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Is Valerian Root Bad For You?

Also Known As: Valeriana officinalis



Short answer

Valerian root may offer benefits for sleep and anxiety with a lower risk of dependency and overdose compared to prescription sleep aids. However, it can cause mild side effects and interact with other medications. Consult a healthcare provider before use.



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Long answer

Valerian Root: An Overview of Its Historical and Modern Uses

The roots of the Valerian plant, primarily Valeriana officinalis, have long since been woven into the tapestry of herbal remedies, stretching back to ancient Greece and Rome. In those eras, it was touted for its sedative qualities and was often employed in scenarios where a calming agent was desired. Hippocrates, often revered as the father of modern medicine, acknowledged its potential early on. Its uses ranged from treating sleep disorders to soothing gastrointestinal pain—an indication of its varied applications in historical medicine.

Transitioning to the Middle Ages, Valerian gained prominence as a perfume, but its reputation as a medicinal herb wasn't overshadowed. Alas, it was not all roses and daisy chains; like many herbs, it occasionally suffered from being shrouded in superstition, but that did little to halt its usage by herbalists and healers recommending it for hysteria and nervous tension among other things.

What's fascinating is how Valerian root has managed to maintain its standing through to modern times. The contemporary lens, aided by clinical research, has primarily focused on its potential as a natural sleep aid and anxiety-reliever. In today’s hustle and bustle, where sleep disorders and stress are rampant, Valerian root presents itself as an age-old remedy repackaged for the modern consumer.

As research has evolved, so too has the understanding of how Valerian root works. Initially, it intrigued the scientific community for its sedative properties without the addictive risks linked to conventional drugs. Clinical trials have accumulated, examining its potential interactions with the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptor, a crucial component in how the human brain regulates calmness and relaxation.

Moreover, Valerian root hasn't confined itself to the domain of sleep and anxiety management. It's been investigated for other potential benefits, including easing menstrual and stomach cramps, reducing the time it takes to fall asleep, and improving sleep quality. While these uses are promising, it is critical to approach such claims with a degree of skepticism and demand for robust, peer-reviewed research to substantiate them.

Today, Valerian root can be found in various forms as a supplement—capsules, tablets, teas, and tinctures—and it's commonly paired with other herbs like lemon balm or hops that may synergistically enhance its effects. Its most popular contemporary use is undoubtedly centered around sleep, with numerous over-the-counter sleep aids featuring Valerian as a star ingredient.

The evolution from ancient herbal remedy to modern sleep aid is pretty impressive and reveals a lot about how our understanding of plant-based treatments has changed—or, in some cases, stayed remarkably the same.

Potential Side Effects of Valerian Root Consumption

Valerian root, often touted as a natural sleep aid and anxiety reducer, is not exempt from having potential side effects. Like any supplement, its impact can vary from person to person. Below, we delve into the science to uncover the possible negative effects one may encounter when incorporating valerian root into their wellness routine.

1. Gastrointestinal Disturbances:
Some individuals report experiencing gastrointestinal issues after valerian root consumption. These can include:

  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Bloating

Research suggests that such effects may be due to the valerenic acids within the root, which can irritate the digestive tract in sensitive individuals (Source: "European Journal of Medical Research," 2006).

2. Sedation and Drowsiness:
Valerian root is primarily used for its sedative properties. However, this desired effect can sometimes be too potent, leading to:

  • Excessive drowsiness
  • Impaired alertness
  • Daytime sleepiness

These effects can be particularly dangerous when operating vehicles or heavy machinery. Clinicians should warn patients about potential drowsiness, which is supported by studies on valerian's sedative effects (Source: "Phytomedicine," 2017).

3. Potential for Allergic Reactions:
Although rare, allergic reactions to valerian root have been reported. Symptoms may include:

  • Skin rash
  • Hives
  • Respiratory difficulties

Individuals with a history of allergies to plants in the Valerianaceae family should exercise caution (Source: "American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy," 1998).

4. Headache and Restlessness:
Ironically, even though valerian root is used to promote relaxation, some users may experience:

  • Headaches
  • Restlessness or unease
  • Agitation

This could be due to the paradoxical effects that sedatives can have on certain individuals, which is mentioned in the literature evaluating sedative use (Source: "Sleep Medicine Reviews," 2007).

5. Drug Interactions and Contraindications:
Valerian root can interact with various medications and substances, including:

  • Alcohol
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Certain antidepressants
  • Sedatives

These interactions can increase sedative effects and potentially lead to adverse outcomes. Health professionals frequently caution against combining valerian with other CNS depressants (Source: "Clinical Pharmacokinetics," 2004).

6. Long-Term Use, Withdrawal, and Dependency:
While the risk of dependency on valerian root is considered low, long-term use of any sedative should be approached with caution. Withdrawal symptoms following cessation have been noted, including:

  • Insomnia rebound effect
  • Heart palpitations

These symptoms may indicate a form of physical dependence that can develop over extended periods of use, according to research on long-term sedative use (Source: "Medical Hypotheses," 1998).

Given the variety of potential side effects, it's imperative that individuals consult with healthcare providers before starting valerian root, especially if they have pre-existing conditions, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or are on medication. Trustworthy healthcare advice is grounded in one's personal health history and the latest clinical evidence.

Risk of Drug Interactions with Valerian Root

Valerian root has been heralded for its sedative properties and is commonly used as a remedy for insomnia and anxiety. However, the tranquility it promises comes with a caution label concerning potential drug interactions. These interactions can range from the benign to the significantly alarming, depending on the concurrent medications and the individual's overall health profile.

One of the primary concerns with valerian root is its potential to amplify the effects of sedatives. It can increase the drowsiness caused by:

  • Benzodiazepines such as alprazolam (Xanax) or diazepam (Valium)
  • Barbiturates
  • Anesthesia used during surgery
  • Central nervous system depressants or sleep aids, including over-the-counter medications

Those scheduled for surgery should cease valerian root intake well in advance to avoid excessive sedation. The Anesthesia & Analgesia journal references cases where patients who consumed herbal meds like valerian root experienced prolonged sedation post-surgery due to interactions.

Additionally, valerian might interact negatively with other herbal supplements that induce sleepiness, such as:

Combining these supplements could lead to additive sedative effects, which can be problematic in everyday activities requiring alertness, like driving.

Alcohol can also increase the sedative effect of valerian, warranting caution. Concomitant use can impair cognitive function and motor coordination, potentially leading to hazardous situations.

Another layer of complexity is introduced when considering valerian's influence on liver enzymes that metabolize drugs. Valerian can interact with drugs metabolized by the liver's cytochrome P450 system, particularly the CYP3A4 enzyme. Drugs affected include:

  • Statins
  • Some antifungal medications
  • Antiretroviral drugs for HIV/AIDS
  • Some cancer medications

Such interactions can lead to either decreased efficacy or enhanced side effects of these drugs. Experts, including those at the National Institutes of Health, urge users to discuss with healthcare providers before starting valerian if on any medications metabolized by these liver enzymes.

Understanding the gravity of these interactions is pivotal. As a science-driven writer, I'm compelled to make clear that not all supplements are benign adjuncts to existing therapies. Each person's physiological response can vary, hence consulting a healthcare provider before introducing anything new into your regimen is not just advised, it's paramount.

While the research is still evolving, what remains undisputed is the importance of using valerian root responsibly. Thoughtful consumption of valerian, particularly for those on medication, is necessary to avoid untoward drug interactions and side effects.

Long-term Use of Valerian Root and Dependency Concerns

When delving into the long-term implications of valerian root consumption, we embark on a journey through a landscape that's not thoroughly mapped by scientific research. Valerian root, extolled for its sedative properties and commonly used as a natural remedy for anxiety and insomnia, has been well-received by many seeking alternative treatments. However, the potential for dependency and other long-term effects remain points of contention and debate.

Let’s dissect the knowns and unknowns:

1. Risk of Dependency

One of the major concerns with any substance used to aid sleep or alleviate anxiety is the risk of becoming dependent on it for these effects. Fortunately, valerian root, according to current evidence, does not seem to carry the same risk of dependency as some pharmaceutical alternatives, particularly benzodiazepines. The Journal of Pharmacopsychiatry published a study suggesting that valerian root lacks the habit-forming properties and withdrawal symptoms associated with these medications.

2. Downregulation of Receptors

With prolonged use of any substance that affects neurotransmitter systems, there is a worry about the downregulation of receptors. However, though valerian root interacts with the GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) system similarly to sedatives and anxiolytics, research to date has not conclusively shown that long-term valerian use results in the downregulation of GABA receptors. This suggests that it does not lead to tolerance in the same manner as benzodiazepines do, where higher doses become necessary over time to achieve the same effect. But the caveat must be acknowledged; comprehensively long-term studies are sparse.

3. Potential Side Effects with Long-Term Use

Most clinical trials examining valerian root are limited in duration, which means the data on long-term usage side effects are not abundant. Some hypothetical side effects speculated with long-term use include possible endocrine disruption, as indicated by a 2006 study in Toxicological Sciences, which showed altered hormone levels in rats given high doses of valerian root extract. Though not necessarily indicative of effects in humans, this does warrant attention and further investigation.

4. Insufficient Data for Conclusive Opinions

The key takeaway from the existing literature on long-term valerian root use is that there is a palpable dearth of information. Anecdotal evidence and short-term studies provide us with some insight into the safety and efficacy of valerian root, but they fall short of painting the complete picture for its prolonged use. Without long-term, comprehensive data, it is challenging to make definitive assertions about the dependency potential and safety profile of valerian root when used over extended periods.

In conclusion, the question of whether long-term use of valerian root leads to dependency or adverse effects remains largely unanswered by the current body of scientific literature. As a result, users and healthcare providers should proceed with caution, maintaining vigilant observation for any signs of dependency or side effects, particularly with extended use. Anyone considering valerian root as a long-term treatment should consult with a healthcare provider, preferably one experienced with herbal medicine and its implications.

Comparing the Safety of Valerian Root to Prescription Sleep Aids

When sleep eludes you, the allure of a quick pharmaceutical fix is hard to resist. But let's delve into the comparative safety of using valerian root, a natural herb, alongside prescription sleep aids like zolpidem (Ambien), eszopiclone (Lunesta), and others.

Dependency and Withdrawal: A significant concern with prescription sleep aids is the potential for dependency and withdrawal symptoms. These medications are typically recommended for short-term use precisely because they can lead to habit-forming behavior and withdrawal issues upon cessation. Valerian root, on the other hand, does not have the same level of habit-forming properties. Anecdotal evidence suggests that valerian root can be used over more extended periods without leading to dependency, but scientific research in this area is still developing.

Side Effect Profile: Prescription sleep aids carry a risk of side effects such as dizziness, headache, gastrointestinal problems, prolonged drowsiness, and in some cases, complex sleep-related behaviors like sleepwalking. Valerian root is associated with milder side effects, typically including headache, dizziness, or gastrointestinal disturbances, but at a lower incidence than its pharmaceutical counterparts.

Risk of Overdose: Overdosing on prescription sleep medications can be life-threatening, necessitating careful adherence to dosage instructions. Valerian root has a much higher safety margin, and while taking it in extremely high doses is not recommended due to potential side effects, the risk of a severe overdose is considerably lower.

Drug Interactions: Both valerian root and prescription sleep aids may interact with other medications. Prescription sleep aids have a well-documented list of drugs they interact with, including but not limited to pain relievers, antihistamines, and alcohol, which may intensify the sedative effect. Valerian root may also enhance the effect of sedatives and should be used cautiously when combined with certain medications.

Before making any decisions about using valerian root or prescription sleep aids, it is crucial to consult with a healthcare professional. What appears to be a case of simple insomnia could be a symptom of a more complex health issue needing tailored medical advice.

Research Reference Points:

  • A study in Pharmacopsychiatry highlighted valerian’s potential for improved sleep with minimal side effects (Dorn, 2000).
  • The BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine journal published a comprehensive report on valerian root's safety and efficacy (Bent et al., 2006).
  • Comparative studies on sleep aid dependence and withdrawal symptoms can be found in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine (Roth et al., 2013).


Valerian root, when used responsibly and after consulting with a healthcare provider, may offer a safer alternative for managing insomnia with a lower risk of dependency, overdose, and side effects compared to prescription sleep aids. However, every compound, natural or synthetic, carries potential risks, and the final decision should be made with careful consideration of individual health, potential benefits, and risks.

Frequently asked questions

Yes, certain individuals should exercise caution or avoid taking Valerian root. These include pregnant or breastfeeding women, individuals with a history of allergies to plants in the Valerianaceae family, those scheduled for surgery, and anyone currently taking medications that might interact with Valerian root, such as sedatives, certain antidepressants, or drugs metabolized by the liver's cytochrome P450 system.

While anecdotal evidence suggests that Valerian root can be used for extended periods without leading to dependency unlike some prescription sleep aids, scientific research is still evolving in this area. Therefore, while Valerian root may offer a safer profile in terms of dependency and withdrawal, it is crucial to consult with a healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and treatment of chronic insomnia.

Valerian root is believed to interact with the brain's GABA system by potentially increasing GABA levels or enhancing GABA receptor function, which promotes calmness and relaxation. This interaction is central to its sedative properties, but unlike certain pharmaceuticals like benzodiazepines, there's no conclusive evidence that long-term Valerian use results in the downregulation of GABA receptors.

If you experience side effects such as gastrointestinal disturbances, excessive drowsiness, allergic reactions, headaches, or restlessness after taking Valerian root, you should discontinue use and consult a healthcare provider. They can provide guidance on whether the symptoms are related to Valerian intake and advise on alternative treatments if necessary.

Ask a question about Valerian Root and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • nausea
  • abdominal cramping
  • bloating
  • excessive drowsiness
  • impaired alertness
  • daytime sleepiness
  • skin rash
  • hives
  • respiratory difficulties
  • headaches
  • restlessness or unease
  • agitation

Possible long-term side effects

  • insomnia rebound effect
  • heart palpitations
  • hypothetical endocrine disruption

Ingredients to be aware of

  • valerenic acids


  • natural sleep aid
  • anxiety relief
  • eases menstrual and stomach cramps
  • reduces time to fall asleep
  • improves sleep quality

Healthier alternatives

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Valerian Root Extract

  • Promotes relaxation
  • Herbal supplement
  • Liquid form
  • 2-Ounce bottle
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Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Joey Conners
Published on: 12-10-2023

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Joey Conners
Published on: 12-10-2023

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