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Updated on August 24, 2021

Phenibut (Effects, Anxiety, Depression & Risks)

What is Phenibut? 

Phenibut is a nootropic drug with a structure similar to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is a neurotransmitter known to reduce anxiety and excitability, induce calm, promote relaxation, and enhance cognitive function. It also produces a sense of euphoria. 

Phenibut’s scientific name is β-phenyl-γ-aminobutyric acid. While it is not approved in the United States, it is legally sold online as a nutritional supplement.

What is Phenibut Used For? 

Since the 1960s, Phenibut has been used for therapeutic purposes. It is used in the treatment of the following conditions:

  • Alcohol use disorder 
  • Alcohol withdrawal syndrome
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Stuttering
  • Vestibular disorders such as vertigo

In Russia, it is prescribed to treat anxiety under the brand names Noofen, Fenibut, and Anvifen. It is also used as a recreational drug and is otherwise called "party powder" and "pbut.”

Phenibut is considered a psychotropic drug and has the ability to penetrate the blood-brain barrier. This means that it affects the user's mental state. 

Phenibut has been known to:

  • Enhance learning ability and memory
  • Help the brain function under stressful situations
  • Increase neuronal activity
  • Reduce social anxiety

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Is Phenibut Regulated in the United States?

Because of safety concerns, Phenibut is unregulated and not licensed for use in the United States as well as in Australia and the European Union. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that it is not illegal to possess Phenibut. However, it remains to be an unlicensed drug and is not FDA-approved.

Furthermore, Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has repeatedly rejected public submissions for registration. The rejection has happened eleven times where the TGA has categorically stated that Phenibut "represents a significant risk of harm, including overdose."

Side Effects & Dangers of Phenibut 

The United States does not regulate Phenibut use. Because of this, it is difficult to keep track of the side effects of this drug. However, the side effects related to Phenibut are minimal, especially when the drug is taken in low doses. But just like any other drug, side effects are inevitable.

Some of the most common side effects associated with Phenibut use are:

  • Allergic reactions to the drug
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Increased anxiety
  • Tiredness
  • Upset stomach

When taken in higher doses, the side effects can be more intense. Some may even be dangerous. This includes motor impairment, loss of coordination, and a "hangover" feeling.

Chronic use of Phenibut can lead to physical dependence, uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, depression, and fatigue. Heavy users are at high risk of eosinophilia (an increase in the number of disease-fighting white blood cells, leading to chronic inflammation) and fatty liver disease.

Is Phenibut Habit-Forming (Addictive)?

Using high doses of Phenibut may lead to an increase in dopamine levels in the brain. This is a contributing factor to addiction and compulsive use.

With long-term use, Phenibut dependence may occur. This happens when users feel like they cannot perform mentally or interact with other people without first using Phenibut. As a result, they are compelled to use Phenibut often, leading to misuse and psychological addiction.

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Does Phenibut Produce a High?

Yes, Phenibut can produce a high. This is especially true when Phenibut is taken in higher doses. 

However, for someone who has just started taking Phenibut, it can cause a high even when taken in small doses. Sadly, the "high" has a delayed onset, and people think it is not working. This leads them to take additional and/or higher doses of Phenibut.

Signs of Phenibut Use & Addiction 

Given that tolerance develops rapidly to Phenibut, individuals who purchase the substance and use it as a cognitive enhancer, as a sleep aid, or to reduce anxiety are particularly prone to abusing it.

People who regularly use Phenibut can rapidly develop a tolerance to it. These people are at higher risk of abusing the drug.

If you know someone who uses Phenibut as a sleeping aid, a cognitive enhancer, or an anxiety reducer, look after them. Recognize the signs of Phenibut addiction and misuse, which may include:

  • Frequent cravings for Phenibut
  • Using Phenibut in larger doses than initially intended
  • Using Phenibut for a longer period than initially intended
  • Spending a lot of money to acquire Phenibut
  • Using Phenibut as a tool to cope with everyday stressors
  • Placing their addiction before all other obligations at home, work, or school
  • Using Phenibut despite the problems that it causes at work, in school, and with family or friends
  • Having financial issues associated with buying more Phenibut
  • Experiencing tolerance and/or Phenibut withdrawal symptoms
  • Higher incidence of side effects with increasing severity

Other Risks of Taking Phenibut

There are other risks and dangers associated with Phenibut use. These include:

Acute Phenibut Toxicity

Acute toxicity can happen to a person taking Phenibut. The most common clinical effects reported are lethargy and sedation but may also include the following:

  • Agitation
  • Bradycardia (slow heart rate)
  • Confusion
  • Delirium
  • Nausea
  • Tonic-clonic seizures
  • Vomiting

Overdose

An overdose happens when a user takes Phenibut in very high doses. The most common symptoms of Phenibut overdose are:

  • Excessive muscle relaxation
  • Hypothermia (lowered body temperature)
  • Hypotension (reduced blood pressure)
  • Respiratory depression
  • Sleepiness

Withdrawal Symptoms 

Withdrawal occurs after chronic use, and withdrawal symptoms can sometimes last for two weeks or longer. Withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Hallucinations
  • Hyperkinesia/Hyperactivity
  • Nausea
  • Insomnia
  • Tachycardia (fast heart rate)
  • Tremors
  • Psychosis
  • Vomiting

Treatment for Phenibut Abuse & Addiction

If someone you know is addicted to Phenibut, know that it is not a hopeless case. Phenibut abuse and addiction can be treated using different methods. Addiction treatment would include:

  • Gradual tapering — This method involves gradually reducing the dosage that the person is used to taking. This helps avoid severe withdrawal symptoms and make them manageable.
  • Detoxification — Some people with underlying mental disorders would need detoxification. Patients with physiologic Phenibut dependence treated with detox would need a medical professional to supervise the process. They may sometimes require medications.
  • Supplementation — Some supplements may be helpful during the treatment process. These include L-theanine, chamomile, magnesium, and melatonin.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy — This is a type of behavior therapy that explores the patient’s thought patterns and how it affects what they do and how they feel. It is used in the treatment of drug, alcohol, and substance use disorders (SUD).

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Resources

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Zheng, Kan Hong et al, "Phenibut Addiction in a Patient with Substance Use Disorder," Cureus, 2019 July; 11(7): e5230./

Samokhvalov, Andriy et al, "Phenibut Dependence," BMJ Case Reports 2013; 2013: bcr2012008381.

Owen, David R et al. “Phenibut (4-amino-3-phenyl-butyric acid): Availability, prevalence of use, desired effects and acute toxicity.” Drug and alcohol review vol. 35,5 (2016): 591-6. doi:10.1111/dar.12356.

Graves, Janessa et al, "Notes from the Field: Phenibut Exposures Reported to Poison Centers — United States, 2009–2019," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4 Sept 2020, 69(35);1227–1228.

Hardman MI, Sprung J, Weingarten TN. “Acute phenibut withdrawal: A comprehensive literature review and illustrative case report,” Bosn J of Basic Med Sci. 2019May20 [cited 2021Aug.15];19(2):125-9.

Lapin, I. “Phenibut (beta-phenyl-GABA): a tranquilizer and nootropic drug.” CNS drug reviews vol. 7,4 (2001): 471-81. doi:10.1111/j.1527-3458.2001.tb00211.x.

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