Phenibut is a commonly used medication in Russia. In the U.S., it is illegal to use this drug as a medication.
Even though it is illegal to use in the United States, it is sold on dozens of websites as a type of brain-boosting supplement. It is marketed as a nootropic or “smart drug” that allegedly helps people to focus and remain calm.
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In Russia, this drug is prescribed for a variety of disorders, including insomnia, depression, tics, vestibular disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, stuttering, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
It is classified as a type of designer drug that was synthesized in the 1960s by Russian scientists. Structurally, this drug is similar to GABA, a neurotransmitter, so it has a calming effect on the brain.
It depresses the central nervous system. People might use this drug as a supplement to reduce anxiety or promote focus. It can also be abused for these reasons.
Phenibut is not well-known in the United States, so many people who might be taking it are unaware of its potential dangers.
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Abuse of this drug usually starts when with regular usage — someone takes it at the standard dosage level. However, over time, they start to take larger doses to continue to experience the desired effects.
The effects that people seek when using Phenibut include the following:
- Improved confidence
- Heightened alertness
- Improved sexual performance
- Faster cognition
- A heightened sense of well-being
- Reduced social anxiety
- Improved sociability
- Enhanced motivation
- Better memory
It is unknown how many people are taking this drug or abusing it.
In the U.S., it is marketed as a supplement, so no statistics exist regarding how many people are taking it. Reports of people going to the hospital for issues related to phenibut are not documented well.
There are websites where people who have taken it to discuss their experience. However, no one is tracking phenibut users, overdoses, or addiction treatment admissions related to the substance.
One of the most significant issues in the U.S. is that there is no established dosage for phenibut. One supplement company says 2000 mg daily is safe, while another says not to take more than 750 mg per day.
Dosage is not regulated in the U.S. because it is sold as a supplement. Due to this, supplement companies can essentially make up dosage recommendations. They can say that the benefits outweigh the risks with little verification of the information they provide.
There are side effects people can experience even after just one dose of phenibut.
The average dosage is 500 to 1000 mg per day. However, when someone is abusing this drug, they may take more. Within 60 to 90 minutes of taking phenibut, the effects start to occur and last for an average of four to 10 hours.
The side effects are more likely when someone is taking at least 1000 mg per day, and doses of 3000 mg per day or higher can be even more dangerous.
- Reduced body temperature
- Poor balance
- Feeling like there are electric shocks in the extremities
- Muscle relaxation
- Respiratory problems
- Motor impairment
- Agitation and irritability
The biggest concern regarding long-term use is whether someone can become addicted or dependent on this drug. It is arguable whether this drug is addictive. However, there is evidence that suggests that people can develop a dependence on or tolerance to this medication.
The risk of dependence increases the longer someone uses this drug. This is also true for tolerance. Tolerance can cause people to increase their dosage over time, which can result in more serious side effects with higher doses.
Some people develop fatigue and depression with long-term use of this drug.
Using this drug heavily over the long term may cause eosinophilia and fatty liver disease. Eosinophilia is a condition where the eosinophil blood cells are abnormally elevated. Fatty liver disease is characterized by fat accumulating in the liver.
As someone continues to use phenibut at increasing doses, there is a risk for overdose. This drug has a delayed onset, which may cause people to take more than necessary to achieve the desired effects. While this can happen to inexperienced users, it is more common in people who have been taking the drug long term.
If someone overdoses on Phenibut, they may experience the following:
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- Severe drowsiness or sedation
- Steep reduction in blood pressure
- Total or partial unconsciousness
- Pronounced agitation
- Vomiting and nausea
- Kidney or liver damage
There are reports of people withdrawing from phenibut after they stop taking it. The withdrawal symptoms are more likely when someone stops taking this drug abruptly.
One study noted that a person who used phenibut began experiencing withdrawal effects within approximately three to four hours of their last dose.
Symptoms of withdrawal may include the following:
- Muscle aches
- Reduced appetite
- Muscle pain
- Heart arrhythmia
- Sleeping issues
- Light and sound sensitivity
One case study report also noted psychotic symptoms when someone was going through phenibut withdrawal. It mentions that disorganization, delusions, and hallucinations have been reported.
The severity of the withdrawal symptoms tends to vary. They are generally based on how long someone was using phenibut and the dose they were taking.
Treating Addiction and Abuse
Since phenibut addiction and abuse are not commonly seen in the U.S., there are no specific guidelines for treating it. The withdrawal phase can be challenging, so it can make it difficult for a person to overcome the process alone. It may take up to six months to fully withdraw from this drug.
It is ideal to seek help from a detox or addiction center for the process. They can assess the person’s unique situation and help them through it. The treatment process may include substitution, a tapering plan, stress reduction, and medical detox.
In some cases, baclofen might be prescribed during the withdrawal process. This medicine may help to reduce withdrawal symptoms, so people can stop taking phenibut right away. Baclofen relaxes the muscles, which can help with some of the withdrawal effects, such as muscle aches, pain, and twitching.
If someone experiences anxiety or depression as part of the withdrawal and recovery process, citalopram might be prescribed. This drug is a selective serotonin uptake inhibitor, which is commonly prescribed in the U.S. for depression.
If someone was taking very high doses of this drug for a prolonged period of time, it might be suggested that they taper their dose over time. On average, the recommendation is to reduce the dose of phenibut by 10 percent every two to four weeks.
In addition to medication-related treatments, addiction treatment centers may recommend cognitive behavioral therapy during the process. This therapy allows people to work on managing their stress and learning how to live without phenibut use. This can help during the withdrawal phase and set the person up for long-term recovery.
The treatment process should take a comprehensive approach. Since most people in the U.S. are taking phenibut in supplement form, the exact ingredients and dosages are often unknown due to label discrepancies. This may pose additional challenges during the withdrawal and treatment process. This will all be taken into consideration when the treatment professionals are assessing a client and creating a treatment plan.
If you develop an addiction or dependence on phenibut, seek help to stop using the drug. Since this is a nootropic, there are no guarantees that it contains what the label states. Because of this, professional support and assistance are imperative.
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(August 2014) Phenibut, the Appearance of Another Potentially Dangerous Product in the United States. American Journal of Medicine. from https://www.amjmed.com/article/S0002-9343(14)00284-8/abstract
(2015) Acute Behavioral Disturbance Associated with Phenibut Purchased via an Internet Supplier. Clinical Toxicology. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26114346
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(August 2017) Dissociative Intoxication and Prolonged Withdrawal Associated with Phenibut. A Case Report. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28614159/
Baclofen (Oral Route). Mayo Clinic. from https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/baclofen-oral-route/description/drg-20067995
What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)? Advantages and Research Support. National Association of Cognitive Behavioral Therapists. from http://www.nacbt.org/whycbt-htm/