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Phenibut Is Neither Proven Nor Safe As A Prosocial Wonder Drug

Editor’s note: With Mark Crislip away on yet another vacation, we present an inaugural guest post from Abby Campbell, a practicing MD, Ph.D and contributor at HealthyButSmart.com. Welcome Abby!

Ball-and-stick diagram of the phenibut molecule

Ball-and-stick diagram of the phenibut molecule

On average for the past year, phenibut has been typed into google 49,500 times a month. Phenibut is a supposed wonder drug that claims to promote sociability and lessen anxiety.

When people run that search in Google, they find stores that sell phenibut, as well as blogs and forums where people discuss and make recommendations for the use of phenibut. The main qualification of these people is that they themselves have taken the drug.

What a searcher doesn’t find is any reference to any credible research. Yet another supplement market has been born driven by anecdotal social marketing, and no one seems to care about the evidence.

What is phenibut?

Phenibut is a designer drug which was synthesized by a group of Russian scientists in the 1960s. Perekalin and his colleagues in St. Petersburg added a phenyl ring to butyric acid to make what we now call phenibut. The addition of the phenyl group to the butyric acid enables the compound to cross the blood-brain barrier and enter the brain.

This basic chemical structure of the compound explains the origins of the name ‘phenibut’. Phenibut is also known as fenibut and is sold under the brand names of Noofen and Citrocard.

Phenibut is structurally similar to the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma amino butyric acid). GABA occurs naturally in the human nervous system and has a calming effect on the brain.

GABA itself does not cross the blood brain barrier and so is not viable as a drug or supplement to reduce anxiety. The addition of the phenyl ring by the Russian scientists overcame the problem of penetration into the brain. However this means that phenibut is not totally identical to human GABA which means that we can’t just extrapolate information on GABA to phenibut, as some websites have done. (more…)

Posted in: Basic Science, Herbs & Supplements, Science and Medicine

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