Issac Thorne

Last Updated September 18, 2021

Phenibut is increasingly on the radar of nootropic researchers, but that begs the question: what is phenibut?

This article will give a comprehensive background of phenibut in terms that you can understand. It’ll cover not only what phenibut is, but what it’s made from, what it’s used for, and the difference between phenibut HCL and phenibut FAA.

Let’s get to it.

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What is Phenibut?

Phenibut is a GABA analogue that can affect mood and well-being. The name “phenibut” comes from its chemical name: β‐phenyl‐γ‐aminobutyric acid. You may also see it called by various prescription medication brand names, including Anvifen, Fenibut, and Noofen.

Phenibut, chemically, is an amino acid [1]. That’s a fancy way of saying that phenibut is an organic compound that contains both an “amine” (–NH2) group and a “carboxyl” (–COOH) group. If you’re not a chem major, don’t worry—it’s basically made of the same kinds of molecules that make proteins, except it’s not as long as a protein.

The particular structure of this amino acid makes it a psychoactive drug, which means that it has an effect on the mental state of the person ingesting it.

Phenibut mimics GABA

Phenibut affects the user’s mental state in a few ways. The primary way is by mimicking one of the neurotransmitters that’s present in the nervous system: GABA [2].

Neurotransmitters play an important role in helping messages get sent from one nerve cell to the next. Some neurotransmitters are excitatory; they increase the firing of nerve cells.

GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, which means that it reduces the firing of nerve cells. This sounds like it’s not a big deal, but it’s actually really important. Imagine your brain is a car: Sometimes you want to hit the gas so you can go quickly. But sometimes you need to brake. In that car metaphor, GABA is a chemical that helps with braking. It gives you the chance to slow down and rest.

Since phenibut is chemically similar to GABA, it’s called a “GABA analogue” and has a similar effect as GABA does. Phenibut is able to bind to some of the GABA receptors that you have throughout your body [3], acting as an inhibitory agent. The result is that it can calm the human subject’s brain, reduce stress, lower anxiety, and aid sleep [1, 3].

Phenibut and Other Neurotransmitters

Phenibut doesn’t just work on the GABA pathway, but it also seems to mildly upregulate dopamine in the brain [1].

Dopamine is another neurotransmitter. It’s a bit complex and performs quite a few different tasks, but it’s associated with mood: higher dopamine levels tend to create feelings of happiness and well-being.

That’s part of the reason phenibut may have mood-boosting effects.


Phenibut


What Is Phenibut Made From?

We know that it’s an amino acid, but what is phenibut made from?

Phenibut was first created in a Russian lab by Dr. V.V. Perekalin [1]. The way that it was created has actually been published, but the full documentation is in the Russian language [4].

In general, making amino acids involves complex chemistry [5]. One way to make phenibut [4] entails an eight-step process involving benzaldehyde, dimethylmalonic ether, dicarboxylic acid, acetic anhydride, and sodium hypobromide.

As a final product, phenibut typically comes in two different forms: phenibut HCL and FAA.

Phenibut HCL

Phenibut HCL is the most common form of phenibut. If you search to buy phenibut online, this is likely the form you’ll come across.

So what is phenibut HCL? It is basically just the phenibut molecule with an extra molecule comprised of hydrogen and chlorine on the end. As it’s being synthesized, the HCL attaches to the phenibut molecule. This doesn’t affect how phenibut works in the body, but it does change what it looks like and how it should be taken.

When phenibut is attached to the HCL, it forms an ionic salt. That matters because ionic salts break up easily in water to form a solution. That means that this form of phenibut is easily dissolved in water and can be drunk. The salt also explains why this form of phenibut looks more like crystals than powder.

But don’t worry: It’s not table salt, and it won’t taste salty for your research subjects.

Here’s a quick summary of the characteristics of phenibut HCL as compared to FAA:

  • It tends to be a bit cheaper;
  • You need a slightly larger dose to get the same effect;
  • You can dissolve it in liquids;
  • You usually take it in a pill capsule or in a drink;
  • It’s too acidic to take sublingually.

Phenibut FAA

Okay, so then what is phenibut FAA?

The “FAA” stands for “Free Amino Acid.” This form of phenibut is basically just pure phenibut without an additional HCL group or anything else.

What that means for you is that it doesn’t look like crystals, but rather like a fine powder. Because it’s not an ionic salt, it doesn’t dissolve easily in water or other liquid. That means it’s harder to take in drinks.

Here’s a quick summary about phenibut FAA and how it’s different from phenibut HCL:

  • It’s usually a little more expensive;
  • It usually requires a slightly smaller dose;
  • It doesn’t dissolve, so it’s not as easy to take it in a drink;
  • Instead, it’s best to take it in a capsule or let it dissolve under the tongue;
  • It’s not acidic, so if it dissolves under the subject’s tongue, it won’t wreck their teeth.

What Is Phenibut Used For?

Phenibut has been used for decades in several countries as a pharmaceutical medication. There’s significant evidence that it has a variety of effects.

In the few countries where phenibut is a prescription drug, including Russia, it’s prescribed for the following conditions [1, 6]:

  • Convulsing
  • Insomnia [7, 8, 9]
  • Anxiety [10, 11]
  • Spasticity
  • Asthenia
  • Depression
  • Stuttering
  • Vestibular disorders
  • Alcoholism and alcohol withdrawal syndrome
  • Motion sickness

In the United States, however, phenibut is an unapproved “New Drug” under the U.S. Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act), and has not been investigated or approved for any of the above uses.

The recreational use of phenibut has been documented both anecdotally and in the literature [12].


Phenibut


Phenibut Side Effects and Safety

So phenibut potentially has several effects … but is it safe to administer to human subjects?

We have a comprehensive guide to phenibut side effects and safety and another one on phenibut withdrawal. But we’ll go over potential concerns briefly here as well, so you know what you might be getting into if you pursue research on phenibut.

Basically, there are three different categories of risk with phenibut:

  1. There are side effects and allergies (that are uncommon, but can affect anyone);
  2. There are potential interaction effects (which only affect research subjects if they mix phenibut with other substances); and,
  3. There are potential withdrawal effects (which only affect research subjects that develop a physical dependence on phenibut).

Let’s look at these in turn…

Side effects and allergies

Side effects and allergic reactions are relatively rare for research subjects, but they happen. The phenibut side effects that are more common include [6, 12]:

  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Irritability
  • Headache
  • Sedation

If human subjects are allergic to phenibut, they might also experience rashes or itching.

Interaction effects

The other thing that researchers need to be aware of is not to mix phenibut with anything that it could interact with. Because phenibut depresses and slows down the nervous system, it shouldn’t be taken with other substances that do the same thing [6]. And, since it works by upregulating GABA, it’s best not to take it with other medications that increase GABA levels.

If it's taken with other nervous system depressants or GABA agonists, there’s a risk that test subjects may experience exacerbated or extended effects of either or both substances. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there has been at least one reported death among exposures in which phenibut was the only drug or agent involved [13].

Under no circumstances should phenibut be administered with [1, 6]:

  • Alcohol
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Antipsychotic medications
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Opioids
  • Sedatives or sleeping pills
  • Anti-anxiety medications

Ensure your subjects know not to mix phenibut and any of those medications and substances.

Withdrawal effects

Withdrawal symptoms appear when a person becomes dependent on phenibut and then stops taking it. Withdrawal effects can include [14, 15, 16, 17, 18]:

  • Rebound anxiety
  • Anger
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Reduced level of consciousness
  • Auditory and visual hallucinations

You can help reduce the risk that your test subjects experience withdrawal symptoms by developing a study protocol that limits both the size and the frequency of phenibut doses. One precaution is to design your research study so that subjects take phenibut a maximum of 1-2 times per week.


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What Is Phenibut? | Verdict

Phenibut is a very promising research nootropic and we have a lot more to learn about it. It’s technically an amino acid that mimics GABA and boosts dopamine, which is presumably how it has its purported effects.

What is phenibut used for?

There’s evidence that phenibut makes human subjects feel less anxious, experience boosted mood, and have enhanced cognition—at least in some study populations in certain contexts.

But there continues to be some uncertainty about its effects, which is why more research on this potentially powerful nootropic is a step in the right direction.


Phenibut


References

  1. Lapin I. (2001). Phenibut (beta-phenyl-GABA): a tranquilizer and nootropic drug. CNS drug reviews, 7(4), 471–481. doi:10.1111/j.1527-3458.2001.tb00211.x
  2. Zvejniece, L., Vavers, E., Svalbe, B., Veinberg, G., Rizhanova, K., Liepins, V., … & Dambrova, M. (2015). R-phenibut binds to the α2–δ subunit of voltage-dependent calcium channels and exerts gabapentin-like anti-nociceptive effects. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 137, 23-29.
  3. Froestl, W. (2010). Chemistry and pharmacology of GABAB receptor ligands. Advances in pharmacology, 58, 19-62.
  4. Сивчик, В. В., Григорян, Г. О., Сурвило, В. Л., & Трухачева, Т. В. (2012). Синтез γ-амино-β-фенилмасляной кислоты (фенибута).
  5. Libre Texts (n.d.). Chemistry 360: Organic Chemistry II. https://chem.libretexts.org/Courses/Athabasca_University/Chemistry_360%3A_Organic
    _Chemistry_II/Chapter_26%3A_Biomolecules%3A_Amino_Acids%2C_Peptides%2C_
    and_Proteins/26.03_Synthesis_of_Amino_Acids
  6. Ozon Pharm (n.d.), Fenibut (PDF). [In Russian]. https://web.archive.org/web/20170916094855/http://www.ozonpharm.ru/upload/iblock/
    608/nmntxzabdzjhlu%20-%20fbdoqpbtdj.ofzsxp%20tkbgeygfzj.pdf
  7. Vorob'eva, O. V., & Rusaya, V. V. (2016). Pharmacotherapy of anxiety disorders in patients with chronic cerebral ischemia. Zhurnal nevrologii i psikhiatrii imeni SS Korsakova, 116(12. Vyp. 2), 49.
  8. Danilin, V. P., Krylov, E. N., AIu, M., & Rait, M. L. (1986). Effect of fenibut on the nocturnal sleep of patients with the alcoholic abstinence syndrome. Zhurnal nevropatologii i psikhiatrii imeni SS Korsakova (Moscow, Russia: 1952), 86(2), 251-254.
  9. Shypilova, E. M., Zavadenko, N. N., & Nesterovskiy, Y. E. (2017). Preventive treatment of tension headache in children and adolescents. Zhurnal nevrologii i psikhiatrii imeni SS Korsakova, 117(7), 36-42.
  10. Chutko, L. S., Surushkina, S. I., Iakovenko, E. A., Nikishena, I. S., Anisimova, T. I., & Bondarchuk, I. L. (2014). Cognitive and emotional impairments in patients with protracted anxiety-phobic disorders. Therapeutic archive, 86(12), 61-65.
  11. Ziablintseva, E. A., & Pavlova, I. V. (2009). Influence of GABA agonist phenibut on the neuronal activity and interaction in hippocampus and neocortex in emotionally negative situations. Rossiiskii fiziologicheskii zhurnal imeni IM Sechenova, 95(9), 907-918.
  12. Owen, D. R., Wood, D. M., Archer, J. R., & Dargan, P. I. (2016). Phenibut (4‐amino‐3‐phenyl‐butyric acid): Availability, prevalence of use, desired effects and acute toxicity. Drug and alcohol review, 35(5), 591-596.
  13. CDC (2020). Notes from the Field: Phenibut Exposures Reported to Poison Centers — United States, 2009–2019. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6935a5.htm
  14. O'Connell, C. W., Schneir, A. B., Hwang, J. Q., & Cantrell, F. L. (2014). Phenibut, the appearance of another potentially dangerous product in the United States. The American journal of medicine, 127(8), e3-e4.
  15. Easton, M. D. A., & Greene, S. L. (2015). Analytically confirmed recreational use of Phenibut (β-phenyl-γ-aminobutyric acid) bought over the internet. Clinical Toxicology, 53, 783-784.
  16. Schifano, F., Orsolini, L., Duccio Papanti, G., & Corkery, J. M. (2015). Novel psychoactive substances of interest for psychiatry. World Psychiatry, 14(1), 15-26.
  17. Ahuja, T., Mgbako, O., Katzman, C., & Grossman, A. (2018). Phenibut (β-phenyl-γ-aminobutyric acid) dependence and management of withdrawal: emerging nootropics of abuse. Case reports in psychiatry, 2018.
  18. Högberg, L., Szabó, I., & Ruusa, J. (2013). Psychotic symptoms during phenibut (beta-phenyl-gamma-aminobutyric acid) withdrawal. Journal of Substance Use, 18(4), 335-338.

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