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Dear Pharmacist,

What herb do you suggest for relieving stress? The side effects of alprazolam are intolerable?

--R.T., Denver, Colorado

Answer: Many herbs and nutrients can help, please use my search box at my website because I have many articles archived. Also, I wrote a full chapter,“Frazzled, Frustrated and Freaked Out” in my book, The 24-Hour Pharmacist. Today, I’m excited to tell you about Magnoliae officinalis, a flowering plant used for eons in traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine to control anxiety and promote better sleep. Various parts of the plant can be applied topically, ingested orally, or taken as a tea to relieve digestion, constipation, toothaches, inflammation, depression, headache, and asthma. You’re going to love this next part.

Magnolia bark extract has powerful stress busting effects, largely due to “honokiol” a well-studied and potent anxiolytic. It works similarly to prescription medications like alprazolam (Xanax), chlordiazepoxide (Librium), diazepam (Valium), and lorazepam (Ativan). Both magnolia and prescription sedatives work by increasing levels of GABA, a relaxing hormone that helps calm and soothe an overactive brain. The difference is that honokiol is picky and works in specific areas of the brain (raising GABA). The net effect is relaxation. Prescription drugs affect GABA receptors throughout your entire body, causing systemic side effects such morning hangover effect, muscle weakness, daytime fatigue and more. Magnolia, being more selective, should not produce these problems, and should not make you feel doped up. Magnolia helps manage stress eating so I suggest you take it while watching your favorite reality show (wink). A couple of studies found that overweight women ate fewer calories while on magnolia, versus those who did not supplement. It’s not an appetite suppressant, I suspect it just tames the compulsion to eat while under stress. Millions of Americans with generalized anxiety disorder, grief, depression and panic attacks may benefit from magnolia bark, so it’s a bright future. I love that magnolia bark offers a safe alternative for people concerned about addiction and excessive sedation from medications. The biggest deal to me, as a pharmacist is that studies published in the Journal of Pharmacology have shown that honokiol induces a specific stress-relieving effect and is less likely to cause “motor dysfunction” as well as sedation as compared to medicine. I’d still tread carefully if you have to operate machinery or drive a car, until you are certain of magnolia’s effect on you. The best part is that withdrawal symptoms are absent in people who discontinue magnolia bark. I recommend “HonoPure” by Econugenics, “Magnolia Extract” by either Nutricology or Allergy Research Group.

Even though multiple studies have confirmed the safety magnolia bark, I suggest you get your physician’s approval. Stop magnolia two weeks prior to surgery, you don’t want it in your blood stream while receiving anesthesia. Alcohol’s sedative effect enhances magnolia’s effect, so this combination should be avoided. And finally, magnolia is not recommended for pregnant ladies as certain forms may be harmful.

Suzy Cohen

Suzy Cohen, is known as America’s Pharmacist. She has been a licensed pharmacist for 24 years and is a Functional Medicine practitioner. She’s the author of 6 books, including her most recent Amazon #1 best-seller, “Thyroid Healthy: Lose Weight, Look Beautiful and Live the Life You Imagine.”

She was the host of The Thyroid Summit which broadcast worldwide in June 2014. Suzy has been a syndicated columnist for 19 years reaching 20 million in circulation each week. She is a Huffington Post writer, and also hosts her own syndicated medical minute on TV. Suzy has been featured on The Dr OZ Show 6 times, and has appeared on The View, Good Morning America Health, The Doctors and hundreds of other networks. She is a member of The Institute of Functional Medicine, also the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, The American Pharmacists Association and ILADS, the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society. You can read free articles and receive your free newsletter by visiting her website,

Books authored by Suzy Cohen include:

  • Thyroid Healthy
  • Headache Free
  • Drug Muggers
  • Diabetes Without Drugs
  • The 24-Hour Pharmacist
  • Eczema: Itchin’ for a Cure (kindle only)
  • Understanding Pancreatitis & Pancreatic Cancer (kindle only)