“There is no drug that is the same as phenibut in the country. So we are really working with an unknown substance here in Australia.”
~ Dr. Jim Finn, Queensland Vice President, Australian Medical Association
In February 2018, seven Australian schoolboys from a prestigious private school were rushed to the hospital and treated for drug overdoses. But the real story is the offending substance – a drug so rare that doctors were clueless about the best way to treat them. Up to that point, most doctors had never even heard of using phenibut powder to get high.
Here’s the irony – earlier that month, Australia became the only country in the world to classify phenibut as a controlled substance. Specifically cited in the scheduling application were the facts that within the Australian healthcare system, phenibut:
- Has no established therapeutic use.
- There is no known safe dosage.
- Is predominately used recreationally.
- Has a high risk of harm, including dependence and overdose.
- Triggers withdrawal symptoms when use is discontinued.
First Things First – What Is Phenibut?
Phenibut is a central nervous system depressant that produces both sedating and anti-anxiety effects in users. It is also marketed as a nootropic – a so-called smart drug that improves cognitive function and creativity. Among phenibut users, it is also known as “party powder”, “noofen”, or “pb”.
Originally synthesized in Leningrad in the USSR, phenibut was included as standard issue the medical kits issued to Soviet cosmonauts. It has actually been in space.
Phenibut is prescribed today in Russia, Latvia, and the Ukraine. However, it is not approved for medical use in Europe or the United States. But since it is unregulated, it can be legally sold and purchased as a dietary supplement.
Are There Any Legitimate Medical Uses for Phenibut?
For a drug lacking acceptance in most of the world, phenibut has a surprising number of therapeutic applications in Eastern Europe. Phenibut, sold under the brand names Noofen, Fenibut, and Anvifen, is prescribed to treat:
- Muscular weakness
- Alcohol withdrawal
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Balance problems
- Ménière’s disease
- Motion sickness
- Surgery/procedure-induced anxiety
Why Is Phenibut Abused Recreationally?
Phenibut is often diverted because it is marketed as producing several purported “positive” effects, including:
- A mild-to-moderate euphoric high
- A pronounced sense of well-being
- Extreme calmness
- Decreased social anxiety
- Boosted confidence
- Increased pro-social behavior as well as a greater desire to be sociable
- A greater appreciation of music, similar to the effects of ecstasy
- Heightened alertness
- Enhanced motivation
- Better sexual performance
- Improved memory
- Faster cognition
These effects are said to last all day, even though phenibut’s half-life is just over five hours. This is because its action on the brain lingers long after elimination by the kidneys.
Websites that sell phenibut focus strongly on promoting its ability to reduce anxiety and enhance cognition. They also highlight the fact that phenibut doesn’t show up on any standard drug test.
Is Phenibut REALLY a Performance Enhancer?
Some studies involving phenibut have concluded that it may contribute to improved measurable test scores in certain situations and at low doses. Specifically, phenibut may help cognitive performance in stressful environments and situations.
It is unknown at this point whether any supposed improvement is actually due to some positive neurological effect or if phenibut’s sedating effects help eliminate the stress that can interfere with optimal performance.
One seller quotes an unnamed double-blind, placebo-control study that focused on phenibut’s cognition-enhancing effects among psychotic or neurotic patients, saying, “(Phenibut) was found to activate intellectual functions, improve physical strength, motivate activity, and to reduce asthenia and tiredness.”
What Are the Side Effects of Phenibut?
“The reported adverse events of phenibut are just scratching surface of a largely unregulated online drug market with no standards of quality assurance. So for those students seeking the competitive edge, it looks like those extra marks are not worth it after all.”
~ Janet Yeung and Jonathan Penm, pharmacy and pharmacology lecturers
Phenibut is generally well-tolerated, but there also are a number of unwanted side effects, including:
- Increased sedation
- Excessive sleeping
- Extremely vivid dreams
- Impaired coordination
- Loss of balance
A Word about Phenibut and Alcohol
Retailers such as Liftmode strongly caution against mixing phenibut and alcohol, placing explicit warnings on both their websites and on the product itself.
The reason to avoid this combination is due to the potential over-stimulation of specific receptors in the brain. Phenibut and alcohol each individually activate receptors that depress the central nervous system. But when they are used together, the depressive effect can become dangerous.
While there have been no instances of fatal phenibut-alcohol poisonings, thousands of people die every year from mixing alcohol with other depressants such as tranquilizing benzodiazepines.
What Does a Phenibut Overdose Look like?
“Based on the dose that’s used, you can move from where it might have been used therapeutically for anxiety or for insomnia to a drug that can be quite sedating and quite dangerous.”
~ Dr. Treasure McGuire, University of Queensland School of Pharmacy
At high doses, phenibut triggers several concerning overdose warning signs, including:
- Alternately, pronounced agitation
- Severe sedation/drowsiness
- A steep drop in blood pressure
- Liver and/or kidney damage
- Partial or total unconsciousness
There are two significant considerations about phenibut overdoses.
FIRST, because phenibut has a delayed onset of action, first-time or inexperienced users may feel that they have not taken enough, and so they take more. Double-dosing like this can trigger unpleasant side effects or even cause an overdose.
SECOND, unlike opioids, there is no pharmacological solution to a phenibut overdose. Instead, emergency poisonings need to be treated in other ways, including:
- Induced vomiting
- Stomach pumping
- Activated charcoal
- Symptom-focused treatment
What about Phenibut Withdrawal?
Tolerance to phenibut develops rather quickly, rapidly leading to dependence and addiction. This is a fact freely admitted by phenibut retailers. Significantly, some conservative sellers recommend a “three days on, five days off” dosing schedule. Users are further cautioned to “start conservatively” and to “save it for a rainy day”.
One seller, Liftmode, actually recommends that phenibut products should only be taken no more than two days per week. According to the Liftmode, more frequent use can “reduce the benefits and increase the drawbacks.”
These are strange admonitions for a “safe” dietary supplement.
Phenibut withdrawal symptoms can occur upon discontinuation of even short-term, therapeutic use, and may include:
- “Rebound” anxiety
- Emotional distress
- Hallucinations – both visual and auditory
- Acute psychosis
How Are People Buying Phenibut?
As an unregulated dietary supplement, phenibut is offered for sale openly and aggressively on the Internet, promising any number of benefits. The worst websites are very vague about actual dosing information or scientific studies, relying instead on anecdotal first-person reviews.
The average first-time user often has to rely on sources such as Reddit or Erowid for any information, because there are no reliable medical or pharmacological sources.
The best (or at least, the most professional), however, are very specific about how often and how much of their product should be taken.
Phenibut is typically sold in two forms – capsule and powder. When opting for the powder, users can mix phenibut with any drink.
- A 60-count bottle of 250 mg tablets can be purchased for as little as $10.
- Another company advertises 100 g of “fine crystal” phenibut powder for just under $23.
A “typical” phenibut dose is between 250 mg and 1000 mg per day, divided into three equal doses. 3000 mg is the highest “safe” daily dose.
Is Phenibut a Concern in America?
Although phenibut is not yet classified as a controlled substance in the United States, there are enough red flags to suggest that this oversight will not always be the case. If America starts seeing abuse or overdoses, legislators may follow the precedent set in Australia.
Currently, one of the biggest concerns should be the fact that as a supplement, phenibut isn’t regulated. That means that ANY claims can be made – benefits, side effects, dosing guidelines, product purity – with very little chance of verification.
Just a few minutes of online research highlights this problem.
- One company says that no more than 2000 mg of phenibut should be consumed in a given day.
- Another company says up to 3000 mg per day is safe.
- Both of these companies say that the total daily dose should be broken up into multiple smaller doses.
- But another company advises a schedule of 750 mg to 1500 mg, all taken in a single dose, once per day.
Right away, you see that there is not even an agreed-upon safe dosing guideline.
What Can Be Done to Prevent Phenibut Abuse?
The best way to determine how (and IF) phenibut should be safely consumed is for regulating bodies to become more involved. For example, government-sponsored approved studies and human trials could better determine:
- Whether or not phenibut actually delivers all the things it promises.
- Any associated side effects or adverse interactions with other substances.
- A proper dosing schedule.
- Standard purity levels.
The FDA and the DEA have established protocols about how new substances should be introduced and evaluated within the American market.
What’s the Bottom Line about Phenibut?
Here’s the thing– phenibut retailers make a lot of boastful claims about their products.
If those claims are ever proven, phenibut may eventually join the ranks of the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines.
But if those claims turn out to be overly-exaggerated or downright false, then phenibut may instead be reclassified as a dangerous, habit-forming controlled substance.
The only way to determine the actual truth is through more research focusing on objective, measurable science. And in the meantime, greater efforts should be made to educate phenibut’s target audience about the REAL benefits and risks associated with use.
Dr. McGuire continues, saying –
“For me the important message for the general public and the young adolescents is “this is dangerous”. It’s not smart to take something you don’t have an understanding of how it works, how much you should take. So the harms well and truly outweigh the potential benefits of a very short stimulus.”