Varenicline (brand name Champix®) is only available by prescription to your doctor. It blocks the effects of nicotine and reduces cravings and withdrawal symptoms. If you start smoking again while taking the medicine, you won't feel as satisfied. This improves your chances of quitting.
Varenicline is one of two prescription medications covered under the PharmaCare BC Smoking Cessation program. *Please note that Champix® is now only covered as a partial benefit under PharmaCare. Ask your doctor about the low-cost (generic) alternatives.
Evidence suggests that varenicline is the most effective medication for helping people quit. When used as directed, there is evidence that varenicline can increase your chances of quitting successfully.
Varenicline works by changing the way the brain reacts to nicotine. It makes it harder to get pleasure to nicotine and also helps to reduce cravings by blocking the receptor in the brain that responds to nicotine. Other advantages include:
- It's easy to use
- It does not contain nicotine
Common side effects
- Nausea and vomiting
- Gas and constipation
- Insomnia and abnormal dreams
- Mood & behavioural change
How to use
Varenicline is available as a pill that you take by mouth.
- Start taking varenicline one week before you quit smoking. This builds up the level of medicine in your body.
- Continue to smoke as usual while taking varenicline until your quit date.
- The recommended dose of varenicline to help you quit smoking is:
- Days 1-3: take one 0.5mg tablet once a day.
- Days 4-7: take one 0.5mg tablet twice a day, once in the morning and once at night.
- Day 8 to the end of treatment: take one 1mg tablet twice a day, once in the morning and once at night.
- Take varenicline after eating and with a full glass of water to decrease the nausea and vomiting side effect.
Warnings & precautions
As with any prescription medication, there are benefits and risks to taking varenicline. Health Canada has determined that for varenicline, the benefits outweigh the risks.
Heart or stroke events
Talk to your doctor if you have any changes in cardiovascular symptoms, including:
- Chest discomfort for more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back.
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, vomiting, or feeling lightheaded associated with chest discomfort.
Get emergency medical help right away if you have symptoms of a stroke, including:
- Weakness or sudden numbness in the face, arm or leg even if temporary.
- Trouble speaking, even if temporary.
- Vision problems, even if temporary.
Do not use if
Do not use varenicline if one of the following applies to you:
- Have an allergy to varenicline.
- Currently using nicotine replacement therapy (like gum or patch). The combination of taking both does not increase your chance of quitting and increases the likelihood of experiencing side effects.
- Less than 18 years old.
- You are pregnant.
Speak to a doctor or pharmacist
About whether varenicline is right for you if one of the following applies to you:
- Depression or other mental health problems
- Kidney problems
- Currently taking medications such as insulin, theophylline, or warfarin
Stop taking if
Stop taking varenicline and speak to your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Depressed mood
- Changes in behaviour that are not typical
- Suicidal thoughts or behaviour
- Thoughts of harming yourself or others