The Development of Benzodiazepines as Antianxiety Medications

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  • 0:00 Benzodiazepines
  • 0:25 Librium & Valium
  • 1:44 The Dark Side
  • 3:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Benzodiazepines are used as medications to treat anxiety, among other things. This lesson provides a synopsis of their development and the effects these drugs can have on the mind and body.


Benzodiazepines are a group of drugs commonly characterized by any combination of their muscle relaxing, hypnotic, sedative, anticonvulsant, and anti-anxiety effects. You've probably heard at least one of these drugs called diazepam, better known under its brand name of Valium. Let's go over the interesting history of the developments of benzodiazepines.

Librium & Valium

The first benzodiazepine synthesized is known as Librium by its brand name or otherwise as chlordiazepoxide, the generic name of Librium. It was developed at Hoffman La Roche incorporated in 1957, by pure chance. Not long after, its developer had figured out that Librium had beneficial anxiolytic effects. By the way, anxiolytic means antianxiety, or a drug that produces such effects.

Within just a few short years the drug was marketed to the public under its trade name of Librium and was used in tens of thousands of patients, pretty much right off of the bat. The accidental discovery of the first benzodiazepine Librium spawned the further development of benzodiazepines, most famously, a few years later, one called Valium, the brand name of diazepam. It was discovered by Dr. Leo Sternbach, an organic chemist working at the same company, Hoffman La Roche.

Basically, Valium was released as a better version of, and an alternative to, Librum. Within 15 years after Librium was released, over 40 million benzodiazepine prescriptions were being written out across the U.S. Partly because it was believed this group of medications was very safe to use, with no long-lasting detrimental effects and few problems upon its discontinuation.

The Dark Side

While Librium and Valium certainly had their positive side -- the relief of anxiety -- they were not free of side effects and the development of further benzodiazepines highlighted the fact that this entire group of medications wasn't as safe as people once believed it to be at the start. Further studies showed that withdrawal effects were a real possibility, especially when the drug was used for a long period of time, prior to its discontinuation. Other problems occurred as more and more drugs of the benzodiazepine class were developed, ones I'm about the mention by name.

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