Since the 1960s, phenibut has been used to treat people in the Soviet Union for various conditions. Although it hasn’t been approved by agencies in western countries, it remains a common medication in Russia and can be purchased online anywhere as a supplement. The medication is sometimes used by astronauts for its calming effects and ability to improve mental clarity. Often called a “smart pill”, phenibut may be used by executives and students in an effort to improve focus and productivity. Increasing brainpower is something that has long been sought via drugs, says the Montreal Gazette. Phenibut is also taken to relieve depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
In November 2013, New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services issued a report with a “Phenibut Warning” following near fatal overdoses in upstate New York. The report highlights the availability of Phenibut HCL, a white powder, sour in taste, that is soluble in alcohol or plain water. According to the report, the effects begin in 60-90 minutes and last 4-10 hours. It is also inexpensive. A gram of phenibut ranges from 30 cents to $1; people using it typically take anywhere from 500 milligrams to 4 grams.
This supplement has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the US.
The problem with phenibut is people rapidly develop a tolerance to it. Dosages must be increased to maintain the desired effects. Over the long-term, this increases the risk of unwanted side effects. Stopping use is then difficult, and withdrawal symptoms can be quite severe. People often get used to the calming and analgesic effects of the drug. Those who take it feel relaxed, slightly uninhibited, and a general sense of wellbeing. High doses can lead to intoxication. A person might get a headache, be nauseous, or vomit. To understand why it’s so hard to quit right away, it helps to understand how the substance work. As a chemical that is structured similarly to the neurotransmitter GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, phenibut binds to GABA sites in the brain. This has sedative effects. It’s also possible the effects of alcohol, narcotic drugs, and tranquilizers can be enhanced; the combination increases the risk of an overdose on these substances.
According to Mental Health Daily, phenibut withdrawal symptoms are often more severe and unexpected than people realize. Some of the physical and psychological effects reported include:
In case studies, people who have used phenibut at high doses have recovered in up to 24 weeks. A BMJ Case Reports study followed a 35-year-old man who used phenibut to self-medicate for alcohol cravings, anxiety, and dysphoria. Combined with kratom, phenibut proved to help the man cope with withdrawal from alcohol and opioid drugs. However, withdrawal from phenibut was so severe, he experienced heightened anger, anxiety, and irritability, and returned to use.
Baclofen was used in this case and has been used for alcohol dependence. He was able to stop using kratom without being administered naloxone or buprenorphine, which are common drug addiction treatment medications. Stopping phenibut completely after 9 weeks, he was able to taper off baclofen for the next 12 weeks. Soon, his anxiety and depression could be managed with citalopram.
It is believed phenibut withdrawal can take up to 6 months to subside. Quitting cold turkey seems to be rather intense for most people. Thus, abruptly stopping use is not a recommended course of action. It also does not give the brain a chance to heal or adjust to changes in neurotransmitter levels. People used to particularly high doses can experience very serious implications. Overcoming withdrawal is more likely with strategies, such as:
Mental Health Daily suggest gradually tapering the amount one takes. The idea is to reduce one’s dosage by 10 percent every 2-4 weeks. Generally, the faster a person reduces the dose, the more likely the person is to experience more severe withdrawal symptoms. The pace can be adjusted, however. By tapering, the brain can adjust to changes in neurotransmission over time, eventually allowing the person to function normally while completely off the supplement.
While weaning can be an effective method of kicking the habit and avoiding withdrawal, substituting phenibut with another substance can be effective. Substitution medications can be used as part of medical detox programs. Some people use supplements to help discontinue use, including magnesium, melatonin, chamomile tea, taurine, or rhodiola rosea.
Known to enhance some withdrawal symptoms, stress can be reduced by a variety of means. Regular exercise, breathing practices, and other supplements can help to reduce stress, which can speed up recovery.
Since the withdrawal effects from phenibut are so severe in many people, medical detox may be recommended. Those who want to stop using phenibut can be monitored in a safe and comfortable environment. Baclofen is one drug that may be used in medical detox, as it may help to alleviate withdrawal symptoms.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Individuals who use high doses of phenibut often cite the substance’s calming and psychoactive effects as reasons for use. Proper therapy can focus on their thought processes and stress management skills, to develop and support an attitude of abstinence. By doing so, individuals can concentrate on sobriety during the withdrawal period and address factors that encourage them to use the drug.
Treatment for underlying condition: Someone who began taking phenibut to get relief from other conditions will experience those symptoms after stopping use. Anxiety or depression medications, in addition to therapy, can be helpful for those who suffer from these co-occurring disorders.
Although withdrawal is generally an uncomfortable experience, there are factors impacting how one person responds compared to another. These Include:
The severity of withdrawal from phenibut can vary based on individual differences, doses, and how long the drug was taken.