is not medical advice, simply ideas I and others have found helpful. There will always be more things to try, as well as differing viewpoints and nutritional outlooks so I mostly recommend things I’ve used myself and know others have used that have been of benefit.  This is not meant as a “better” diet or the “right” diet.  There is no right diet.  Every single food, herb and supplement will be undesirable or intolerable or cause an allergic reaction to someone.  Every person is different in constitution, sensitivity and ability to tolerate different foods and substances.  Please share what has been helpful for you.

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Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.

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18 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Chaya,

    you asked what works and what doesn’t for those of us who’ve gone through this and you and I had a little exchange on twitter…I will share a bit of what we talked about there as you suggested.

    Folks with histamine issues (quite common with those who’ve taken psych meds) cannot eat ferments or bone broths…it’s worth being aware that it could be an issue when someone begins healing protocols that include both bone broth and ferments (and cultured foods in general) Those food items have proven to be quite hazardous for some of us who were working very hard at getting well. They are indeed very good food, but it’s worth monitoring and taking breaks from them to see if your body is continuing to like them.

    The severity of these issues with such food sensitivities can and often do diminish over time with a lot of folks being able to add back some if not all offending foods once healing has happened.

    for info on histamine issues in general see here: http://beyondmeds.com/2013/02/25/a-mini-histamine-intolerance/ … I’ve since learned a lot more, but it’s an intro…

    Also, just a general caveat…some folks develop hypersensitivities such that almost all supplements, even those widely considered both benign and helpful, can cause reactions…that caveat fits in well with what you’ve already said Chaya, everyone is different and caution is always warranted when adding supplements etc.

    thanks!

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    • The histamine connection is really interesting to me right now Monica. I tend to look at the big culprits first…sugar, caffeine, alcohol, wheat , dairy and processed foods…that alone can be daunting for a lot of folks…and then if I go on to talk about exploring the histamine connection, it can be a hard sell at times.

      I personally have a strong reaction to some, but not all, high histamine foods. The big culprits for me are red wine, chocolate, aged meats and cheese and tomatoes. Hoo boy…I’m itching just thinking about these foods.

      However, I seem to do great with some fermented foods like miso and limited yogurt and i do great with bone broths. There’s a lot of experimentation and tinkering but I also notice when I’m less stressed I can handle more…like I’ve got a histamine tolerance cup that can handle a certain amount before it spills over and my health suffers.

      Anyways, I always like reading your take on this subject. Pretty fascinating.

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      • oh, yes, Jonathan…it’s a threshold thing and all sorts of things impact histamine levels…including stress and multiple things in the environment…and our own hormone cycles etc etc…

        so absolutely sometimes we can eat things that other times we cannot…I’ve learned to listen to my body in ways that are simply astonishing…you learn so much more than just what to feed it…it’s like a window into reality…and I make it an adventure that way…otherwise, it really gets to be a drag.

        and yeah…hard sell for people to eliminate so many foods, yet to heal a lot of people really benefit from doing various elimination diets and then adding foods back in as they heal…it’s no easy thing for sure…and not everyone needs to do it…but a lot of us really do.

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    • Thanks Monica! It’s good to know this information about psych drugs lowering histamine.
      It’s true, when I was on and withdrawing from psych drugs, there were a lot of foods I was sensitive to that I never was before or after. For me it was mostly sugars, including fruit. Being on Risperdal made me experience blood sugar problems as a skinny 22 year old.
      But I also avoided grains and a bunch of other things at that time based on things I was reading and experimenting with.
      Another piece of this puzzle is when to make dramatic dietary changes. Sometimes we have reactions to foods if we aren’t used to them or haven’t developed a tolerance for them. This has happened to me when I’ve avoided certain foods for a long time and then suddenly ate them again. I think making big dietary changes should ideally happen well before or well after the withdrawal, though of course this isn’t always possible.
      I appreciate your input about supplements. Supplements have become less tolerable to me as I’ve gotten older. When I was withdrawing from psych drugs I was 22-23 and my body was able to take a whole bunch of supplements but now I can hardly take any at all. It really varies by the individual, as you say. Ideally we can all get to a point where we are close enough to our body and intuition that we have a good sense of what is and isn’t good for us. Before I fully developed this refined awareness (or developed such high sensitivity) I tried a lot of different diets and learned a lot by trial and error. Sometimes this trial and error made me lose dangerous amounts of weight or become so fixated on food that I couldn’t engage with others or do anything else. But that was also perhaps what I needed to do at that time for other reasons.
      I also experience and believe that food sensitivities and other types of sensitivities can be in some ways connected with consciousness, trauma and emotions. This isn’t to say they aren’t real. They are very real. Yet they also, in my experience, have function and symbolism outside of just our bodily processes. For example, for me, I was on a very specific diet that didn’t allow me to eat what others were eating and that was part of my need to take space from the outer world and retreat for awhile. There’s more to that story, but that’s the short version.
      So I’m interested in continuing this discussion of both nutritional sensitivities and how they are connected to other things as well.
      Thanks for reading and sharing what you have learned over a long period of study and practice, Monica.

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  2. Hey great stuff Chaya. I wanted to tack on a few things about herbs. I think of them on a continuum, with some of them very benign and subtle, and some that can be stronger and sometimes interacting poorly with the psych drugs and the intense sensitivities that develop. Of course everyone is really unique and for some even a cup if gentle lemon balm tea can be too much.

    In any event, the gentle nervines such as chamomile, lavender, rose, and lemon balm tend to be the gentlest and work for youth and the elderly well too. I’d also add oatstraw that many people can handle as a gentle nerve strengthener over time. Sme people can handle nettles and for others it’s too stimulating.

    Then the middle category of anxiety reducing nervines include linden, Scullcap, hops and passionflower. Some can handle these, others can’t.

    St. John’s wort is in a class by its own. It has some nervine relaxant effects but tends to react adversely with anyone on antidepressants so I tend to avoid it for those coming off.

    Then the big guns to me are herbs like Valerian and Kava. Both are strong medicine that I would only offer intermittently to very specific people who can handle their effects.

    Whole Food, herbs, sacred movement, fresh air, sunlight, friends…true medicine. Thanks for your words…

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    • Thanks Jon! Great additional information. It’s helpful to spell these things out. When I was withdrawing from psych drugs I took quite a bit of Valerian and I think I got mildly addicted to it and it eventually caused me insomnia and anxiety rather than restfulness, but I still felt I needed to take it. Insomnia was so bad at times that perhaps it was just the idea I was taking something that I needed.
      This is such an interesting conversation because we are all so different and have such different ways of making decisions about our bodies. For quite a long time I have been highly intuitive about what to put into my body, so much so that I don’t even need to do that much research or think too hared about it. But I did a lot in the past, so my intuition is grounded in knowledge of herbs, foods, etc. I think, like most things, we need to study and learn as much as possible and eventually find our own rules.
      Thanks for reading and adding this additional helpful categorization.

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  3. One herb that I would recommend is nettle. We are fortunate in that it grows profusely around our house and this time of year it sends up valuable shoots which we drank last night as a tea for a spring ‘tonic’ and we are going to use the remaining infusion (and the spent leaves)as a base for vegetable soup tonight. YUMMM!

    I would also remind folks who, like us, prefer to eat their kale and chard, and other greens lightly steamed with a little butter or olive oil and sea salt: don’t throw away the water in the steamer! It took some time but I trained the other individuals in our household not to dump the green water when they clean the diner dishes. That makes a great green drink to sip throughout the day. It’s an acquired taste but with some ice, it’s great!!

    Although I can’t say for certain, my hunch is that there are a lot of water soluble vitamins and minerals in a lot of the ‘waste water’ we throw away. Last night, the kale water was nearly ‘black’ which may be a sign that there is valuable iron in the solution as well. Also folks may want to remember that there are studies which indicate that the longer a vegetable sits around the household, the more it depreciates in vitamins. This is a reminder that locally grown food is best and if you can plant a garden, all the better. Folks in apartments can do container gardening and many cities now have community gardening. Many folks like my daughter are forced to live in foster homes for the ‘mentally ill’ and these homes lack gardens and dedication to green living food. One thing that psych survivors and activists can do to help people like my daughter who have no control over their diet because the state determines where their money goes and whether or not they can even go out into the community and do their own shopping, is form gardening collectives and deliver the food to these isolated foster homes.

    One psych survivor in Toronto,CA named Emma started a food justice movement for psych survivors. If anyone is interested, I will send them Emma’s monthly newsletter and they can be on her listserve. I am so glad that at least one person sees the connection between food justice and recovery. Hooray for people all over the world who are connecting the dots between big Pharma, human rights, and food justice!! Go green and happy gardening everyone! WE are all recovering together!!

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    • Nettles are one of my all time favorite. I love going out and wildcrafting a ton of them in April. Huge amount of iron, mineral and vitamin dense and its what I call a “food” herb…something that many people can take daily fr weeks and months to tonify. My only caution is for people who already run hot and dry. They can be a little too stimulating for some people.

      Nettles can often be incredibly helpful for those who have been wrung out by the system, exhausted, depleted and feeling sad and fearful due to both previous trauma and the psych drugs. Also, interestingly, nettles has anti-histamine like constituents that make it useful for those prone to allergies, but perhaps to those who have been made more histamine sensitive from the drugs. Good stuff.

      And Madmom, I love the idea of drinking up your steam water after cooking up greens. Even better if you grew them yourself like you say. These drugs are incredibly depleting and the dark greens are so deeply nourishing. I really find that I absorb nutrients and vitamins way better from food and herb infusions then from capsules and pills. And if someone’s gut is not absorbing properly, liquids are really a good way to go.

      The revolution is in the backyard…

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  4. A little caution with valerian— I used it in an attempt to quit smoking and overdosed. I had to hold myself until the effects passed. It felt like my whole electrical system was shorting out, there were horrible feelings running up and down my spine and I felt very ill.

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  5. I generally do not recommend valerian at all…especially among those with benzo histories…it can really mess with the already messed up GABA system. When people don’t have benzo histories I suggest trying very carefully if people really want to use it.

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    • Hmm interesting. I have just started using herbal remedies & one of the first I started was Valerian bc I have terrible insomnia & have since childhood. I have been on Xanax since mid 2000’s but Dr has to quit prescribing with no option to taper. I’m struggling to find the right herbal combinations. Appreciate any help. I cannot handle St John’s Wort. That actually sent me to ER about 10 years ago. Also allergic to lavender & chamomile.

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  6. Suzanne Woods is a 5th generational herbalist from New Zealand, and she is the reason my meds withdrawal was as successful as it was. She is in Shreveport, LA now, and is available for consultations by phone. Thanks to her herbs, I was able to regenerate on a cellular level.

    She does a custom blend of herbs and flower essences tailored to each person’s individual process and nervous system. She is also extremely personable and warm. A true herbal genius, and very supportive of anyone wanting to come off meds. http://www.herbcraftrx.com/#!about/cjg9

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  7. it should be made clear that herbs alone are not enough to stop iatrogenic injury in those folks who end up with autonomic nervous system disregulation. they can help support the body quite often, but they can also, applied without expertise further seriously harm folks. Actually, bottom line, there really is no expertise when it comes to withdrawal syndromes. We need to become the experts of our own bodies.

    not everyone has serious withdrawal issues and in those instances herbs can certainly be powerfully helpful…

    still not everyone benefits from them and many people have been harmed when sensitivities kick in. when they go to herbalists or other alt medical professionals they are often met with just as much ignorance as with regular MDs…

    anyway, as I said before, caution is always warranted.

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    • Good note, Monica, it is definitely such an individual process, and filled with unknowns, so it’s a good time to practice discernment, trusting our intuition, and learning how our bodies respond to different things. I went through a variety of alternative practitioners before finding the right matches for myself. Sometimes, it seemed like looking for tiny little needles in haystacks of charlatans.

      Aside from the herbs and homeopathic remedies which I found helpful and supportive to me, I practiced energy-building exercises like Qi Gong, which I did daily, joined a fun group. And most importantly, I learned about grounding and ‘earth energy,’ which I discovered to be vital to my process, and especially when it came to meds withdrawal. Mine was rough–I came off of what had eventually become 9 meds, after 20 years of one toxic mix or another. I spent a good couple of years insomniac, which led to bouts of psychosis, as Chaya mentions, as well as excruciating physical pain, as I’ve seen you describe in some of your posts. Overall, I was catatonic with disabling anxiety for a good long while.

      I also did regular acupuncture for a few years, which I found to be really helpful and supportive to moving energy around, so it would not get stuck in my body. I was fortunate to find a really good clinic in San Francisco, which took Medi-cal, which I was on at the time, and I was able to get treatments for only $1 a session, which was a true miracle. My acupuncturist was really supportive and complemented well all the other stuff I was doing.

      In addition, also as Chaya mentions, I found probiotics to be extremely beneficial, as it builds healthy gut flora, and strengthens our auto-immune system. Also, I have found a daily serving of oats to be good for my nervous system. I also enjoy making raw veggie green drink smoothies in the morning. This really helps to remedy intestinal inflammation. Again, just an option for those to whom it might beneficial. Many do, but not all.

      I agree with what you say, that we have to be cautious about to whom we turn, which is why I learned this all for myself, and trained in what I was learning–although I am not an acupuncturist or an herbalist. But I did learn vibrational and energy medicine, as I feel that we are, in essence, our own healers and guides.

      http://www.energyandvibration.com

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      • oh, btw, that’s not my website that I posted in my response to you, but it’s a really excellent and clear synthesis of what I learned, and where I feel the good medicine is headed. At least, that’s my opinion about it, fwiw.

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  8. I had been on Effexor for abut 20 years. I tried to quit cold, but experienced many withdrawl symptoms, including so-called ‘brain zaps'(like electrical mis-fires ricocheting around inside my skull) It took me about 6 months to gradually taper off Effexor, but still have moderate ‘brain zapping’. Any suggestions re: natural herbals etc. would be appreciated. Thanks.

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