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What Is CNS Depression?

By Adam Cloe ; Updated August 14, 2017

The central nervous system controls much of the body, including vital activities such as breathing and keeping the heart beating. Depression describes unusually low activity in the CNS, or central nervous system.


CNS depression, or central nervous system depression, is defined as decreased neurological activity in the central nervous system, which is made up of the brain and spinal cord.


CNS depression is typically caused by taking drugs known as CNS depressants. Examples of these compounds, the National Institute on Drug Abuse explains, include barbiturates, alcohol and benzodiazepines.

Autonomic Effects

One part of the CNS is the autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary actions such as breathing and the heart beat. As a result, one effect of CNS depression, is a slowing of heart rate and breathing.

Other Effects

CNS depression can also affect other functions of the brain, resulting in problems with thinking and perception, movement and speech, Organized Wisdom explains.


The main complication of CNS depression is that severe depression can cause patients to slip into a fatal coma. This most commonly occurs when two or more CNS depressants are used in combination.

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