I never thought a tiny, baby blue beta-blocker would be haunting me. Women’s health and wellness company Hers has come under fire for its Performance Anxiety Aid, which has been advertised to help “calm your nerves” for casual situations like your “next big date.” The e-tailer—which also sells birth control pills via an “online consultation” process—seems legit at face-value, but should we really trust these miniscule packets of prescription pills without a visit to a psychiatrist?
On Monday, online beauty watchdog Estee Laundry called the brand out via its Instagram Story and a thread for their demoralizing take on anxiety—and the insane markup price for a generic prescription (the pill costs $25 for a 5-pack on Hers’ site, but only costs $0.35/pill from other providers). Anonymous beauty critic Gelcream also joined in on the conversation, expressing doubts about the product’s effectiveness.
“Propranolol [the generic beta-blocker in Hers’ controversial anti-anxiety pills] is FDA-approved to treat cardiovascular conditions, it is NOT FDA-approved to treat anxiety disorders but is successfully used off-label,” Gelcream wrote on her Instagram story. “Hers website actually states that. This drug can be very helpful when prescribed correctly to treat clinical anxiety but should not be marketed as a sweet-pill to take before a date.”
Though The Atlantic deemed propranolol a probable compound to reduce anxiety in an article published in 2017, Dr. Kristen Fuller, MD, who specializes in mental health disorders at the Center For Discovery, has her concerns.
“Propranolol is a beta-blocker that is used for blood pressure, migraine headache prophylaxis, atrial fibrillation, thyroid malfunctions, and off-label for a specific type of anxiety known as performance anxiety,” she tells COOLS. “Like many prescription medications and natural medications, off-label usage is common and should automatically be deemed as dangerous or unsafe. Propranolol, as well as any other type of medication, can be deemed unsafe when taken incorrectly and not prescribed by a healthcare professional.”
Like many drugs, propranolol comes with a staggering list of side effects—many of them being mental health-related. Common side effects include aggravated congestive heart failure, depression, fatigue, shortness of breath, and psychotic disorder.
But not everyone frowns upon the pill. Licensed clinical social worker Meg Josephson tells COOLS she has taken propranolol for tremors, and Clinical/Community Psychologist and Psychoanalyst Mark B. Borg, Jr., Ph.D, called the pill a “potential game changer” to other over-the-counter anti-anxiety drug treatments, including herbal remedies.
Still, the fact that Hers is advertising a legitimate drug as something to simply pop in your mouth when you’re feeling slightly nervous trivializes the fact that anxiety affects 40 million adults in the United States alone. On top of the pill not being FDA-certified for mental health treatment, as well as having a lengthy list of concerning side effects which, by the way, are not listed on Hers’ site, the marketing strategy on this “performance anxiety aid” spins the serious issue of anxiety as something cute, trendy, and easily fixable with a few pills—and without the consultation of a licensed professional. Anxiety isn’t a joke, and it should never be treated as such.
Thankfully, the Hers team acknowledged the flaws in their marketing mishap, and published a statement on Tuesday via their Instagram on the subject. “Our post on Propranolol, a medication sometimes used by doctors to treat the physical symptoms of performance anxiety, really upset a lot of you,” the brand stated. “We agree the post was misguided and reductive, and we apologize that this slipped through the cracks.” They also noted that they will be holding an “Ask Me Anything” with one of the Hers’ network doctors on Thursday, March 14th, to further delve into the pill and answer any questions consumers may have on it.
If you are looking for medication to ease your anxiety or other mental health issues, visit a trusted psychiatrist or licensed mental health professional instead of relying on the internet. Need some guidance? Check out the National Alliance on Mental Illness to find out more on how you can start your mental health journey and to see what’s right for you—because no problem is “one pill fits all.”