Phenibut, sold under the brand names Anvifen, Fenibut, and Noofen, is a drug used in Russia to treat symptoms of anxiety and insomnia. Phenibut is increasingly being used in the United States, and it is sold online as a supplement and nootropic. Nootropics are chemicals that are supposed to deliver cognitive benefits. While a lot of substances, including phenibut, are marketed as nootropics, they actually need to meet specific criteria in order to fall into this category in the United States. In order to be a classified as a nootropic, a drug must enhance memory and learning ability, help the brain function under less-than-optimal conditions, increase the neuron activity, and have few, if any, side effects. Nootropics are also called ‘smart drugs.’ What is currently marketed as nootropics can range from something like Omega-3 fatty acids to unregulated substances with psychoactive properties, such as phenibut.
What Is Phenibut Used For?
Phenibut is similar in structure to gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) and is characterized as a GABA analog. It is believed to activate GABA receptors in the brain when someone uses it, similarly to Baclofen. GABA is a calming neurotransmitter in the brain. Since phenibut is an analog to GABA, it is thought to have a calming effect, especially at low doses. Phenibut is also used to treat fear, sleep problems, stress, fatigue, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and alcoholism. Despite the perceived benefits that people associate with phenibut, the drug is not approved for these uses in the United States, and clinical studies do not exist that indicate its effectiveness.
Phenibut is approved for medical use in Russia as well as Latvia and Ukraine, but it is not medically approved in the United States or the European Union. Phenibut is instead sold as a supplement in the United States and has to be purchased online. It is often touted not only as a ‘smart drug,’ but also as a way to self-medicate conditions like social anxiety. Phenibut is used recreationally to increase sociability and to induce euphoria.
Phenibut is not a controlled substance in the United States and is believed to be generally well tolerated, but some side effects are possible. Some of the common side effects of phenibut include sedation, nausea, anxiety, dizziness and headache. When used at higher doses, phenibut side effects can include coordination problems, loss of balance, and people often experience hangover-like symptoms. Phenibut is a depressant of the central nervous system, and this makes driving or operating machinery while taking it dangerous. Long-term risks of using phenibut include a heightened risk of fatty liver disease and eosinophilia.
Overdosing on phenibut is also possible. Overdoses often happen because the drug has a delayed onset time, and thus, people will take additional doses thinking the initial one didn’t work. Phenibut overdose symptoms can include extreme drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, renal impairment and low blood pressure. When people take doses that exceed seven grams, it can cause fatty liver degeneration. People who overdose on phenibut can also experience lethargy, delirium, and loss of consciousness. Experiencing these adverse side effects and overdosing are more likely to occur when Phenibut is combined with other central nervous system depressants, such as opioids, alcohol or sedatives.
While some people have provided anecdotal evidence that phenibut has been beneficial for them, there is a risk of addiction and physical dependence. Phenibut addiction and physical dependence are two of the most common and troubling side effects of using this uncontrolled substance. Many people who take phenibut develop a physical dependence to the drug very quickly, forming a tolerance after taking the drug just a few times. An increased tolerance to the drug then leads to the need to take higher doses in order to experience any effects. As a person takes more and more phenibut, they may even develop a physical dependence to the drug. The risk for becoming physically dependent upon phenibut increases over time.
Physical dependence to phenibut occurs due to the manner in which the drug affects GABA levels in the brain. When a person who is physically dependent upon the drug attempts to stop using it, they may experience withdrawal symptoms. Phenibut withdrawal symptoms can be mild or severe, and may include tremors, nausea, vomiting, changes in appetite, and restlessness. Other phenibut withdrawal symptoms include paranoia, anxiety, changes in pain threshold, and sleep problems. People who are physically dependent upon phenibut often have to taper off the drug slowly when they stop using it in order to avoid these withdrawal symptoms.
Is Phenibut Addictive?
Forming an addiction to phenibut is also possible. Abuse and addiction occur separately from physical dependence. Phenibut abuse and addiction are characterized by psychological and behavioral symptoms. Phenibut addiction occurs because when someone uses this substance, it not only stimulates GABA receptors but also dopamine receptors. When taken at low doses phenibut tends to act like a depressant. However, when taken at high doses phenibut may trigger energizing and euphoric effects. The release of dopamine in the brain causes a cycle of compulsion and addiction.
One example of phenibut abuse and phenibut addiction would be when a person uses the drug before going out to a social event. People may abuse phenibut as a way to feel more social and then, over time, they become conditioned such that they feel like they can’t socialize without it. With phenibut abuse and phenibut addiction, a person may also pair it with other substances, such as alcohol, in order to increase the desired effects and the feelings of euphoria that can occur. People who are addicted to phenibut feel as if they cannot function without the drug and experience intense cravings and are preoccupied with securing it and planning for future use. Phenibut abuse and addiction can lead to problematic behavioral patterns.
Because phenibut is not a controlled substance in the United States and is hyped as a ‘smart drug,’ there is a tendency for people to believe that it has no risks. However, this is not true as phenibut abuse, addiction, and even physical dependence are possible. It is important for people to be aware of these risks before using this drug.
If you or someone close to you is struggling with phenibut dependence or addiction, please contact The Recovery Village. We can help you understand more about addiction and substance dependence and learn about the options that are available for you.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.