Potential clinical applications of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in medicine and neuropsychiatry

Expert Rev Clin Pharmacol. 2022 Sep;15(9):1067-1080. doi: 10.1080/17512433.2022.2121699. Epub 2022 Sep 8.


Introduction: Ashwagandha (ASW) is the extract of the plant Withania somnifera. It is widely used in complementary, alternative, and integrative medicine (CAIM) but is little discussed in mainstream modern medical literature.

Areas covered: We performed a review of potential pharmacotherapeutic properties of ASW. Studies were sourced from relevant online and offline databases. In animal models, ASW displays antioxidant activity. It has GABAergic and other neurotransmitter modulatory effects. It reduces apoptosis and promotes synaptic plasticity. It improves cognition and reverses induced cognitive deficits. It attenuates indices of stress. In human subjects, ASW enhances adaptogenesis in healthy adults. It modestly benefits generalized anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder, and symptom severity in schizophrenia, substance use disorders, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It improves sleep quality.

Expert opinion: ASW may confer modest benefit in certain neuropsychiatric conditions. Its benefits may arise from induction of neuroplasticity, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, and modulation of GABA and glutamate, as well as other neurotransmitters. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions may also benefit neurodegenerative states. Reports of clinical benefit with ASW must be interpreted with caution, given the paucity of randomized clinical trials (RCTs). Greater methodological rigor is necessary before clinical recommendations on ASW can be confidently made.

Keywords: Ashwagandha; Ayurveda; Indian winter cherry; Withania somnifera; clinical applications; clinical pharmacology; pharmacology.

Plain language summary

ASW is an extract of the Indian winter review and meta-analysis of four RCTs reported scientific studies on the use of ASW in animal and human subjects in order to identify potential clinical uses in modern medicine.Our review finds that ASW has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action. It also modulates the effects of several neurotransmitters in the brain. It attenuates laboratory and clinical indices of stress. These mechanisms may benefit mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and addictive disorders. ASW improves exercise capacity in healthy adults. It also appears to improve sleep quality. In addition, ASW may also improve cognitive functioning post-brain injury and in those at risk of dementia. There is evidence from animal models that ASW may also be of benefit in cancer, stroke, and induced organ damage.These studies, while suggesting a wide range of potential clinical applications for ASW, must be viewed with caution because the clinical data are based on small numbers of patients treated for a relatively short period of time. Many clinical trials that found benefits with ASW were one-off studies that have not been replicated. Larger and more methodologically stringent clinical trials are required before ASW can be confidently recommended for clinical use. Because ASW is a herbal extract and because the efficacy of its many constituents is not known, it is not possible to generalize conclusions to all extracts, whether standardized or not.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology
  • Antioxidants / therapeutic use
  • Glutamates
  • Humans
  • Neuropsychiatry*
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology
  • Plant Extracts / therapeutic use
  • Withania*
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid


  • Antioxidants
  • Glutamates
  • Plant Extracts
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Ashwagandha