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Many of you here will have read my previous review on NiQuitin and will know that I am currently giving up smoking. Well, needless to say considering Iím writing another review on a different stop smoking aid things hadnít been going too well. Granted, they hadnít been going too badly, but I seemed to be incapable of having a cigarette free day if I was not using the lozenges or some other nicotine product. I was absolutely fine if I had the nicotine, and atrocious as soon as I tried to move off them. So, my nurse suggested Champix.
What is it?
Champix is a prescription only drug in the UK which works in two different ways to stop smokers from smoking. The active ingredient in it is varenicline which for those who speak medical language is a nicotinic acetylcholine receptor partial agonist; for those like me who donít this basically means that it acts on the same brain cell receptors as nicotine. It works in two ways and it is not a nicotine replacement therapy like NiQuitin. Firstly it stimulates the nicotine receptors in the brain which stops/relieves the cravings and other withdrawal symptoms that you get when you stop smoking without putting any nicotine into your system. At the same time the varenicline blocks nicotine from reacting with the nicotine receptors in the brain so that any nicotine inhaled in a cigarette will not be enjoyable and pleasurable. In other words it will taste awful and not be worth even trying to finish smoking. So, as you can see this sounds like a very useful drug to help in anyoneís fight against nicotine.
How to take
Itís a little bit more complicated that the NiQuitin lozenges to take so I will do a quick run through how to take it, although if you do decide to start this medication then your doctor/nurse/healthcare practitioner will make sure you understand. For the first three days you will be taking a 0.5mg dose once a day in the morning, it is recommended that you take the medication with food because otherwise it can cause nausea but it is not necessary. I have never eaten breakfast in my adult life and just trying to eat breakfast will make me nauseous! For the next four days you will move up a step and be taking two 0.5mg tablets; one in the morning and one in the evening, again preferably after food. Basically this period is to allow the drug to get into your system and to check to see if you have any immediate toxicity issues with it, in which case they will pull you off it.
After this first week of lower doses you are then moved onto the 1mg tablets and you take them twice a day for the next 11 weeks as this is a 12 week course. The idea is that you will smoke through the first week as they donít like putting you on nicotine replacement therapy at the same time as both cause similar side effects which can therefore become very unpleasant. You should be aiming to quit smoking between day 7 and day 12 really, and if you are still smoking when they come to prescribe you a second set of tablets you will not be prescribed them due to the expense of the drug. You are meant to be cutting down during this period but the Champix isnít expected to kick in until approximately mid way through the second week.
Does it work
Well, I have not taken the full course for reasons I will go into shortly. Because of this I canít comment on what occurs after week 4 or so of treatment, but if Iím honest if Iíd continued with the treatment I donít think Iíd be in any fit shape to write this review if I was lucky. Personally I would not say that Champix is the wonder drug that many physicians make it out to be. Firstly, it does make you less attracted to having a smoke without a doubt, I could quite happily meander through the day without smoking and I wouldnít really notice that I was without nicotine. However if youíre not very careful with your dosing this does wear off. I found that taking the morning pill at 7am meant that anything after about 8pm was a struggle which caused a few issues as most of the time we will eat tea at 9pm. But making cigarettes taste bad and not hit the spot? Well, that reaction of Champix still hadnít kicked in when I stopped. My nurse was adamant that even if I did smoke I wouldnít be able to get more than half way through it, which of course in Lissy logic land (or no logic land as the case may be) this was a challenge. So, I waited for my brother to come home, snaffled one of his cigarettes and meandered away to smokeÖand quite happily finished the entire cigarette without problems.So, does it work? I would say yes. In so far as it takes away the urge to smoke. I am reticent about the whole making them taste bad though because in my experience that is incorrect. It has crossed my mind that people say this to their medical practitioner because they know that this is what they are expected to say as this is the result the nurse has told them will happen. That may however just be me being cynical, or me having an idiosyncratic response to the drug.
Be very careful
Talking of reactions to the drug. Before I started taking it I was fully warned of the possible side effects Ė the list is quite long so I wonít copy and paste it but the big ones were nausea which I can cope with, and I figured it couldnít be worse than the NiQuitin and mood change. Now this mood change one was the one we were most worried about as many of you here will know I am not necessary the person with the most stable background and with things as they were at work I was suffering extreme anxiety without something to make me worse!!! However, we agreed that weíd just have to keep a very close eye on things and it was worth a shot. Other side effects of note may be weight gain, appetite changes, sleep changes and vivid dreams. Stomach discomfort may be an issue for some people and dizziness, tiredness and feeling generally under the weather are also potential issues.
The first week was fine. I completely lost my appetite but I wasnít too unhappy by that, and again due to my background, as soon as I reported this to the nurse a weighing in was incorporated into our meetings which are every two weeks. I was told that if I couldnít keep my weight stable then I would be removed from the drug. For anyone who thinks this is harsh, trust me Ė itís not. I have proven quite capable in the past of not being able to manage my weight. So far I was lucky; I had no changes to my sleep patterns, no vivid dreams and generally felt ok. I picked up the nausea for about half an hour after taking the tablet but that was about it. On the other hand I was still smoking as I had been advised to do.
Week two was more of the same and the increase to the 1mg tablets didnít seem to upset my system. The nausea was a little more pronounced but that was about it. I was getting very ratty and snapping a lot, usually at my poor boyfriend, and was struggling to keep my temper. We are fairly certain this was due to the Champix because I was massively out of character; Iím usually sarky rather than nasty!
Week three and the problems started. I started to get major dizzy spells meaning that I completely stopped driving. I felt weak and wobbly just about all of the time and was struggling to get through a day in one piece. I was regularly flaking out at work but not getting paid sick leave meant that I was desperately trying to grind on through. I just canít afford to lose even a days pay. Looking back this is also where Iíd place the beginning of the real problems. At the time I didnít notice it due to work stresses and the fact that I wasnít a particularly happy bunny to begin with, but this is where I started to feel rather low. Nothing particularly serious, just not right.
And the problems really start Week four and I should have stopped taking the drug at this point. Iíd just about reached breaking point. I was so low it was untrue, it was like a black cloud had descended and put quite simply I couldnít cope. Everything was completely hopeless and I just couldn't see the point in anything. To run through it quickly on Saturday to Tuesday Iíd been very down, lost interest in most things, lost concentration. I saw the nurse on Tuesday who was concerned but put another two weeks through whilst giving me the strict instructions to ring if necessary. I spent most of Tuesday evening staring at my Champix and trying to figure out if I had enough to overdose on whilst getting mildly peeved about the lack of information to help me on the internet. The only information I could find was that overdose could induce coma but no helpful numbers. On Wednesday I nearly killed myself in my car because I was being a complete idiot, driving downright dangerously and taking bends far too quickly. This is from someone who is usually paranoid in the car and 5 miles below the speed limit, but I just didnít care, if anything it seemed a fairly easy and effortless way to solve the issue. I was an hour late for work on Thursday because I was too busy crying in a public toilet at Moor Street. From Tuesday onwards Iíd started self harming again, something I hadnít done in years and to the point where I didnít care that I was using my hands which is a stupidly obvious place and something I never, ever used to do even at my worst. And Iíd drunk so much alcohol over the week that it wasnít even funny; my logic was I couldnít do anything spectacularly stupid at the pub and Iíd probably pass out as soon as I got home. Frankly I was at the point of manic depressive and suicidal. It was Thursday evening I sent an email to my vicar and got a fairly quick response, get to the doctor Ė urgently. And for Godís sake donít take any more pills girl. So Friday I trundled off to the doctor.
Well, that will only tell with time time I guess. But without the outside stimulus of Champix I hope Iíll feel a fair bit less like driving my car into a tree at high speed or standing in the middle of the dual carriageway waving at the people in the local pub whilst waiting for a high speed lorry. Yes, both thoughts did cross my mind. The side effects definitely don't seem to leave immediately, as Saturday where I took no Champix I gave my car keys to my vicar in order to stop me driving at 70mph into a tree after drinking so that everyone would blame the alcohol. By Sunday the vicar had care of my car keys, my penknives and the remaining supply of Champix to stop me doing anything silly.
Come Tuesday I'm feeling far more like myself. I have my car keys back and an ok from the doctor, although I have to go back for regular check ups. It's strange because it's like a fog has been gradually clearing from my mind, and I'm starting to think it's my own brain talking again. Thank God for that.
Please donít get the idea that you shouldnít try these pills because from what I can see many people have had no problems at all with them. And they do work. Aside from me taking the nurses statement as a challenge, I hadnít had a single cigarette since day 3 of week 2 and Iíd barely missed them. This is a worthwhile drug to try. All I would say is be very, very careful. Keep a very close eye on your mood and be very aware that this drug can cause serious side effects. Iíve since looked up other peopleís reactions to Champix and some people are calling for it to be banned, but I donít think that is fair. I do however think that you need to be very aware of the possibilities and if possible have someone else who knows the possible side effects of the drug to keep a look out as well. However, I do believe Pfizer are being rather underhanded by saying these kind of side effects can be caused by quitting smoking Ė Iíve tried several times before and I have never, ever felt like this. I am usually a very careful person who will plan things to the utmost to ensure that nothing goes wrong and that all bases are covered. The forth week I was taking this I was an impulsive manic depressive who successfully scared the living beejeepers out off myself because that just isn't me.I would also seriously advise you making sure that other people know about what you're taking and the potential side effects. If I hadnít have pulled myself up on it on Thursday for example, there is no way Iíd have got through choir practice without being pulled up on it by two different people. At least then you have a back up plan. So by all means, try it because it is effective. Just please be careful, and donít be afraid to pull the plug if it all goes wrong. On the plus side I did completely lose my anxiety and panic attacks, but this was only because I actually couldnít force myself to care enough to be anxious and panic attacks take energy which I just didnít have.
Well, I gave myself quite a scare. I thought Iíd lost the capacity to freak myself out by my own actions but I was obviously wrong. I didnít think that anything would have the ability to make me lose control of my own thoughts like that but I was wrong.
If you read other reviews you will find that different people react differently. You may have no problems. You may only have gastrointestinal effects. But the potential dangers here need to be fully understood, and I would recommend that if you already have a depressive or anxiety disorder that you probably ought to stay well away from these.
And apologies from me to all whom I have neglected to rate back over the last week, there are quite a few of you and I will do my best to get round to you. Please bear with me. Same goes with alerts. Itís been a rough week.
I reiterate my original warning. Use with care. Be aware of your moods. Please Be Careful.