Epilepsy is so prevalent that about 1.2 percent of the U.S. population or 3.4 million people have it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This equates to 3 million adults and 470,000 children total.
There are scores of people who frequently experience seizures caused by epilepsy, which are marked by convulsions and loss of consciousness. Many opt for anti-seizure medications like Lamictal to relieve their suffering.
Although many users report that Lamictal has no value as a recreational drug, it is capable of producing discernible, mood-lifting and/or sedative effects in users, especially those who take it to treat their bipolar disorder.
But those sensations are dwarfed by the potentially ruinous side effects associated with the medication. One of which is a rare yet life-threatening skin rash.
Someone who is in pursuit of a Lamictal “high” can set themselves up for permanent injury or death. In instances such as these, substance abuse treatment is absolutely essential.
What is Lamictal?
Lamictal is a mood-stabilizing, anticonvulsant medication that is prescribed to treat different kinds of seizures and conditions associated with bipolar disorder. It is the brand name for lamotrigine, and it is also used alone or in combination with other medications to treat epilepsy in adults and children.
With bipolar disorder, Lamictal addresses its frequent episodes along with the acute periods of depression that come with the condition. It is available as a tablet, an extended-release tablet, a chewable dispersible, and as an orally disintegrating tablet.
Lamictal is the first U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved therapy for bipolar disorder since lithium. It was approved to treat seizures in 1994, and the FDA authorized it as a bipolar medication in 2003. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) places lamotrigine on its List of Essential Medicines, which includes the safest, most effective medicines needed in a health system.
Short-Term Effects of Lamictal
Lamotrigine is a member of the sodium channel blocking class of antiepileptic medications, yet it is enigmatic in that its exact method of action is not known.
A proposed method of action for Lamictal is that it suppresses the release of glutamate and aspartate, two of the dominant excitatory neurotransmitters of the central nervous system (CNS) which gives it the effect of a CNS depressant.
Reports of its effects vary widely. How and if they manifest depends on the user and the severity of the side effects. Some people have reported that Lamictal gave them tactile hallucinations and vivid dreams.
For one user, Lamictal made them dream of being on a cruise and stepping out onto a balcony. When that person walked toward a bathroom located in their cabin, they experienced the following:
“…a swarm of roaches eating my food I left out. I turned away to find something to kill them, and then there were a bunch of rats eating the roaches. I was very disgusted and [couldn’t] stand the sight of it, so I turned away again, and when I came back there were American opossums eating the food next to the rats…”
That’s the least of what Lamictal can do to a user. It also brings with it side effects, which can be mild or severe.
Common Side Effects of Lamictal
A small fraction of Lamictal users will actually experience effects. Most people who experience side effects will only exhibit mild symptoms that go away or are easily treated.
The most common side effects associated with Lamictal include:
- Difficulty thinking or concentrating
- Dry mouth
- Uncontrollable shaking of a body part
- Trouble speaking
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of balance/coordination
- Double vision
- Blurred vision
- Uncontrollable movements of the eyes
- Stomach, back, or joint pain
- Weight loss
- Missed or painful menstrual periods
- Swelling, itching, or irritation of the vagina
Serious Side Effects of Lamictal
Lamictal carries a black-box warning, the most serious designation a prescription medication can receive from the FDA. It means there is a reasonable expectation that there are serious hazards associated with the drug.
With Lamictal, that threat can manifest as rash-related death.
It almost occurred to one California teenager who took Lamictal for her mood swings and was later diagnosed with Stevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS), which the Mayo Clinic describes as a reaction to a medication or infection where the afflicted will experience flu-like symptoms followed by a painful rash that spreads and blisters.
For a 14-year-old girl from Los Angeles, it felt as if her skin was melting off.
“At first, it was just spots on my face, then they got down my neck, then my chest, and then it started to bubble,” she told (Warning: This link contains graphic images.) a Los Angeles-area television station.
“I felt burning a lot, and I couldn’t move, and I couldn’t see; I thought I was gonna die.”
For what it’s worth, life-threatening rash from Lamictal is rare, though it is more likely to occur with children: About three in 1,000 adults and one in 100 children will develop this adverse skin reaction.
What’s more, most people will not experience any of the serious side effects associated with Lamictal. But if they do, it is usually marked by any of the following symptoms:
- Trouble walking
- Difficulty seeing or other vision problems
- Pink eye
- Ear pain
- Fever, rash, swollen lymph nodes
- Swelling of the face, throat, tongue, lips, and eyes
- Sore throat
- Difficulty swallowing or breathing, hoarseness
- Chest pain
- Frequent, long-lasting seizures
- Unusual bleeding or bruising
- Headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, etc
- Yellowing of the skin or eyes
- Abdominal pain
- Painful or bloody urination
- Muscle weakness or pain
Lamictal Overdose Symptoms
In addition to those side effects, there is the prospect of overdose from Lamictal, which can be life-threatening as well. These symptoms include:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Double vision
- Uncontrollable eye movements
- Increased seizures
- Loss of balance or coordination
- Loss of consciousness
How Professional Treatment Can Help
Professional treatment for Lamictal abuse can be lifesaving. Prescription drug abuse in America is prevalent, as it impacts millions of people. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that 52 million, or 20 percent of people age 12 and older, have used prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons at least once in their lifetimes.
With a medication that has as many side effects as Lamictal, treatment begins with medical detoxification, where it is removed from your body, and any side effects or symptoms are medically alleviated.
Once detox is completed, you can receive ongoing care and therapy through a residential treatment or outpatient program, depending on the severity of the addiction and whether you have abused Lamictal with another substance.
When treatment ends, you can get connected to a recovery community such as a 12-step program. Such groups can provide support for people recovering from addiction.