It’s hard to miss the barrage of ads for new, anti-anxiety startups Hims and Kick Health. But I still had a lot of questions. Are these reputable companies offering legit medicine? How are they able to prescribe anti-anxiety beta-blockers online? How does their pricing compare?
What anti-anxiety meds do Kick Health and Hims prescribe?
Both of these companies offer Propranolol. Propranolol is a beta blocker – a type of medication that works by blocking the beta receptors found in your heart, lungs and arteries. It is not a drug that changes how your brain processes anxiety or fear. Instead it simply works to reduce the physical effects of fear in your body.
Propranolol is prescribed off-label for anti-anxiety. Off-label means that the drug is prescribed for a condition different than the one that the FDA approved it for. Don’t freak out though — one in five prescriptions written are for off-label use, according to the HHS (US Department of Health & Human Services).
It works differently than drugs you might know by name, such as Xanax (alprazolam, a benzodiazepine) or Zoloft (sertraline, an SSRI). Both are popular medicines to treat anxiety. Xanax and Zoloft target the brain and the central nervous system, blocking (or reducing) feelings of panic. Propranolol targets the heart, reducing the physical effects of anxiety. It is specifically focused on two types of anxiety: performance anxiety and social anxiety.
These types of stress ramp up the body’s production of adrenaline and similar fight-or-flight hormones. According to the University of Utah, these hormones make your heart beat faster, push your blood to parts of the body you need during a fight, and downshift less important parts into a maintenance mode. Adrenaline is a useful hormone – especially for your great-great-great-granddaddy who needed it to flee from a hungry tiger. In this case it’s a pretty good idea to have your heart rate increase and for your stomach to stop using so much blood to digest that mastodon burger. But obviously the utility of a sudden adrenaline rush before delivering a speech is less obvious.
Propranolol blocks the stress hormones that cause sweaty palms, your heart feeling like it’s going to pop out