The daily bombardment of emails, meetings, app notifications and other instantly available media that the modern worker has to contend with has brought to light the importance of a precious human resource: cognitive performance.
We often work long hours and we are constantly interfacing with attention-sapping devices. As a result, many are turning to nootropics to stay on top of their busy schedules and gain a competitive edge.
Nootropics are a class of natural and synthetic drugs and supplements that enhance one or more of our important cognitive abilities. Most nootropics support the function of neurotransmitters and receptors in the brain that are associated with mood, memory, thinking, anxiety, and the list goes on.
Among the largest sub-demographics of nootropics users are anxiety sufferers, many of whom rely on supplements and drugs to relieve their symptoms and enhance their mental wellness. One of the most popular choices for an anti-anxiety nootropic is phenibut, which is the focus of this article.
What is Phenibut?
Marketed and distributed under the generic names “phenibut”, “fenibut”, “phenybut”, as well as other brand names, this nootropic compound was first developed and popularized in Russia during the 1960s. After professor Vsevolod Perekalin synthesized and tested the compound to satisfaction, it became commonly used in various clinical settings.
Today, it is most commonly prescribed in Russia, Latvia and Ukraine as an oral treatment for anxiety, insomnia, stress, depression and other health conditions. Phenibut is not an approved medicine in the U.S., Europe and most countries, but it is often sold by online nutrition stores and many people take it as an over-the-counter supplement to manage anxiety and stress.
How Does Phenibut Work?
Like many other nootropics, phenibut works to enhance the function of specific receptors in the brain -- in this case, those that control anxious thoughts and behaviors. The brain contains a neurotransmitter called gamma-Aminobutyric acid, or GABA, which inhibits the action of other processes in the central nervous system. Think of this chemical messenger as a parachute. When you feel overwhelmed and anxious, GABA helps to slow these thought processes down and muffle them.
How does phenibut come into play here? As a synthetic analogue of GABA, it mimics the action of GABA, providing the same relaxing, anxiety- and stress-reducing effects that this neurotransmitter naturally exhibits in the brain. As such, phenibut is classified as a central nervous system depressant.
Given this calming mechanism, phenibut is appropriately recommended to people who suffer from conditions involving unwanted “excitability” in terms of nervous system processes, like fear and anxiety.
If anxiety management were the only purported benefit of phenibut, then it would likely not qualify as a nootropic, because a typical nootropic doesn’t stifle unwanted processes, but rather enhances wanted processes.
Not long after the substance was put to clinical use, its dopamine-stimulating properties were brought to light. In addition to the stimulation of GABA receptors, dopamine receptors were also found to react to this nootropic compound, and so it also has a stimulatory action.
The effect is slight compared to potent dopamine agonist medications, but enough to help some users with depression and alcoholism, which phenibut is commonly used for in some countries.
The action of phenibut as both a depressant and a stimulant may seem confusing or self-contradicting, but the stimulatory action is too small to offset the anti-anxiety properties. Given this dual effect, individuals with both anxiety and depression tend to show the most successful outcomes when taking this nootropic.
Side Effects and Safety Regulations
Phenibut is not popularly abused when compared to other depressant medications, nor does it normally cause adverse reactions. However, with improper dosing and/or poor interactions with other drugs, it may cause one or more of several side effects.
Reports have cited lethargy, agitation, dizzy spells, skin irritation and anxiety as side effects. Higher doses can have some potentially risky adverse effects, including impaired motor skills, imbalance, and others.
It is strongly advised to seek professional medical advise before taking phenibut as it may not be helpful for everyone. It may also interact with other medications, especially sedatives, anxiety and depression medications, and others, leading to increased adverse effects and risks. There are also concerns about dependence, especially when it is taken repeatedly in high doses.
As for its legality and regulation, phenibut is not a regulated, scheduled or controlled substance in North America and Europe. It is also not FDA approved, so while it cannot be sold for medical use, consumers can purchase it over the counter as a general nootropic compound or supplement.