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Valproic Acid (Depakote)

Valproic_acidValproic Acid (Depakote) is available by prescription in the United States.

Addictive Potential: Low

Emergency Room Visits Yearly: Unknown

Mandatory Minumum Sentence: Not Scheduled, Does Not Apply; Legal by Prescription

Mechanism of Action: Increases the Neurotransmitter GABA


Valproic acid (VPA) is a chemical compound that has found clinical use as an anticonvulsant and mood-stabilizing drug, primarily in the treatment of epilepsy, bipolar disorder, and less commonly major depression. It is also used to treat migraine headaches and schizophrenia. It is marketed under the brand names Depakote, Depakote ER, Depakene, Depacon, Stavzor. Depakote and Divalproex Sodium can be given to children for mania and bipolar disorder as young as the age of 2 years old.

Valproic acid (by its official name 2-propylvaleric acid) was first synthesized in 1882 by Burton as an analogue of valeric acid, found naturally in valerian. A clear liquid fatty acid at room temperature, for many decades its only use was in laboratories as a “metabolically inert” solvent for organic compounds. In 1962, the French researcher Pierre Eymard serendipitously discovered the anticonvulsant properties of valproic acid while using it as a vehicle for a number of other compounds that were being screened for anti-seizure activity. He found that it prevented pentylenetetrazol-induced convulsions in rodents.


Valproate is believed to affect the function of the neurotransmitter GABA (as a GABA transaminase inhibitor) in the human brain, making it an alternative to lithium salts in treatment of bipolar disorder. In addition to blocking transamination of GABA, Valproate is believed to reverse the transamination process to form more GABA. Hence, Valproate indirectly acts as a GABA agonist. However, several other mechanisms of action in neuropsychiatric disorders have been proposed for valproic acid in recent years.

Valproic acid also blocks the voltage-gated sodium channels and T-type Calcium channels. These mechanisms make Valproic Acid a Broad Spectrum Anticonvulsant drug. Beyond this, valproic acid is an inhibitor of the enzyme histone deacetylase 1 (HDAC1) hence it is a histone deacetylase inhibitor.

Side Effects:

People who take this drug can experience a variety of side effects, which may or may not need immediate medical attention. Especially dangerous side effects include vomiting, loss of appetite, fever, or dark urine. These suggest a possibility of liver damage. Some other serious side effects are unusual bleeding (especially in the urine), hallucinations, and extreme drowsiness.

 More Info:

Full List of Childrens’ Psychiatric Medications

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