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

amine
March 4, 2023

Good afternoon David, Can melatonin be combined with GABA before bed especially in case of stress and insomnia

    David Tomen
    March 4, 2023

    It can but I do not recommend using melatonin. Which would take too much time to explain why in this thread. You can naturally increase melatonin by using L-Tryptophan. But if melatonin works for you then certainly use it with GABA.

Kjetil
February 7, 2023

Hi David.

I have a complex challenge in that I am taking a second generation anti psychotic, olanzapine, that works as a antagonist on GABA, and also affects at least 16 other receptor types in the brain.

I have had insomnia for the last 9 years while taking the anti psychotic which is caused by the medication itself. I started olanzapine in 2007, then in 2014 like a lightswitch I got severe issues with sleep.

I have tried quitting the antipsychotic, but then I get zero sleep. I have also tried transitioning to other antipsychotics without success because of sleep problems. I suspect GABA neuron sites has been drastically downregulated amongst other things.

My brain does respond a little bit to some supplements that affect GABA, like black seed oil and magnesium. I also take 1mg melatonin, 1500mg L-serine, 250mg L-tryptophan with B6 in my sleep stack which seem to help a little.

Recently I started adding GABA, and I think it gives some relief.

Do you think GABA is safe to take in my situation, or is there a possibility that taking it can further downregulate GABA receptorsites?

Are there any supplements you could recommend that specifically boosts GABA neuron sites, or neuronsites in general?

I’m not expecting any definitive answers as this should have been a question for my medical team. Unfortunately research about getting off this medication or it’s long term effects is non existent as far as I know.

Any advice would be very appreciated.

Daniel
February 1, 2023

Hi David, i noticed the pharmagaba that u are recommending contains both silica and magnesium stearate. Would u say its more worth to take pharmagaba than another synthetic gaba that does not contain any other ingredients?

Edje
February 1, 2023

Hi,

My orthomoleculaire therapist told me i have a Gaba deficiency so i want to restore that, bad mood. But there is a problem,i have read about maybe an interaction. I am on a anticonvulsant for epilepsy,Lamotrigine, lamictal,will there be interaction between Lamotrigine and Gaba?
And can you drink a beer in combination with Gaba, or does that conflict?

    David Tomen
    February 1, 2023

    Edje, Lamotrigine is a sodium channel blocker which is how it provides its benefits. It does not touch the GABA system.

    This is the list of drugs and supplements contraindicated with Lamotrigine: https://www.drugs.com/drug-interactions/lamotrigine-index.html

    You should be able to safely use PharmaGABA to get your GABA levels optimized. I don’t suggest downing it with a beer however.

      Edje
      February 2, 2023

      Thank you.
      So morning or afternoon is better i guess…, i will do that.

        David Tomen
        February 3, 2023

        Edje, if you keep the dose low enough you can use your GABA supplement during the day. Higher doses are taken before bed.

        Edje
        February 5, 2023

        Thank you,

        Maybe it was a strange question, beer… And that has a reason, 1 or 2 small cans of beer in the evening makes me,more, calm,it makes me relaxed.

        So now i have a question about alcohol, what does it do in the brain, raises or lowers it, some things. And can a nootropic, or herb, do the same? If it can it’s a win/win situation, getting off of the beer and better mood! What is your opinion about that?

        David Tomen
        February 13, 2023

        Edje, alcohol is toxic to your brain. There are no brain benefits from using alcohol. Beer on the other hand is the lesser of evils when it comes to alcohol and is considered a ‘food’ in my societies around the world.

James
January 31, 2023

Hello

Can I take GABA 500 mg and L-tryptophan 500 mg together at night or is there any interactions?

    David Tomen
    January 31, 2023

    They go great together for helping you sleep. But you will likely get more benefit with a smaller dose by using PharmaGABA (https://geni.us/KOYKKYL) which is the same form of GABA naturally produced in your gut.

Frits
January 30, 2023

Interesting. But i have a question about seizure as you mentioned and dosage. How to know if you are on the safe side of dosage, and still effective, to avoid seizures? It would be different for every person probably so are there factors which would play a role like, age, weight, health, mental condition, physical condition,and so on, are there any gidelines for it?

    David Tomen
    January 30, 2023

    Frits the only ‘guidelines’ are my recommended dosages which are based on clinical studies and practical user experience. I usually include a low dose and high dose per day. But these dosages are suggested because each of us in different. You may need more or less compared to the person next to you.

John Rutherford
November 12, 2022

I have some severe hypoglycemic events, They can happen after I work out, or when I don’t work out at all and just hit me hard and I’ll have a blood sugar of 50. I eat multiple meals during the day, i am a vegetarian and I follow all the rules that I’m supposed to but nothing seems to help. I have seen my endocrinologist and done tons of blood tests and he has no solid answers for me. Two things that showed up on my blood work is I am not producing growth hormone and my IGF-1 is very high. I take GABA for anxiety, I’m wondering does GABA help with the hypoglycemia.? I am currently I take one 750 mg GABA pill in the morning can you offer any insights.? Are there other supplements that you would recommend?
The hypoglycemic events are keeping me from doing the things I want as I am constantly worrying about having a blood sugar crash.

    David Tomen
    November 16, 2022

    John, you can use Berberine (https://nootropicsexpert.com/berberine/) 500 mg 3-times per day to control Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1).

    And L-Glutamine (https://nootropicsexpert.com/l-glutamine/) 2 – 5 grams per day to increase GABA and Human Growth Hormone.

    And if you are going to use GABA I recommend PharmaGABA because it is natural and you can use a smaller dose like 250 or 300 mg instead of 750 mg of synthetic GABA.

Paul Gangi
October 30, 2022

Hi, is it besttaking GABA at night or will it matter? Using for possible GH help as well as some insomnia help. If I take it pre workout time for instance, will it *sedate* me for my workout lol or is it much,ore subtle?
TYDoc

    David Tomen
    November 3, 2022

    Paul, the only way to find out if it will make you sleepy is to try it. Another way to increase Human Growth Hormone is by using L-Glutamine 2 – 3-times per day. It’s preferred by athletes for exactly that purpose.

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