Using dietary supplements, such fish oil, multivitamins and other over-the-counter health-related products, is a daily habit for many Americans. In fact, dietary supplements are big business.
According to the FDA, there are an estimated 75,000 different products sold as dietary supplements, purchased by more than 150 Americans, generating profits of $40 billion a year.
Supplements, however, are not regulated in the same way that pharmaceutical or prescription drugs are, which can lead to misleading claims and potential health risks.
The designer drug Phenibut, often marketed as a dietary supplement that can reduce anxiety, is not approved in the United States, though it’s easily purchased online.
There are also companies that try to skirt U.S. laws and include Phenibut in the ingredients of their products.
This is why in April 2019, the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning to three companies marketing products that contain Phenibut.
What is Phenibut and What is it Used For?
Created in the 1960s by Russian scientists, Phenibut’s chemical structure is akin to GABA, a naturally occurring neurotransmitter in the body’s central nervous system that has a calming effect on the brain.
In Russia, Phenibut is used to treat conditions like depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorders, insomnia and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among other health related issues.
The synthetic drug has also gotten a reputation for being a so-called “smart drug” that improves productivity and focus, favored by students and others working long hours or pulling “all nighters.”
Other companies market Phenibut use as a way to improve sexual performance, as well as supplement for bodybuilding and weight training.
One of the biggest problems with all these claims, though, is that there is not much medical literature published on a drug that’s been used for more than 50 years, as Dr. Abby Campbell, PhD, points out in her article for Science-Based Medicine.
“Many of these publications are in the Russian language and/or are based on studies in cats, rats or mice. Straight away this raises issues,” Dr. Campbell writes. “Our four legged friends are great, but can hardly tell us much about a prosocial wonder drug and may fail to reveal problems in humans.”
What researchers do know about Phenibut is that the drug comes with significant side effects, might be habit-forming and can lead to serious withdrawal symptoms.
Is Phenibut Addictive?
One of the key indicators of whether or not a drug is addictive is whether people using the drug develop a tolerance, having to use more and more of the substance to achieve the original results. Phenibut is addictive considering this criteria, since users often develop a tolerance after prolonged use.
Because of Phenibut’s calming effects and even a sense of euphoria that some users experience with higher doses of the drug, they are at risk of developing a dependency on it.
This becomes especially true with long-term abuse of the substance because users are likely to increase their dose not just to achieve the same feelings, but also to avoid the negative side effects that come with it.
In addition, withdrawal symptoms can develop for many users when they stop taking it.
What are the Side Effects of Phenibut?
The side effects of Phenibut will vary from person to person, depending on dose, tolerance and whether or not they’re using the drug along with other substances like alcohol or cannabis.
Phenibut side effects can include some of the following;
- Headache and dizziness
- Anxiety, irritation and agitation
- Lack of balance and coordination in higher doses
- Hangover like symptoms, such as feeling foggy and having difficulty concentrating
Its important to note that Phenibut is also a central nervous system (CNS) depressant. On its own, its effects are not that significant, but mixed with alcohol or opioids, both of which are also CNS depressants, the risk of overdose is much higher.
Quitting phenibut often requires medication assisted treatment (MAT) and physician-supervised tapering of the drug.
What are Phenibut Withdrawal Symptoms?
Going “cold turkey” and stopping the use of Phenibut all at once is not recommended because of the serious possibility of withdrawal symptoms associated with the drug.
Phenibut withdrawal symptoms can include some of the following:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Heart palpitations and tremors
- Lack of appetite
- Anxiety and depression as a result of the chemical imbalance in the brain
- Visual and auditory hallucinations may occur in long-term users who stop taking it all at once
The risk of physical addiction to Phenibut is low, but people who use the drug regularly might run the risk of a psychological addiction and continue to use it to avoid the uncomfortable and painful withdrawal symptoms.
Treatment and recovery from a Phenibut dependence is improved with counseling that examines the underlying reasons for the abuse of the drug.
This can be one-on-one counseling or other therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which helps people understand the relationship between their emotions, thoughts and behaviors, and provides a path for making healthier lifestyle choices going forward.