As our nation faces a mental health crisis, many people are looking for new ways to alleviate their symptoms and help them feel normal. As anxiety and stress disorders run rampant and mental health resources run thin, those who are suffering start looking for miracles. Some of those people found phenibut, a synthetic substance similar to Xanax or Valium that’s legal to purchase online, but comes with some nasty side effects.
What Is Phenibut?
Phenibut is a chemical or substance that was developed in Russia several decades ago. As the United States and Russians engaged in the space race, Russian agencies offered the drug to cosmonauts to keep calm under the pressures of first-time space endeavors.
Phenibut mimics the actions of GABA in the brain. Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is an amino acid that functions as the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter for the central nervous system (CNS). Both GABA and Phenibut reduce neuronal excitability by inhibiting nerve transmission. This nerve inhibition produces a calming effect which decreases stress and anxiety.
Phenibut is beta-phenyl-gamma-aminobutyric acid, similar to but critically different from GABA. The two should not and are not used interchangeably. Generally, Phenibut is given in capsule form mixed with other drugs or ingredients. A small percentage of users, less than 3%, use it as a powder.
Phenibut is a central nervous system depressant. It is also marketed as a Nootropic drug, a performance-enhancing drug, and an alternative to anti-anxiety prescription medications like Xanax.
What Physical Symptoms Does Phenibut Claim to Help?
Since Phenibut has not been tested or approved in the United States, a lot of data provided on its efficacy comes from Russia and other Eastern European countries. Those who use Phenibut claim it helps reduce anxiety, improve cognition, increase attention span, and relax nerves.
People who might be tempted to use Phenibut could have:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Major life events happening that cause excessive nervousness
Some might consume Phenibut in an attempt to get ahead of their peers by feeling more confident and alert.
What Are Phenibut Side Effects and Phenibut Dependence Risks?
Despite being marketed as a dietary supplement or an alternative to benzodiazepines, the consumption of phenibut comes with serious risks. Many of the risks are underresearched, as phenibut is not as popular as other substances.
Between 2009 and 2019, the U.S Poison Control Center saw a significant increase in Phenibut calls and reports – 1,320 to be exact – with many patients ending up in the hospital. More than 6% of those ended up in a coma. One person died.
Overall side effects of Phenibut use include:
- Reduced Consciousness/Loss of Consciousness
- Extreme Dizziness
- Impaired Balance/Loss of Balance
- Difficulty Breathing
- Heightened Anxiety
- Visual and Auditory Hallucinations
- Extreme Agitation
- Highly Elevated/Irregular Heart Beats
Additionally, many people tend to take phenibut with other drugs, like benzos or opioids, which can cause drug interactions that may put a person’s life at risk. Phenibut can’t be detected by a regular drug test, and a confused, agitated, or unconscious person may not be able to tell doctors that they consumed Phenibut, leading to diagnosis challenges for emergency responders when every second matters.
Phenibut Withdrawal Symptoms
Perhaps the greatest risk of Phenibut consumption is that of addiction. Phenibut is a highly addictive substance, and those who take Phenibut quickly become dependent on its calming effects. Even those who promote the use of Phenibut warn consumers not to take Phenibut every day.
Phenibut withdrawal is reported to be similar to benzo withdrawal, however, because of the lack of medical data and research on Phenibut addiction and Phenibut abuse, there is no standard protocol for treating the symptoms of Phenibut withdrawal. Treating Phenibut withdrawal is not easy.
What scientists do know is that it can take just a few doses to become addicted and dependent, while Phenibut withdrawal symptoms can start within several hours of consumption. The Phenibut withdrawal timeline can be several days to several months, depending on how long the product was used and how many times a day/week. The dosage amounts can impact recovery. Other drugs mixed with Phenibut use impact the detoxification process as well.
Post-acute withdrawal symptoms include both physical symptoms and psychological symptoms. When a person takes a substance that alters the brain’s natural chemical processes and connective nerve receptors, their body will fight to return to normal as Phenibut is metabolized out of their bodies. Unfortunately, that fight has collateral damage. Common withdrawal symptoms of Phenibut withdrawal include:
- Mood swings
- Emotional blunting
- Memory loss
- Rebound anxiety
In the most extreme cases, doctors have seen the following withdrawal symptoms following Phenibut use:
- Severe anxiety or new anxiety disorders
Is Phenibut Illegal In the United States?
Despite the known risks of using Phenibut and the extreme withdrawal symptoms, Phenibut is not banned in the United States. The FDA must approve all drugs or dietary supplement products in the United States. While GABA is FDA approved as a supplement, Phenibut is not. Phenibut simply cannot be marketed as a dietary supplement or make promises of performance, since it’s not FDA-approved.
“Because Phenibut does not fit any of the categories of dietary ingredients under the FD&C Act, any dietary supplements that declare phenibut as a dietary ingredient are misbranded.” – FDA Statement on Phenibut Branding in America
In 2019, the FDA also sent warning letters to companies that were incorrectly marketing Phenibut and demanded correction of the violation within 15 days. While Phenibut is unlikely to be found in stores, there are many websites that sell supplements that contain Phenibut and other grey area substances. It is hard, if not impossible, for regulators to hunt down every single site utilizing misleading marketing practices.
Without FDA regulation, a user does not know what is actually in a non-dietary supplement like Phenibut. No matter what the label says, a user cannot know for sure what a Phenibut capsule contains. Additionally, no one can know how their body and brain will react to Phenibut intoxication or Phenibut withdrawal.
Despite some claims found on the internet, Phenibut is not a prescription drug like Xanax. Xanax and other benzos can be used in controlled dosages, so patients can experience relief from anxiety symptoms under the supervision of a medical provider. Phenibut is not in the benzodiazepines category, though some of its reported effects might sound similar to “benzo’s.”
Can a Person Handle Withdrawal Symptoms on Their Own?
Understandably, a user might be hesitant to seek help. A stigma might come with being addicted and having severe withdrawal symptoms from something over the counter.
With so much unknown about Phenibut withdrawal syndrome and the acute symptoms and long-term impacts of Phenibut drug abuse, it’s critical to receive professional addiction treatment when withdrawing from Phenibut.
Here’s what you can expect from a medical detox in an addiction treatment center :
- Kind, compassionate care.
- A program that will gradually taper the chemicals and substances used to regulate mood and emotions using approved medications.
- Addiction specialists will help with other substances that a patient might be dependent or addicted to, like alcohol withdrawal.
- Therapy to help those who experience withdrawal symptoms in any form.
- A safe environment to regulate sleep and avoid the most severe symptoms.
Withdrawal from Phenibut can be confusing and challenging, but help is available.
Dealing With Anxiety Through Prescription Medications & Therapy
There is an abundance of options that are FDA approved to treat general anxiety or social anxiety. However, it might take trial and error of several options under medical supervision to find the one that fits the unique dynamics of your brain and body. This is entirely normal.
Anti-anxiety medications and therapy are very common as the mental health crisis in America grows. There is no longer a stigma associated with getting help.
Help is Available Now for Phenibut Dependence
Clear Recovery Center is dedicated to each and every patient and not just fighting the addiction but restoring quality of life and giving ongoing skills to prevent relapse. Call us anytime at 877.799.1985.