The exact mechanism of action of venlafaxine is unknown, but appears to be associated with the its potentiation of neurotrasmitter activity in the CNS. Venlafaxine and its active metabolite, O-desmethylvenlafaxine (ODV), inhibit the reuptake of both serotonin and norepinephrine with a potency greater for the 5-HT than for the NE reuptake process. Both venlafaxine and the ODV metabolite have weak inhibitory effects on the reuptake of dopamine but, unlike the tricyclics and similar to SSRIs, they are not active at histaminergic, muscarinic, or alpha(1)-adrenergic receptors.
Venlafaxine, an antidepressant agent structurally and pharmacologically unrelated to other antidepressants and agents used to treat generalized anxiety disorder, is used to treat melancholia, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and hot flashes in breast cancer survivors.
Undergoes extensive first pass metabolism in the liver to its major, active metabolite, ODV, and two minor, less active metabolites, N-desmethylvenlafaxine and N, O-didesmethylvenlafaxine. Formation of ODV is catalyzed by cytochrome P450 (CYP) 2D6, whereas N-demethylation is catalyzed by CYP3A4, 2C19 and 2C9. ODV possesses antidepressant activity that is comparable to that of venlfaxine.
Most patients overdosing with venlafaxine develop only mild symptoms. However, severe toxicity is reported with the most common symptoms being CNS depression, serotonin toxicity, seizure, or cardiac conduction abnormalities. Venlafaxine's toxicity appears to be higher than other SSRIs, with a fatal toxic dose closer to that of the tricyclic antidepressants than the SSRIs. Doses of 900 mg or more are likely to cause moderate toxicity. Deaths have been reported following large doses.