- Mental Health
Phenibut - An Effective Anxiety Remedy And Mood Enhancer
What It Is
Phenibut is a chemical sold as a dietary supplement in the U.S. that is said to reduce anxiety, improve mood and combat insomnia. It is also known as a nootropic, which is a category of substances known as "smart drugs," which are purported to improve a variety of mental functions, including memory, cognition, and concentration. The name "phenibut" (pronounced "fen-e-byoot") is derived from the compound's chemical makeup, 4-amino-3-phenylbutyric acid. While it is sold as a legal supplement in the United States and typically marketed towards bodybuilders, it is actually used as a neuropsychotropic drug in Russia, where it has a long history of clinical use.
Similar to the brain chemical GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, phenibut has been compared to diazepam (valium) in it's ability reduce stress and anxiety, induce sleep, and improve mood. GABA is a neurotransmitter that is needed for nerve signal transmission efficiency, and proper amounts of it are associated with relaxation and sound sleep. Unlike actual GABA supplements, which are popular in the U.S., phenibut is able to effectively cross the blood-brain barrier, due to the addition of a phenyl ring in its compound chain.
How It Is Taken And Its Effects
Phenibut is sold as either capsules or in a bulk crystalline powder that can be added to water or your choice of beverage. I have tried both forms and have had better success with the powder. As someone who has been diagnosed with OCD and generalized anxiety disorder, I've been through a wide array of natural supplements, such as 5-HTP, St. John's Wort, and L-Theanine. None of those ever made any measurable difference in my opinion. Phenibut is one of the few legal substances available without a prescription that does exert a noticeable effect in terms of helping to elevate my mood and induce relaxation. Kava kava also helps me to relax, but its taste is a major drawback, so I only have it every once in a while. And, while kratom also induces relaxation and a sense of well-being, it tends to be a little on the pricey side.
One needs to use caution with this supplement, though. There is little solid knowledge concerning dosage amounts, and, like anything, it may have pronounced effects for some and do nothing for others. It takes a while to exert its effects, and I have read that it needs time to "build up in the body." So the first few times it is taken, it may very well do nothing. My first experience with phenibut was with capsules. I took the recommended dose (which can range from 500 to 1500 milligrams at a time) and felt absolutely nothing after about an hour. I decided to take several more capsules over the next few hours. Well, that was a HUGE mistake! I became so nauseous and felt like I could pass out, which would have been better than the vomiting that ensued. So a word to the wise would be to definitely take it slow with this supplement.
After learning to take only a few capsules at a time to avoid getting sick, I did experience a general and mild mood lift and reduced feelings of anxiety. The most pronounced effects came when I tried phenibut in powder form, however. It is a white, crystalline powder that easily dissolves in most liquids. Although it is more than the recommended doeses I have seen, I usually take about 3-4 grams per day (once a day). Any more per day and you're asking for trouble - it tends to sneak up on you so you don't want to take too much within a day.
It does have a pretty sour taste, so I usually mix it with cola or citrus juice. The taste is tolerable but not exactly delicious, so I would usually drink it down in a few quick gulps. The effects come on rather quickly, for me about 20 minutes, and seem to last a few hours. I would describe it as a mild euphoria and feeling of well-being. I am an avid music lover, and it seems to enhance my enjoyment of listening to my iPod, for example.
As I mentioned, phenibut can sneak up on you, and after a few doses you may feel extremely sleepy - when you didn't necessarily want to go to bed. Also, when you take it regularly, the body down regulates the affinity of its GABA receptors to phenibut, which means that you build a tolerance and have to take more in order to feel any desired effects. For this reason, it is often cycled, taken for a brief period of time (1-2 weeks) and followed by about the same period of time without taking any. I have found that taking it for a few days and then taking a few days off works for me.
Side Effects / Is It Safe?
Quite frankly, there is not enough solid research out there to determine common side effects or whether phenibut is an entirely safe supplement. I could personally vouch for nausea being one real side effect, but that was after taking much more than the recommended dose within a relatively short time period. Toxicity has been reported to be very low, and there have been no reports of overdose or addiction in scientific literature. It seems that most information on the effects and safety of phenibut are anecdotal. It does seem to be a self-limiting substance, due to how quickly tolerance is built and the negative effects of much higher doses, and I would find it hard to imagine anyone getting addicted to it.
The Bottom Line
Despite a negative first experience with phenibut, I do consider it to be an effective remedy for anxiety and mood enhancement, when taken in cycles or only once in a while. Unfortunately, exact dosing information is inconsistent, and as with many natural supplements, the quality and potency can vary greatly from one manufacturer to the next. If you suffer from anxiety or insomnia, phenibut does work when used sensibly and with caution, but since there is such limited information available regarding the safety of long term use, it's not something that I would recommend using more than a few times every few months or so.