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What Is Phenibut?

by Landmark Recovery

December 9, 2019

Phenibut is a psychoactive medication developed during the 1960s in Russia.

While this medication is approved in Russia to treat a range of disorders from insomnia and anxiety through to depression, phenibut has never been approved by the FDA. As such it remains unavailable in the US as a prescription drug.

Why, then, does the name phenibut seem to crop up increasingly these days?

Well, this is largely due to the drug being classified as a nootropic and now being readily available online as a “dietary supplement.” Before we delve down further into phenibut specifically, we’ll touch on nootropics briefly first.

What Are Nootropics?

The term nootropics was first coined over fifty years ago when CC Giurgea, a chemist and psychologist, developed Piracetam, one of the very first cognitive enhancement drugs. While Giurgea had not uncovered the precise mechanism, he believed that the drug boosted brain power.

So began a study into nootropics or smart pills. The word comes from the Greek words nous (mind) and trepein (bend).

While the term nootropics was initially only applied to drugs meeting certain strict criteria, the word is more loosely used today when referencing any drugs that might have a positive impact on mental acuity.

Nootropics fall under 3 broad categories:

  • Prescription drugs
  • Dietary supplements
  • Synthetic compounds

While taking FDA-approved prescription nootropics can be helpful for a range of conditions from ADHD to Alzheimer’s, the use of cognitive enhancers in healthy individuals is controversial.

Barry Gordon, director of the neuropsychology/neurology unit at Johns Hopkins Medicine suggests there’s “no strong evidence” any of these memory-boosters deliver on their claims although he concedes that the placebo effect might be responsible for people who are expecting results noticing some form of improvement.

So, while phenibut might be marketed and sold as a prescription drug outside the US, here on home turf it’s classified as a dietary supplement.

With that general overview of nootropics in place, how about phenibut specifically? What is it and how does it work?

What Is Known About Phenibut?

Phenibut is a synthetic form of GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) and it’s very similar in structure to GABA.

Characterized as a GABA analog, phenibut is believed to activate the brain’s GABA receptors while delivering a calming effect. Since phenibut can enter the brain through blood stream – GABA cannot do this – it’s able to work as an ingredient in pills.

Phenibut is sold as:

  • Adrafinil
  • Anvifen
  • Fenibut
  • Noofen

A central nervous system depressant, phenibut also has anxiolytic effects meaning it can inhibit anxiety.

Beyond this (and at low concentrations), phenibut can increase the quantity of dopamine in the brain. This produces stimulatory effects as well as tamping down anxiety.

Phenibut is normally taken orally in tablet form. Occasionally, it’s injected intravenously.

Taking phenibut can reduce feelings of nervousness in social backdrops. The drug might also help people who tend to over-think and over-analyze. Phenibut could also reduce negativity and it exerts a sedative effect.

To reiterate, phenibut is unregulated in the US and these claims are not backed by medical research.

What’s the drug used for, then?

What Is Phenibut Used For?

As a GABA analog, phenibut is primarily used in Russia to treat:

  • Alcoholism
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Fear
  • PTSD
  • Sleep disorders
  • Stress

In the absence of clinical studies, the drug is not prescribed for any of these applications in the US.

Here in the US, phenibut is often proclaimed to be a smart drug. Sold as a supplement and sold widely online, phenibut is also marketed as a way to self-medicate social anxiety, to enhance sociability, and to induce euphoria.

With those claims in place, it’s not surprising many people reach for a supposedly magic pill. Is it safe to use phenibut, though?

Is Phenibut Safe and Does It Really Work?

The most accurate answer to this question is that it’s not really possible to say.

Despite widespread use in Russia, Latvia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, these are the only places worldwide where phenibut is viewed as a legitimate medication.

That said, only two countries (Hungary and Austria) have termed phenibut a controlled substance.

Across the rest of the world, phenibut’s status is not quite so clear-cut. The US and most of Europe classify phenibut as a legal nutritional supplement but it’s not authorized as a true medication.

The FDA has not assessed the claimed benefits of phenibut. As such, there’s been no confirmation of whether or not this medication can be legitimately useful for treating any disease or disorder. The FDA issued a warning to companies claiming that phenibut in their products is a bona fide dietary ingredient.

While there has been some scientific study on how phenibut works and what it does, tests have been conducted on animals rather than humans. Without sufficient peer-reviewed data on how phenibut effects humans and with much of the information available purely anecdotal, it’s not possible to state whether phenibut is really safe.

If you are prepared to risk it, does phenibut really work?

Again, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that phenibut might improve self-confidence and overall mental health but that’s as far as it goes.

As of 2019, there have been no confirmed cases of phenibut causing anyone to die.

So, what kind of side effects does this medication bring about?

Side Effects

Phenibut is not a controlled substance here in the US and it’s generally tolerated well without too many side effects.

Some common side effects include:

  • Agitation
  • Allergic reactions
  • Anxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Sedation
  • Somnolence

If phenibut is taken in higher doses, adverse effects include loss of balance impaired motor coordination, and hangover.

Repeated use of phenibut causes tolerance to form. This means you’ll need more of the drug to achieve the same effects.

Since phenibut is a central nervous system depressant, you shouldn’t operate heavy machinery when using the drug. You should also refrain from any other risky activity.

The fact phenibut is a CNS depressant means the effects and risks of overdose are magnified if you use phenibut in tandem with alcohol or opioids, both also CNS depressants.

Withdrawal symptoms can occur when use of phenibut is discontinued which we’ll highlight in more detail directly below.

If phenibut is used in high doses, you should ensure your blood and liver are monitored since there’s a slight risk of fatty liver disease.

Unfortunately, stopping the use of phenibut often required medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and a supervised, tapered withdrawal.

Before we look at how to get help if you want to stop taking phenibut, is it actually addictive?

Is Phenibut Addictive?

Back in 2013, phenibut was placed on a list of 81 psychoactive substances the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction deemed worthy of attention.

Phenibut users find that tolerance builds. Over time, phenibut can bring about changes in the brain as the drug replaces the natural GABA neurotransmitter.

Withdrawal symptoms can be severe and can last up to 2 weeks. With a range of both physical and physiological effects, phenibut could certainly be considered addictive.

Beyond physical dependence, phenibut addiction is characterized by behavioral and psychological symptoms. Addiction occurs because of the way in which dopamine receptors are stimulated as well as GABA receptors. With dopamine released in the brain, a cycle of compulsion and addiction can ensue.

How about these withdrawal symptoms, then? What happens when you try to stop using phenibut?

Phenibut Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms can appear anywhere between several hours and several days after your last dose of the drug.

Symptoms may be combined with intense cravings to use phenibut. If you are experiencing cravings, there’s every chance that your phenibut abuse might have slid toward addiction.

Standard withdrawal symptoms can include any of the following:

  • Aggression
  • Anxiety
  • Cognitive deficits
  • Decreased pain threshold
  • Depression
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Hallucinations
  • Hyperactivity/hyperkinesia
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Nausea
  • Paranoia
  • Reduced appetite
  • Tremor

Worryingly, phenibut withdrawal symptoms can be so severe that hospitalization is required.

Watch out for any of the following as these symptoms might indicate phenibut overdose:

  • Excessive muscle relaxation
  • Lowered body temperature
  • Sleepiness

In extreme cases, hardcore psychotic withdrawal symptoms like hallucinations, delusions and paranoia can occur.

Fortunately, phenibut dependence and addiction is treatable using many methods:

  • CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy): CBT can help to address the underlying reasons for using phenibut in the first place. With effective CBT, you’ll learn how to replace self-destructive behavior and negative thought patterns with healthier alternatives. You should be well placed after a course of CBT to cope with stress much more effectively and without reaching for a pill
  • MAT (Medication-Assisted Treatment): A medically-supervised detox possibly accompanied by MAT is advisable if dependence on phenibut is extreme. You’ll benefit from around-the-clock medical care and you’ll maximize your chances of recovery. Medications used include benzodiazepines, haloperidol, phenobarbital, and propofol
  • Tapering: If you don’t have severe psychological symptoms, you could attempt to gradually taper off using phenibut at home. You should speak with your healthcare provider to formulate a clear plan of action before attempting this

What if you need some extra help, though?

What To Do Next

If you’ve been taking phenibut and you feel you would benefit from discontinuing use, you should speak with your healthcare provider first. Depending on how much you have been using the drug and your personal circumstances, you might need to consider a medical detox.

Get in touch with use here at Landmark Recovery and we can help. Our facilities and drug rehab in Indiana can help our patients overcome addiction and achieve long-term sobriety. Reach out on 888-448-0302 and one of our friendly admissions team members will help you establish the best course of action if you’re looking to stop using phenibut.

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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.