Phenibut is an analogue of GABA

GABA

David Tomen
Author:
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.

Overview

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
GABA

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

Heir
August 9, 2023

Gotu Kola and P5P work directly on glutamate decarboxylase, which induces the conversion of glutamate into gaba

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18066140/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3359802/“the extract stimulated the activity of GAD over 40%”
GAD= Glutamic acid decarboxylase, the enzyme that converts glutamate into GABA, which uses P5P as a cofactor as well

    David Tomen
    August 9, 2023

    You forgot about Lemon Balm and Valerian and how they affect GABA as well.

      Heir
      August 12, 2023

      I am very interested in increasing the conversion of glutamate to GABA, I think this can help fix my problems.

        David Tomen
        August 12, 2023

        The conversions naturally take place in your system and there is not much you can do other than use a precursor like L-Glutamine to increase glutamate then it’s up to your system to make the next conversion. Sure, you may be able to ensure the elements are adequate for that conversion. But you do not have direct control over how or when this occurs.

Rs
June 12, 2023

Hi David – thanks for the work you do!

My entire life I have always had a difficult time sleeping… until I started a sleep stack about seven months ago.
L-theanine 200mg
Apigenin 50mg
Magnesium 1600 mg
Fish oil 2000 mg

And once a week gaba. (500mg)

Occasionally a micro dose thc gummy if I really think it will be difficult to sleep. (I’m guessing about 2.5 mg)

And a small sensoril pill (ashawaghanda) 125mg

So a couple weeks ago I woke up in the middle of the night with an insane panic attack. Like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.

It took me about three hours for my body to calm down.

It was the night I took everything in the stack, including the gummy.

I’m worried this is an interaction of these drugs… since then I’ve stayed clear of sensoril, gaba, and micro dose gummies but I’m wondering if you’ve heard of these interacting in negative ways, and it’s dangerous to try again.

    David Tomen
    June 16, 2023

    Russell, your dose of magnesium is much higher than the recommended 400 mg per day. You do not mention what is in your fish oil but some find that it can act as a stimulant so take it in the morning and not before bed.

Josh Banker
June 10, 2023

Hi I’m Josh age 25 male. I have a little issue that I’m looking for some help on. I took high doses of GABA supplement and Magnesium carbonate consecutively for about a month and half. I stopped because I was getting fatigued. It’s been about a month since I stopped and still feel fatigued, drowsy, forgetful, muscle weakness, confused and dementia and hypersomnia. I barely have the energy to due athletic things. My sleep is good. Before I could sleep 4 to 5 hours and have mountains of energy and stamina. I know that I looked at symptoms of high GABA and high Magnesium. I think that it’s still blocking glutamate, aspartate and other excitatory neurotransmitters. My question is there anything I can do or take for my brain and body chemistry to go back to normal. Thank you.

    David Tomen
    June 12, 2023

    Josh, what is your definition of “high doses”? You are young and the human brain has an amazing ability to heal itself. It is highly unlikely you did any damage if you were abusing these two supplements.

    But only time will get you back to where you were before you started using these supplements. Just make sure you are either eating a really healthy diet. Or at least taking a high quality, bioactive Multivitamin like this one: https://bit.ly/3l9OalB and 1,000 mg DHA every day like this one: https://bit.ly/3q98chL.

José
June 7, 2023

Hi David. Thank you for all the mazing information! Question. I started taking phenibut some months ago but low doses and not often. 300mgs once or twice a week. Great effect but I would love to take something not as risky and more often. Im pretty sure I’m low in gaba. I live in South America. The only similar thing available here is regular gaba. But didn’t feel much with it. I just ordered picamilon to science bio in California. Never tried it before. Between picamilon and pharmagaba, what would you recommend more to increase gaba levels? To be taken regularly. Thanks in advance!

    David Tomen
    June 9, 2023

    José, Picamilon may work better for you but I suggest you try both. Give one a trial for a week and then try the other separately for a week. And compare how you feel. Both easily get into your brain. But you may respond better to one than the other. The only way to find out is to experiment.

Frank
May 27, 2023

Is there a reliable neurotransmitters test?

Rob
April 20, 2023

Hi David,

Can somebody with absence seizures take Gaba?

    David Tomen
    April 21, 2023

    Rob, GABA agonists were found to intensify seizures in animals and humans (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1313057/). But not sure about plain GABA. You’ll need to check with your doctor on that one.

Greg Smith
March 11, 2023

Is GABA the same as gabapentin? I am weaning off Gabapentin and was going to start taking GABA

    David Tomen
    March 22, 2023

    Greg, contrary to the name, Gabapentin does not touch the GABA system in your body or brain. It has nothing to do with GABA. Gabapentin binds to the α2δ calcium channel subunit and it just gets more complicated after that. GABA or PharmaGABA is not a substitute for Gabapentin.

Charlotte
March 10, 2023

Hey David,

I wonder if this really works for people?
The Amazon comments are always raving, for any type of GABA. But though I’m sure I’m GABA deficient (with too high glutamate levels) GABA has never done anything for me.

I’m tempted to try Thorne’s product, but it’s expensive, and a neuroscientist reviewer writes:

“ There is no meta-review of studies that has filtered through to find third-party, independent, doubly-blind randomized controlled trials with representative treatment samples that have shown that orally-ingesting (Pharma)GABA improves stress or sleep quality as far as I know.

For the most of you that this works for, I’m incredibly happy that it does so. If you are a neuroscientist, a pharmacodynamics scientist, or scientist who has reviewed literature on (Pharma)GABA, and you believe differently than I do, I would love to hear why.”

Like that guy, I wonder how come so many people report success. I don’t feel anything. Is everybody reporting placebo effects?

    David Tomen
    March 22, 2023

    Charlotte, the placebo effect is real and can affect results of a study. But when user reviews report success you can take that to the bank. Especially if they are “verified buyers” because they are not paid to provide that comment. Instead, they do it on their own time for a supplement that they paid for.

    And I put zero value on what the majority of “neuroscientists” say because they went to a medical school that was paid for by the big pharmaceutical companies. They are not taught any of this stuff in med school. Many of them are subscribers to my newsletter because some of them genuinely are interested in this information.

    I am not a doctor or have a played one on TV. Just an ordinary guy who figured this stuff out to save my own life. I found that I was GABA deficient. And when I started using PharmaGABA I felt better. Duh.

    PharmaGABA is grown on lactobacillus hilgardii bacteria and then harvested. It is the very same form of GABA naturally produced in your gut. Synthetic GABA on the other hand needs to be converted to a form our body and brain can use and has a harder time getting across the blood-brain barrier.

    Try PharmaGABA and see if it works for you. If not then add L-Glutamine (https://nootropicsexpert.com/l-glutamine/) which will also naturally increase GABA and Human Growth Hormone and help balance out glutamate.

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