Phenibut is a supplement that has been used legally in Russia since the 1960s. People can buy it online in the United States. It has been used to medically treat anxiety, depression, insomnia, and post-traumatic stress disorder. In Russia, doctors have also used this substance to treat alcohol withdrawal and a variety of stress-related issues. The problem is many people are purchasing it in the US as a supplement to boost energy, cognitive function, and reduce anxiety without knowing the physical and psychological consequences of its use.
Phenibut has been labeled as a nootropic and “smart drug.” It is completely unregulated in the United States. BMJ Case Reports explains how it works. The drug is really a synthetic form of gamma aminobutyric acid, or GABA, which is an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. It is also identified as B-phenyl-y-aminobutyric acid or phenyl-GABA.
Over time, phenibut takes the place of the natural neurotransmitter, causing chemical and eventually physical changes in the brain. It’s just one of many psychoactive substances on the rise. World Psychiatry estimates that in Europe, about 5 percent of those 19-24 years old have experimented with psychoactive substances. The effects on a person include:
Tolerance: The first impact on the human body, besides feeling calm and sharper, is increased tolerance. Users of phenibut quickly develop a tolerance to the drug. This requires them to take higher doses to achieve the same effects. The higher the dose, the harder it is to stop using the substance.
Withdrawal: Even for people who want to stop taking it, withdrawal symptoms associated with phenibut can be quite severe. Those taking it often underestimate this fact. Studies have shown these symptoms may appear 3-4 hours after a dose and last as long as 2 weeks.
Depending on the dose taken, for how long, and whether one takes other drugs, abusing phenibut can have dire consequences. People may not think of these consequences because their cognitive performance seems to be improving. Per BMJ Case Report, it might take at least 24 weeks to return to normal activities after withdrawal.
Recovery time is shortened for smaller does, but the neurological changes that occur with long-duration, high-level doses can be quite substantial. Some people try to quit cold turkey, but that can make the effects of withdrawal more severe and last longer.
If people regularly abuse phenibut, they can benefit from professional substance abuse treatment. Medical detox may be used to help people get off phenibut. A similar substance called baclofen has been used as a less addictive substitute. Magnesium, taurine, melatonin, and other compounds that promote normal neurotransmission may be used.
With Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), professionals talk clients through their situations and try to replace negative thought patterns and self-destructive behaviors with a mindset that supports an abstinent lifestyle. This is achievable when a client and therapist work together, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. It’s also important to treat co-occurring disorders, such as anxiety and depression. These may have led people to try phenibut in the first place, so they must be adequately addressed in order to maintain long-term recovery.
Tapering the dose of phenibut is another option. In this approach, dosages are gradually decreased, allowing the brain to adapt. Reducing or coping with stress by staying busy and exercising can help reduce cravings. Suffice to say, the tolerance potential and intense withdrawal symptoms make phenibut unexpectedly addictive. People should be aware of the possible effects and be vigilant about properly weening off it, especially after long periods of use. Medical supervision is always recommended to aid the process, keeping the person safe and discomfort to a minimum.