Xanax is an anti-anxiety benzodiazepine that’s prescribed by the tens of millions each year. Xanax is the most widely prescribed of all benzodiazepines, and it’s one of the most commonly used prescription drugs in the U.S.

Many people see Xanax as a way to alleviate anxiety and symptoms of panic disorders, but unfortunately, it’s also often commonly used as a way to simply take the edge off or to feel better about daily life.

While it seems like a mainstream medication today, have you ever wondered who discovered Xanax or what the history of this controversial drug is?

The Development & Discovery of Xanax

With the rise of psychiatric treatment in the 1960s and the fact that it was becoming more mainstream and popular to receive this kind of treatment, researchers started looking for ways to help people who were experiencing insomnia, particularly stemming from anxiety. Dr. Leo Sternbach created the first benzodiazepine which was Librium in 1956. The objective was to create a less addictive and theoretically safer alternative to traditional tranquilizers such as barbiturates. Dr. Sternbach is credited with creating Valium, Klonopin and many other similar drugs.

The first patent for alprazolam was filed in 1969 and granted in 1976.

As time and research went on, eventually alprazolam, which is the generic name for Xanax, was first released by the Upjohn company in 1981. This company is now part of Pfizer, and the first approved use of alprazolam was for panic disorder.

This drug was following on the heels of Valium, which was one of the most popular prescription drugs in America for most of the 1970s. While Valium was popular, it wasn’t necessarily used for the treatment of panic attacks, and that’s where the makers of the original versions of Xanax saw their opportunity in the market.

The U.S. FDA approved alprazolam on October 16, 1981, and it was assigned to Schedule IV of the Controlled Substance Act in November 1981. It was the first benzodiazepine to be approved by the FDA to treat panic disorder, which happened in 1990.

Around two years after its initial introduction to the market, Xanax became a very pivotal drug in the U.S.

To sum up who discovered Xanax, you could theoretically credit the early concepts of benzodiazepines in general to Dr. Leo Sternbach, while the Upjohn Company invented the specific drug formulation that was initially known as alprazolam, then based in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Also involved in the development and discovery of Xanax was Dr. David Sheehan, who worked at Upjohn and was one of the initial researchers to show how the drug could be effective in the treatment of anxiety, mood, and panic disorders.

Treatment for Panic Disorders

Also relevant to understanding the history of who discovered Xanax is to understand the panic component. This was touched on briefly above, but at the time many of the antidepressants that were available were harsh and somewhat toxic, and the benzo market wasn’t performing well.

The key to the introduction of Xanax, or at the time alprazolam, was based around the concept of its use as a treatment for panic disorders, which was something not touched on by existing benzos and antidepressants at the time.

The drug was created as a muscle relaxant and sleep aid, but when Dr. David Sheehan and Upjohn became involved, it was presented as a drug that could be specifically used in the treatment of panic disorder with less toxicity and more effectiveness than other drugs available t the time.

By the 1990s Xanax was one of the leading drugs used in the field of psychiatry. It was being prescribed within the framework of its ability to treat panic disorder, and as a result panic itself often became referred to in a joking way as the “Upjohn illness.”

Even currently Xanax isn’t necessarily prescribed as an anti-depressant, but it is shown to have some advantages in treating depression when used for the long-term.

Eventually, the Swedish company Pharmacia acquired Upjohn and then Pfizer Pharmaceuticals acquired both, so now Pfizer is the marketer and manufacturer of Xanax.

Currently, benzodiazepines are the most commonly used anti-anxiety drugs, and of those, Xanax is one of the most popular.

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