Phenibut is an analogue of GABA


David Tomen
David Tomen
Robert Iafelice, MS, RDN, LDN
Fact Checked:
Robert Iafelice, MS, RDN, LDN
11 minute read
GABA has a calming effect on brain and body, helps relieve stress and anxiety, and boosts Human Growth Hormone

Key Takeaways

  1. GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid) is a crucial neurotransmitter that contributes to stress relief, relaxation, and improved sleep quality.

  2. It deviates from other neurotransmitters due to its inhibitory nature, serving to slow down neuron firing and calm the nervous system.

  3. While not as potent as some other nootropics, GABA’s effects are pronounced and significant, offering potential benefits like reduced anxiety, stress, and promoting better sleep.

  4. GABA is generally safe for consumption within the suggested dosage range of 500 – 1000 mg per day.

GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is an amino acid and neurotransmitter. GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter of your central nervous system. Its role is to keep glutamate, the primary excitatory transmitter, from overwhelming you.

Too much glutamate can cause a seizure, and too much GABA can put you in a coma. A healthy brain maintains a critical balance of GABA and glutamate.

GABA acts like a “brake” on neuron circuits during stress. Low GABA levels can result in anxiety, insomnia, poor mood and restlessness.

Clinical studies show that boosting GABA with a supplement relieves anxiety, stress, and boosts the production of alpha brain waves.[i] If GABA is optimized in your brain you’ll feel focused, relaxed and stress-free.

GABA helps:

  • Balance mood. GABA has an inhibitory effect on overly stimulated neurons. Low GABA levels lead to anxiety, depression and insomnia. GABA helps restore that balance. Promoting a more positive mood which improves focus and relaxation.
  • Boost Human Growth Hormone. Bodybuilders and athletes use GABA before resistance training. Studies show GABA supplements boost blood levels of Human Growth Hormone. Promoting greater recovery support and lean muscle.
  • Recovery from addiction. Some addiction doctors have been administering drugs that enhance the brain’s GABA-receptors. Normalizing GABA receptors takes away the craving and anxiety that one would typically experience in the absence of the addictive drug.


Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is the major inhibitory or relaxing neurotransmitter in your brain.[ii] GABA’s primary role is to keep the major excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate in check.


GABA isa naturally occurring amino acid synthesized in brain cells from glutamate. It’s estimated that 40% of the synapses in the human brain work with GABA and therefore have GABA receptors.

GABA enhances normal sleep cycles, and improves blood pressure. GABA stimulates the pituitary gland to secrete Human Growth Hormone. And helps produce endorphins that make you feel good after a workout or sex.

When you normalize GABA levels you’ll experience a reduction in anxiety, insomnia, nervousness, restlessness,  lowering blood pressure, and stress.

Benzodiazepine drugs like Valium and Xanax work by increasing GABA receptor sensitivity.[iii]

Meditation and yoga affects GABA receptors in your brain to help reduce stress

How do GABA Receptors Work in the Brain?

There are two natural GABA signaling receptors on nerve cells — GABA-A receptor and GABA-B receptor. While each works differently, when GABA binds to one of these receptors, the result is a decrease in that nerve cell’s responsiveness. This means that GABA modulates the signals that nerve cells are able to send.

GABA helps brain health and function in several ways. But two in particular stand out.

  1. GABA as one of two major inhibitory neurotransmitters works by preventing neural signaling associated with anxiety from reaching other neurons. It does this by attaching to the receptors that would otherwise excite those neurons. Over-stimulating neurons in certain areas of your brain is what causes anxiety-related symptoms.

Researchers in Japan studied the calming effects of GABA with 8 volunteers. They had study subjects cross a suspension bridge as the stressful stimulus.GABA supplements help reduce the stress caused by walking across a suspension bridge The placebo subjects in this group showed significant drops in blood level markers indicating high stress levels. While the GABA group showed significantly higher blood levels of these same markers.

GABA worked as a natural relaxant and its effects could be seen within 1 hour of taking GABA. The researchers concluded that GABA could enhance immunity from stress.[iv]

  1. GABA also helps decrease Beta brain waves and increase Alpha brain waves.[v] Beta brain waves are important for attention, alertness, concentration and developing memories. But excess levels of concentration, particularly during stress, can lead to anxiety, depression, insomnia and more stress.

When you are in an alert state, both Alpha and Beta brain waves can be stimulated. But the type of alertness will determine which brain wave is produced.

Alertness during an Alpha wave state is associated with a relaxed state. And a stressed alert state produces a Beta wave. But an excess of Beta brain waves contributes to a variety of nervous disorders including anxiety and stress.

As a side note, I’m writing this while listening to binaural music which produces an Alpha state. It allows for a relaxed environment which promotes creativity and productivity.

GABA also helps decrease Beta brain waves and increase Alpha brain waves for an alert but calm state.

How things go bad

Low levels of GABA are associated with a variety of health problems.

↑ Anxiety[vi], panic attacks, stress and insomnia

↑ Muscle spasms, hypertension, convulsion, Tourette’s Syndrome and epilepsy

↑ Dry skin and wrinkles

↑ Poor digestion, bloating, flatulence, and constipation

When your neurotransmitters, including GABA, are in balance, you feel motivated, productive and energetic. And you feel calm and relaxed during downtime.

When GABA levels are low you feel filled with dread, you’re constantly worried, you have racing thoughts, and you’re frequently late and disorganized.[vii]

Many people in this GABA-slump resort to high carbohydrate foods, and drugs or alcohol to relax.

GABA benefits

The amino acid L-glutamine is the precursor to GABA production in your body. L-Glutamine is a precursor the synthesis of  L-glutamate. Glutamate is your body’s most abundant excitatory neurotransmitter. Which is responsible for attention span, brain energy, learning ability, memory, and staying awake. The amino acid L-glutamine is the precursor to GABA production in your body and brain.

An enzyme called glutamate decarboxylase converts glutamate to GABA. It does it with the help of the active form of Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxal-5-Phosphate (P5P)).

The amino acid taurine helps increase the communication and productivity of this enzyme. And zinc helps the release of GABA from its receptors.

When this process works efficiently, you feel relaxed with no stress or feelings of anxiety. And if you are dealing with insomnia symptoms you should get a more restful night’s sleep.

How does GABA feel?

When you balance GABA levels in your brain, you feel relaxed and calm. But many neurohackers who try using GABA as a supplement don’t feel the effects. Because some research shows that the GABA molecule is too large to cross the blood-brain barrier.[viii]

If you do feel the calming effects of GABA within a ½ hour of taking it, it may mean you have a “leaky” brain. Not a good thing.[ix] Because if GABA can get through, all kinds of nasty stuff can get through too. Including toxins, undigested food particles and anything else in your blood stream that shouldn’t be in your brain.

You can learn how to fix a “leaky” brain in my article called > How to Heal a Leaky Blood-Brain Barrier. But the good news is, supplementary GABA can also benefit other functions in your body.

GABA is found in your adrenal glands, pituitary gland, pancreas and your sex organs.[x] GABA is also anti-inflammatory, and has an immune benefit. When all these are running optimally, you’ll feel good.

We’ll also cover other ways to boost GABA levels in our brain in the “Type of GABA to Buy” section of this article.

GABA Clinical Research

GABA was identified as a neurotransmitter several decades ago. And there had been a lot of research on GABA published since. But most of it is focused on how GABA works. And the drugs and chemicals which affect its action.

There is very little research available on using GABA as a supplement. Likely because many scientists believe that taking GABA as a supplement will not cross into the brain

GABA Increases Human Growth Hormone

GABA helps create Human Growth Hormone.Bodybuilders and athletes use supplementary GABA to help repair and support muscle function. And there are several studies supporting the notion that GABA increases Human Growth Hormone.

In one study, researchers worked with 19 subjects who were given a single oral dose of 5 grams of GABA. 18 subjects were given a placebo during this trial.

3 hours after the administration of GABA, blood samples were taken. The team reported that “GABA caused a significant elevation of plasma growth hormone levels”.[xi]

GABA helps Reduce Insomnia

A Los Angeles study conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled trial with 18 patients with sleep disorders. The patients received either a placebo, or Gabadone (a combination of GABA and 5-hydroxytryptophan).

The difference between the two groups of sleep-deprived patients was significant. The Gabadone group fell asleep faster, stayed asleep longer, and had a better quality of sleep than the placebo group.[xii]

GABA Recommended Dosage

The recommended daily GABA supplement dosage is 500 to 1000 mg for a relaxation or calming effect.

Some neurohackers notice an immediate relaxing effect, while others need to take it for a couple weeks before it starts to kick in.

L-Arginine which increases nitric oxide may also help supplementary GABA cross the blood-brain barrier.[xiii]

PharmaGABA™ which is a natural form of GABA produced with the help of Lactobacillus hilgardii bacteria is dosed at 50 – 200 mg per day.

GABA Side Effects

GABA is considered very safe when taken in normal recommended doses.

Bodybuilders who use much higher doses of GABA do report experiencing flushing, tingling, a spike in heart rate and blood pressure, and anxiety.

Type of GABA Supplements to Buy

You can take GABA food supplements in the form of a tablet, capsule and powder.

Scientists have shown that GABA does not readily cross into the brain. But many neurohackers report feeling a calming effect when using GABA.

PharmaGABA™ is a natural form of GABA made using Lactobacillus hilgardii bacteria. The same bacteria used to ferment vegetables when making the Korean cabbage dish called kimchi. This form seems to be effective in helping mood.

Another safe way to change the way GABA functions in the brain is to use any of several commonly used herbs, vitamins and minerals.

Valerian root[xiv], American Ginseng and Kava Kava work by increasing the effect of GABA on its receptors.

Extracts of green, black and oolong tea also elicit a GABA effect.[xv]

Magnesium binds to GABA receptor sites and increases its effect.[xvi]

Taurine protects against glutamate over-stimulation. And this inhibitory effect acts as an anxiolytic (anti-anxiety).

The neurotransmitter Serotonin enhances GABA. So precursors to Serotonin like tryptophan and 5-HTP can increase GABA action in the brain.

The amino acid Theanine in tea provides a calming effect. Theanine inhibits glutamate uptake which would increase GABA levels in the brain.[xvii]

Suntheanine, which is a branded from of L-Theanine is also found in some pre-formulated nootropic stacks including Mind Lab Pro®.

And Phenibut, which is a derivative of GABA developed in Russia, also increases levels of GABA in the brain. While some report that Phenibut causes drowsiness and fatigue, it’s a much safer way to boost GABA than with a pharmaceutical like Valium or Xanax. But Phenibut is no longer easily available in many countries including the USA.

Frequently Asked Questions

How good is GABA for anxiety?

GABA supplements may help reduce anxiety especially if you are GABA deficient. Many have found that when you normalize GABA levels you’ll experience a reduction in anxiety and stress, nervousness, and restlessness.

Who should not take GABA?

Do NOT use GABA if your are currently using any drug that affects GABA or GABA receptors. Benzos and barbiturates are contraindicated with GABA supplements because if you increase GABA too much you could put yourself into a coma.   

Is GABA safe to take daily?

Yes, GABA is safe to use daily as long as you are not using medications that are contraindicated with GABA.

Is it safe to take GABA every night?

GABA is safe to use every night for most people. I personally use a PharmaGABA™ supplement every night before bed because it helps me sleep. But GABA supplements are NOT safe to use if you are using anti-anxiety medications that affect GABA and its receptors.

Nootropics Expert Recommendation

GABA 500 – 1,000 mg per day. Nootropics Expert has Tested and Approved GABA supplementation.

I recommend using GABA as a nootropic supplement if you’re feeling anxiety or stress. And to calm or keep in check some of the stimulatory effects of some nootropics.

Your body does make GABA on its own from glutamate in your brain. Most healthy people have an adequate supply of GABA.

But if you’re dealing with anxiety, mood disorders, or chronic stress and need some extra help in calming things down, GABA can help.

While GABA does not readily cross the blood-brain barrier, you have many other options available for regulating or boosting GABA, if GABA as a supplement doesn’t work for you.

I suggest trying a GABA supplement first at a dose of 500 mg.

Or try one of the readily available GABA supplements made by major supplement makers containing PharmaGABA™.

Another safe option for regulating GABA levels is to use a high quality multivitamin that contains Vitamin B6 and zinc which influences the way GABA works in your brain.

Check the “Type of GABA to buy” section of this article for details.

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This post may also contain other affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

[i] Nemeroff C.B. “The role of GABA in the pathophysiology and treatment of anxiety disorders.” Psychopharmacology Bulletin. 2003;37(4):133-46. (source)

[ii] Petroff O.A. “GABA and glutamate in the human brain.” Neuroscientist 2002 Dec;8(6):562-73. (source)

[iii] “HOW DRUGS AFFECT NEUROTRANSMITTERS” McGill University Canada (source)

[iv] Abdou A.M., Higashiguchi S., Horie K., Kim M., Hatta H, Yokogoshi H. “Relaxation and immunity enhancement effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) administration in humans.” Biofactors. 2006;26(3):201-8. (source)

[v] Abdou A.M., Higashiguchi S., Horie K., Kim M., Hatta H, Yokogoshi H. “Relaxation and immunity enhancement effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) administration in humans.” Biofactors. 2006;26(3):201-8. (source)

[vi] Enna S.J. “Role of gamma-aminobutyric acid in anxiety.” Psychopathology. 1984;17 Suppl 1:15-24. (source)

[vii] Struzyńska L., Sulkowski G. “Relationships between glutamine, glutamate, and GABA in nerve endings under Pb-toxicity conditions.” Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry. 2004 Jun;98(6):951-8. (source)

[viii] Kuriyama K., Sze P.Y. “Blood-brain barrier to H3-γ-aminobutyric acid in normal and amino oxyacetic acid-treated animals” Neuropharmacology Volume 10, Issue 1, January 1971, Pages 103–108 (source)

[ix] Montagne A., et. Al. “Blood-brain barrier breakdown in the aging human hippocampus.” Neuron 2015 Jan 21;85(2):296-302 (source)

[x] Watanabe M., Maemura K., Kanbara K., Tamayama T., Hayasaki H. “GABA and GABA receptors in the central nervous system and other organs.” International Revue of Cytology. 2002;213:1-47. (source)

[xi] Cavagnini F., Invitti C., Pinto M., Maraschini C., Di Landro A., Dubini A., Marelli A. “Effect of acute and repeated administration of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) on growth hormone and prolactin secretion in man.” Acta Endocrinologica (Copenhagen). 1980 Feb;93(2):149-54. (source

[xii] Shell W., Bullias D., Charuvastra E., May LA., Silver D.S. “A randomized, placebo-controlled trial of an amino acid preparation on timing and quality of sleep.” American Journal of Therapeutics. 2010 Mar-Apr;17(2):133-9. (source)

[xiii] Shyamaladevi N., Jayakumar A.R., Sujatha R., Paul V., Subramanian E.H. “Evidence that nitric oxide production increases gamma-amino butyric acid permeability of blood-brain barrier.” Brain Research Bulletin. 2002 Jan 15;57(2):231-6. (source)

[xiv] Yuan C.S., Mehendale S., Xiao Y., Aung H.H., Xie J.T., Ang-Lee M.K. “The gamma-aminobutyric acidergic effects of valerian and valerenic acid on rat brainstem neuronal activity.” Anesthesia and Analgesia. 2004 Feb;98(2):353-8 (source)

[xv] Hossain S.J., Hamamoto K., Aoshima H., Hara Y. “Effects of tea components on the response of GABA(A) receptors expressed in Xenopus Oocytes.” Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. 2002 Jul 3;50(14):3954-60. (source)

[xvi] Möykkynen T., Uusi-Oukari M., Heikkilä J., Lovinger D.M., Lüddens H., Korpi E.R. “ Magnesium potentiation of the function of native and recombinant GABA(A) receptors.” Neuroreport. 2001 Jul 20;12(10):2175-9. (source)

[xvii] Sugiyama T., Sadzuka Y. “Theanine and glutamate transporter inhibitors enhance the antitumor efficacy of chemotherapeutic agents.” Biochim Biophys Acta. 2003 Dec 5;1653(2):47-59. (source)

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Join The Discussion - 251 comments

June 12, 2024

    David Tomen
    June 12, 2024

    Alex, I suggest you read that abstract again but more closely. It concludes, “Our results provide preliminary evidence that putative increases in GABA and dopamine synthesis do not interact to affect cognitive flexibility performance.”

Patricia Humes
June 9, 2024

Dear David,
Regarding “Mary” above (September 26, 2023) inquiring about pain – and how she uses Gaba Calm: I would just like to report that I use 1 Gaba Calm in the morning to help with bladder spasm pain. It has been the only thing I’ve found (and I’ve tried all sorts of herbs, vitamins and even Rx) to help with my painful bladder issue which causes incontinence. (This is NOT a UTI.) I just thought you might be interested in this, especially since it’s such a frustrating problem to treat.
Thanks for all you do for us out here!
Pat Humes

    David Tomen
    June 10, 2024

    Thank you for your comment Pat. Hope it helps those who need it.

February 25, 2024

I have a question
I have had depersonalization for over 40 years now . I got it from pot
I have anxiety for sure but it is no where near as bad as when I was younger.
Are there any type of supplements ( not drugs ) that I can take to get rid of this ?
Or am I just stuck with it at this point.

    David Tomen
    February 28, 2024

    Bill anecdotal reports of people who cured themselves from depersonalization disorder included:

    5000 mg Piracetam
    300 mg Phosphatidylserine
    300 mg CDP-Choline
    1000 mg glycine
    400 mg magnesium L-Threonate

January 30, 2024

I would like your opinion on the use of gabapentin. My understanding is gabapentin is believed to have its primary effects through the modulation of calcium channels and not by increasing GABA. Gabapentin has been wonderful for me, nerve pain in neck and shoulder relieve and anxiety resolving. I have been on a low dose of 100 to 200 mg for 4 months. It makes me forgetful, but it has resolved the neck pain by 90% and the excessive worry, anger and fear type anxiety. I wonder if it is too good to be true. Maybe I should go the GABA route. I experimented with GHB back in the 90’s with positive results for sleep quality and energy, but now that one is not possible. Though I think that proved the GABA helped me. Do you think I could use both gabapentin and pharmagaba? I started using saffron for the anxiety and depression, works great. I have issues with CYP450 DNA variants and have horrible reactions to every RX antidepressant and opioid pain killers, so I am always on the look out for alternatives.

    David Tomen
    February 5, 2024

    Sher, calcium channels are directly involved in memory formation and disrupting those channels can cause memory loss (

    If you had success with GHB then you should benefit by using PharmaGABA. It’s worth trying.

October 9, 2023

Hi David, it says that if i feel the effects of gaba within 30 min i could have a leaky blood brain barrier. The thing is no matter what supplement i take i literally feel it within 5 minutes. Every single one.
Does this mean i have a leaky BBB ?

    David Tomen
    October 14, 2023

    Daniel, I can’t think of any other reason why you’d feel the effects of supplements that fast other than a leaky BBB and/or a leaky gut. Because I don’t think it is physically possible to digest anything that quickly.

      October 18, 2023

      Thanks! Right now im on d3 vitamin, magnesium, dha, B-complex and some other supplements. Would u way its enough to heal a BBB ? Or do i need to add more nootropics? Im thinking about adding curcumin

Mary van der Westhuyzen
October 4, 2023

Hi David, I read your article about Kratom and it sounds amazing but unfortunately I live in Australia where it is an illegal substance. I phoned around to see if I could find any but drew a blank. Is there perhaps anything else one could use? Thanks, Mary

    David Tomen
    October 5, 2023

    Mary, there is no substitute for Kratom. It provides unique benefits and it is unfortunate some do not recognize its value to us humans.

September 27, 2023

Hi David, I have another question – is there any other nootropic which is particularly good for pain.

Many thanks,

    David Tomen
    October 1, 2023

    Mary, by far the best natural way to reduce pain that I know of is Kratom. See my review here:

      Mary van der Westhuyzen
      October 3, 2023

      Thank you so much for answering my query. I’ll have a read.


Mary West
September 23, 2023

Hi David
I’m wondering if GABA helps with pain and whether it is safe to take while also taking oxycodone. I sometimes also take a small dose of THC. Thanks.

    David Tomen
    September 23, 2023

    Mary, GABA may help with certain types of pain ( It is worth experimenting with and if you decide to try GABA, look for a supplement that uses PharmaGABA rather than synthetic GABA. But note from the study I pointed to it can also increase pain levels. So, it depends on the cause of the pain.

      September 26, 2023

      Thank you for responding, David. My pain is partly mechanical from a deformed spine and partly inflammatory from Ankylosing Spondylitis.
      I have something called ‘Gaba Calm’ which contains 125mg GABA, 50mg Glycine, 25mg N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine, 20mg Taurine.
      Thanks, Mary

        David Tomen
        September 26, 2023

        Mary, that is not enough GABA and it’s likely synthetic. To give GABA a real try you need at least 500 mg and in the form of PharmaGABA like 2 capsules of this one: (Amazon)

        June 8, 2024

        Hi David. Do you recommend dosages of at least 500mgs of pharmagaba a day? I thought with pharmagaba the dosage was lower, but I could give it a try. Do you recommend that dosage divided? Or a single one at night

        David Tomen
        June 10, 2024

        José, the standard recommended dosage for PharmaGABA is 250 or 300 mg which works for most. You may need more. It depends on how you react to this supplement.

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