Supplements and medication seem to address a wide variety of issues nowadays. Nootropics, or “smart drugs” such as phenibut, have become popular with consumers because they are legal, said to increase mental stamina, and could even decrease symptoms of anxiety.

Though it is sold as a supplement, extended use of phenibut can produce tolerance and may even lead to dependence, according to a 2013 case study published on BMJ Case Reports. It’s important to know how phenibut works to understand how tolerance can happen.

Phenibut: an Overview

In the 1960s, Russian scientists created phenibut to help cosmonauts deal with anxiety and even insomnia, according to a February 2018 article from The Conversation. Phenibut is regulated and still used for medical reasons in Russia, but many countries have not taken steps to regulate it

As such, people who want to try phenibut can easily buy it online from sites that sell it as a supplement. It works binding to chemical messengers in the brain called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). These messengers can help you wind down when you are anxious.

But even when phenibut is used to treat anxiety, it can cause tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal.

Does Phenibut Cause Tolerance?

Phenibut can cause both tolerance and dependence.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse says dependence, tolerance, and addiction affect your brain and body. Catching yourself when you become tolerant to a substance can help you prevent misuse.

Common signs of tolerance are:

  • Requiring higher amounts of a substance to feel the same effects
  • Not reacting to a substance

If not checked, tolerance can generate feelings of needing more of a substance. Phenibut is known to produce feelings of relaxation because of how it interacts with GABA. If used to treat anxiety or increase focus, your body could also develop dependence after it becomes tolerant of phenibut.

When this happens, you may also experience withdrawal if you do not take phenibut whenever you crave it. Withdrawal also aids in misuse because it can be uncomfortable and cause you to use more phenibut to make the symptoms go away.

The Alcohol and Drug Foundation warns that withdrawal can also cause severe symptoms that must be taken care of right away.

NIDA also mentions that a person can become tolerant of a substance, and even be dependent on it, but not become addicted.

Do You Need a Break?

If you recognize that tolerance to phenibut is happening, it’s time to moderate your usage.

Start by reducing how much phenibut you take. If you use it daily, switch to using it every other day. Once you have established this new dosing schedule, lessen it even more. Gradually reduce your frequency of use throughout a couple of months.

If you are unable to do this on your own, and you find you return to frequent use, professional help is needed.

Recognizing Signs of Addiction

Still, tolerance and dependence can make it easier to misuse phenibut. This is especially dangerous because it has calming effects on the brain. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) says addiction is considered a brain disease.

Drug addiction causes a person to use a substance even if it is bringing negative consequences. APA says people who have a misuse disorder also:

  • Focus heavily on the substance that is causing their addiction
  • Suffer from changes to how their brain works
  • May understand that addiction is a problem, but they may not be able to stop

Because tolerance is often the first step to misuse, it is best to intervene once you notice it, so it does not trigger a substance use disorder. If you do become addicted to phenibut, you can obtain treatment.

Getting Treatment

BMJ Case Reports mentioned that a patient in a 2013 case study was successfully treated by:

  • Switching to medications that are less likely to cause addiction
  • Monitoring them for withdrawal symptoms
  • Tapering them for nine weeks

The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that everyone is different. If you are misusing phenibut, your treatment will not be the same as the patient from the case study above.

NIDA Advises that You Look for the Following Things When Seeking Help for Addiction for You or Someone You Care About:

  • Treatment offerings should match the person’s needs.
  • Access to detox services is important in dealing with withdrawal
  • Recovery is a long-term commitment,
  • Therapy is imperative in treating misuse.
  • Medication can help people stop using substances.
  • Treatment needs to address the root causes of misuse.

Successful treatment does not necessarily mean a person is going to stay drug-free right away. Relapse is common, and treatment often addresses this while teaching clients necessary skills so they can abstain from drugs.


Though phenibut is currently sold as a supplement in the United States, it is not regulated and can cause a person to become tolerant. This is a marker for misuse, and treatment can begin as soon as a person notices a problem.

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