Phenibut was initially developed in the 1960s in Russia as an anti-anxiety (anxiolytic) drug .  It has since attracted a strong following of users in the “smart drug” market, with claims of boosting memory recall and exam performance.

Originally given to Soviet cosmonauts to combat anxiety and insomnia, the powdered drug is suspected to have played a role in the recent overdose of seven teenagers at a Queensland private school resulting in their admission to hospital.

How the anti-anxiety drug works

Phenibut – is also known as pbut, noofen, party powder (or its scientific name β-phenyl-γ-aminobutyric acid and brand name Bifren) – is a psychotropic drug, which means it affects the user’s mental state.

The drug is similar in structure to a type of neurotransmitter known as neurotransmitter γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which plays a role in reducing excitability and anxiety, as well as enhancing euphoria and cognitive function.

What is it used for?

Phenibut can be used to treat anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, alcohol withdrawal syndrome and vestibular (balance) disorders such as vertigo. It is also used recreationally in many countries including the United States, United Kingdom and Australia to reduce social anxiety and induce feelings of euphoria.

Phenibut is not for use in the European Union, Australia or the United States due to safety concerns. In Australia specifically, the drug regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has rejected 11 public submissions for registration and states that phenibut “represents a significant risk of harm, including overdose”.

Although phenibut is commercially available in few countries around the world, aside from Russia, a recent study showed that 48 unrelated internet suppliers sold phenibut from the United Kingdom, United States, China, Australia and Canada.