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Stop it, hippies:Why phenibut and kratom aren’t as safe as you think

Update 3/12/2018: A salmonella outbreak stemming from kratom?

In fairness, that’s not due to kratom itself but as I mentioned: shitty sources. I think many people take my damn bluntness as a “NO DO NOT” when, honestly, it was more of a “DO NOT….unless you’re informed and careful.”

Whatever’s clever, you buy the ticket, you takes the ride- it just seems to me you’d be better served looking for good, reputable sources. YET! I still had a dude that gets his at a local headshop trying to blow smoke up my ass about it. Righto, hon. Salmonella, if you don’t know- is actually pretty preventable and, providers utilizing safe production and handling methods typically do not have these kinds of problems.

I never said don’t. I said don’t be an idiot. Idiots are usually what fuels the regulations and bans and yet- ya’ll rant about this shit even as you give them plenty of ammo to crack down. Good on ya. Calls for personal research including valid sources instead of listening to talking heads with an agenda yay or nay should not be seen as insulting. Stop being a reactionary sophist and just make sure you’re careful about what you’re putting into your body. That’s really all I was getting at. I readily agree that the FDA, however, has some sketchy ass motivations here. I do not, however, think that should be the basis of an “it’s harmless” argument. Sorry.

A rant, in G-minor.

Right before I quit using social media, I started to notice an uptick in the number of people citing both phenibut and kratom as “safe” alternatives to opiates. Of course, the “natural” label was there, too: which is about the most ridiculous way of determining the safety of a supplement or medication, ever. Arsenic is natural. Asbestos? Also natural. Though you might not know this one right away- Bacillus anthracis, is also natural: and is the bacterium responsible for Anthrax.
I can keep going. Nature doesn’t give a shit about you, frankly, and “all natural” is a terrible way to heave a huge sigh of relief about something.

Disclaimer: Not a doctor, not a medical professional.
Disclaimer the 2nd: Particularly concerning are “nootropic” dabblers, who seem to pluck supplements and otherwise out of a hat, and blend use. First, certain nootropics cancel eachother out- particularly with amino acids. Second, certain chemicals blend in bad ways and can cause more harm than good- even potentially being dangerous. Third: sometimes, you just eat the shit and it’s totally useless and you waste a crapload of money this way. It’s just not smart. If you’re getting your research material from sites that offer no citation: you’re probably not real bright, kid. You wanna argue me? Fine. You best bring your facts, not your feels to the facts fight- and citations that actually back it. I cannot even begin to tell you how many shitty blog posts I’ve read where the citation actually has nothing to do with the proposed whatever- and doesn’t validate shit, but it’s a lot. Don’t assume a list at the bottom means anything: CHECK IT. 

Disclaimer the 3rd: I am in no way stating these things cannot be tremendously useful. I am, however, saying you should probably understand them before you pop them.

Gabaergics for Dummies

And yes, you fuck around with gabaergics- you are a dummy.

So, first, let’s take a look at what GABA is. Likely, you do know that this is something that’s widely distributed in the brain as something of a chemical messenger. It’s widely believed that one of the things it does- is helps control the anxiety that occurs when certain neurons are over-excited.

So, most of us are familiar with benzodiazepines: xanax, valium, ativan are a few. These psychoactive drugs are best used in the short term- with good reason. When you get into it: you’ve got to look at things like is a medication short acting or long acting? What’s its half-life?

If you don’t know and you’re gulpin’ gabaergics without having done your homework, and you persist a while: you’re gonna have a rough time. This sheet tells you which are long acting, short acting and everything in between. Does this sheet make sense? If it doesn’t: you need to be talking with a qualified medical professional about these options and leave that shit alone. Hell, even if it does: you are far, far better served playing chemistry set with your head- with somebody who understands and knows what they’re doing. I am not that guy. The super knowledgeable folks I know of over on bluelight- also, not that guy. (And the most helpful and knowledgeable will in fact, readily tell you this.) Rando on the internet or from your damn titty bar (YES I AM LOOKING AT YOU) are not that guy. And you damn sure shouldn’t be shoving random supplements at somebody who’s experienced rhabdomyolosis and probably has kidney  and liver damage, you irresponsible moron- unless, of course, you’ve got some latent desire to kill your loved one or create a tremendous amount of suffering in them. (I am again, looking at someone pretty specific: who the fuck recommends high doses of kava to someone with these issues? An idiot, that’s who.)

And you betcha, after doing this:

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I did this:

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And the enabled got an even bigger dose of ire than the enabler- because he made the choice. Beyond all of that: someone with a psychological tendency towards addiction can get addicted to…pretty much anything. Again: see Victoria’s Sad Exodus OUT of Social Media.

Back to the gaba shit.

For those who need them, this class of medication can be a damn miracle. There is no denying that. For those who do them recreationally however…..a few weeks in and you discover a big, big, fucking problem.

The big ones you see this with often leave a lot of people scratching their heads: gabapentin and baclofen. I won’t get into that: but, when you’re talking about phenibut- you’re dancing in the same damn ballroom. Some people do have interesting reactions to those, and some people merely swap out addictions as these have been helpful to some out there in withdrawing from other things. People do this with xanax, valium, and others, also: swap out an opoid for a gabaergic addiction and you’re gonna REALLY have a hard won chemistry lesson. And possibly seizures. Withdrawal from opiates/opoids will make you feel like dogshit on the third day under a tractor wheel, for sure: but, barring underlying conditions, it probably won’t kill you. Gabaergics can, depending on a few factors like how long and how much you take, but also, underlying conditions and if it doesn’t: well, ask anyone who abuses drugs which one they’d rather withdraw from: hmmm, say vicodin or xanax. I guarantee you every time, they’ll say vicodin. Ask an ER nurse which one gets more attention and why, as well. It’s just not fucking worth it to swap these addictions. 

Here’s where you come into issues with the gabaergics: you have different receptors that do different things. Different methods, different impacts. If you’re taking a handful of different things without looking into them: you may be creating synergistic action, you might be creating an antagonistic action, you could be…doing all sorts of shit and really having no idea. If you’re eating or drinking certain things, this again holds true.

So, why do people take the common anti-anxiety medications? Because they bind to those same neuronal receptors as GABA and this then goes on to help out the natural impact of said GABA and we calm down. Problem with that is….well, if GABA was the only thing that could cause anxiety- it’d be fantastic. But it’s not.

First off, if the “all natural” thing is something you’re saying about phenibut in particular: I want you to stand up. Right now. Do it. Now? Slap yourself as hard as you can. Phenibut’s not even “all natural”- it’s a designer drug created by Russian scientists in the 60’s.

That doesn’t make it bad. As I’ve mentioned before: I’m all about better living through chemistry.

The reason people dig on phenibut is that it’s fairly similar to GABA, with a twist. You see, GABA does not cross the blood brain barrier: so, as a stand alone, most of those are just gonna be a waste of money. BUT, when you go ahead and pop in a phenyl ring-

giphy (3).gif

….that said, in spite of what some blogs claim: there’s no way to extrapolate data in terms of GABA and phenibut. They’re similar but not totally identical.

Gaba Gaba A! Gaba Gaba B!

So, GABA receptors are what’s known as channel receptors- which means when GABA does bind to them, they’ll change their shape a bit to let ions on through to the central channel. Sort of dumbed down version of how this makes for the reduction of your wiggins: this channel mostly allows negatively charged chloride ions in to the neuron and that reduces how spazzy it is- which is why it is an inhibitory neurotransmitter.

So, when you take a benzo- what you’re basically doing is introducing another molecule into the channel receptor’s opening and in turn, reducing the transmission of neural messages. There are two classes in terms of GABA receptors- Gaba A and Gaba B.

GABA A receptors are called ionotropic receptors, or ligand-gated ion channels and each one of the isoforms consists of 5 identical subunits that surround a central chloride ion-selective channel. GABA, then sort of stands there, checkin’ IDs to see who gets in and who does not. These receptors are located in the post-synaptic membrane and mediate neuronal inhibition. The drugs that tend to get into the party: benzodiazepines, Benzodiazepine agonists, Barbiturates, amanita muscaria- but this is far from an exhaustive list and were I to list everything, then I would also have to list what it is they do. It gets pretty freaking involved. I didn’t even go into neurosteroids in detail: but, there are a few that have a similar impact on the receptor as benzodiazepines.

GABA B, on the other hand, is a protein coupled or metabotropic receptor. You see how I have above sort of explained, in the very simplest terms the GABA A? I can’t even do that with the GABA B receptors. They play an important role in the long term inhibition of synaptic transmission. In a pre-synaptic sense, these autoreceptors are the gatekeepers of how we release GABA. But the heteroreceptors regulate the release of a bunch of important things, dopamine and noradrenaline being the ones you may be familiar with.

…..then, all this stuff goes on to work in concert with a bunch of other shit in your brainpan. I don’t understand it all but I understand enough that I won’t fuck around with this stuff, without care and the direction of extremely qualified people. I am not an asshole for this: when you merge a very American tendency towards instant gratification and excess with ignorance and neurochemistry: the results can often be pretty bad. Or just pointless. It’s not really a die roll I’m looking to go low on, ya know?

There are also loads of things that impact these things like booze, GHB/GBL, Quaaludes, thalidomide, getting “slipped a Mickey” (Yeah, that’s an actual chemical: chloral hydrate), glutethimide, Soma, and then you have things that impact OTHER bits of your brain meat- which can then go on to act in tandem or whatever, still impacting. It’s just stupid to mess around with: but even stupider still if you do it on a constant or consistent basis. (Because then you can also get into cumulative impact, etc. Yay.)

So, back to phenibut. There are in fact, tons and tons of things out there, credible and not so credible- and most written in Russian about it. Problem is: drill the data down and see how many of these are human studies. Spoiler alert: you are not a rat, a cat, or a mouse and though that’s a helpful Intro To What Shit Does, it’s not going to give you accurate details about what it’s gonna do to or for you.

Where it gets even ickier, if you’re an ethical sort is that even in those Russian studies: the ones on humans are done on little kids, mostly. But, the one study that is done on adults shows us something. Do you know what protracted anxiety is? It really isn’t just social anxiety: it’s an anxiety usually found in those going through withdrawal.

This study appears to be working with those who have protracted anxiety-phobic disorders. This just means: prolonged.

The finding was that it may lead to the conclusion that it’s highly effective in the treatment of people with such prolonged anxiety disorders and…the sample is really, really small. Which is probably why the “may” rather than something more concrete. Additionally, it was only a study, not a peer review and was only ever studied by a single group of researchers. Errrrr….

But does it cause withdrawal?

Well, the insane amount of posts- though anecdotal- would indicate that, yes, Virginia, phenibut causes dependence and withdrawal. That said, there are quite a few very reputable sources for studies that would indicate that not only will tolerance build- but severe withdrawal symptoms and in one case, a patient had to undergo a medically supervised detox program of nine weeks to come off of it.

So, I mean, you tell me: seem like a die roll you wanna fuck with?

Maybe it is, maybe it’s not: I can’t answer it for you, I’m just trying to get you to understand that no, it’s not harmless.

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What about kratom?

You should probably know before I even begin, I absolutely adore pissing off you tin foil hat wearing dweebs. And boy, ya’ll are a’ranting about this one.  First- pure kratom is Mitragyna speciosa but the odds of you getting it not blended with other things is slim. Even so- eeeeh. While I can definitely see advantages- the risks aren’t negligible and nobody in their right mind should be saying it’s harmless or that it doesn’t have addiction potential. For the record, before I get death threats as I saw others who have spoken out about this get: I believe it has tremendous harm reduction potential. However, the facts don’t back your shit. They don’t back the screaming paranoia about kratom either. There aren’t enough facts to go ’round and what little there are, are usually presented in an incredibly misleading fashion, further compounded by, as usual: idiots using things stupidly because they do not respect the chemicals, plants and otherwise they’re messing with.

The gubmint is not banning this because it’s a safe alternative or treatment for opiate addiction. If that were true- the gubmint would be fucking with low dose naltrexone. But it’s not. (Though the jury’s out on that one. The gubmint is also not particularly interested in taking studies of it further- that, I grant you.)

They hyperbole surrounding this one- both for and against, is ridiculous: so, I understand that might make it a little tricky for you in a cursory google search. Which is why you shouldn’t base your fucking recovery off of a cursory google search. Or anything else.

This is another one where: holy crap there are a shitload of anecodotals in terms of people who thought it was safe. People who thought it would be better than methadone or whatever. WRONG WRONGING WRONG, SHUT YOUR WRONGHOLE. You want to find out anything from a cursory google search: please key in kratom withdrawal drugs.com or kratom withdrawal bluelight.

…….does that look like it doesn’t happen?

I am not going to explore the receptors kratom impacts because there are seven of them. The reason that it’s touted as something good for the opiate/opoid crowd is that it punks opoid receptors mu, delta and kappa. It also hits two different serotonin receptors and andrenergic alpha 2, as well as dopamine D2. This means it is what’s known as a “dirty drug”- not because it’s got some shmutz on its face, but because it is a psychotropic cocktail acting on multiple receptors.

Does this mean it’s just pure shit? Absolutely not. Looking at the risk benefit scale compared to fentynyl: kratom is a definite winner. But, by that standard: lock yourself in a closet with a pissed off dog and you’re probably safer than people who mess with those patches. Statistically, people who abuse those patches are pretty much screwed: the death statistics across the states really doesn’t lie and oh man, if I had to choose between the two: yeah, I’d take the kratom. That’s actually not saying much.

One of the big problems though is that there isn’t enough in terms of clinical trials to determine the safety of kratom and further- it’s not regulated, which, though people are screaming about this: means people who produce it can put pretty much whatever they want in there, in whatever amounts. So, if that’s an option you need- and I’m not saying don’t: I’m saying don’t do it cavalierly: make sure you know your source.

Though we know for a fact, that even just a little fentanyl will kill you- we cannot actually say the same for kratom: there’s simply not enough data to back it up.

The problem, besides looking at the many, many, many people who are telling their stories with getting hooked on it and trying to come off: is also found in poison control stats. A lot of people have been poisoned using kratom and that number goes up each year. Total poison control stats on opoid overdoses- usually in tandem with benzo use: right around 33000 deaths in 2015. It is important to point that out: opoid/opiate deaths tend to be reported in a misleading way- they usually do involve benzo use, too.

BUT, and this is a huge, giant but: according to the NPDS, from about 2010 until about 2015: the number of kratom poisoning calls went from 26 that first year to 260 in 2015 and there were a total of 660 calls in that time frame. Now, 24.5% of those calls didn’t have any problems that would merit significant concern. 41.7% of those calls merited some form of treatment but didn’t have a long term problem. Only 7.4% of these experienced life threatening concerns: and there was only one death but, let’s look at that one death in the context of just more or less taking something because somebody you liked handed it to you- the one who died was also on other medications: antidepressants and mood stabilizers. This is one example of why it might behoove you to maybe respect the chemical you’re ingesting: and do a little digging before you do.

The main thrust of the numbers and I can keep going is- more and more people are using it and more are using it stupidly. You want to put something on the fast track to getting regulated: it’s not so much that it’s “better” or “cheaper” than what they push, but rather, how many people take it stupidly and the things that happen as a result. Given the numbers I saw, across the board, both listed and not: most of the people taking it are doing so thinking it is harmless and not doing much research first in terms of how to take it safely or why. That, right there, is how you get something regulated. (Unless it’s pot, in which case: look, I got nothing. That’s the dumbest shit ever.) Sort of eyeballing the various data sheets, I say this because a lot of the more “Oh shit” calls tend to involve combining medications or taking too many. One stands out because some idiot left it where their toddler could get it.

Now, using kratom in harm reduction to withdraw from opoids/opiates: I have read some interesting data on the severity of withdrawal symptoms which would indicate that kratom’s withdrawal is relatively mild: in comparison.

Whereas, well, phenibut can’t really attest to that one. Psychosis, seizures, insane amounts of anxiety, bottom of hell level depression- these are a few of my least favoooooorite things. But, all have been reported both anecdotally and in case studies.

In conclusion:


I’m not saying that either of these are not useful or that, oh, you take them and you will certainly go bugshit and die. What I am saying, as I say with, oh, damn near everything people start vibing on in a trendy fashion and predictably feel is totally risk free and harmless: they’re simply not. Beyond pre-existing medical conditions and other medications or supplements you may be taking and don’t check them against- because hey, some dude you like said it was “All natural!” and “Okay!” The risks of trading addiction, as with many things used in harm reduction: are there.

I am definitely not anti-anything, as a general rule. What I am, whether we’re talking about the use of supplments, nootropics, or even entheogens for certain spiritual practices: is fucking respectful of how powerful and complex- as well as how powerful and complex the impact on the brain, these things can be. You should be, too.
Taking things like that for granted is not harm reduction- it’s just stupid.

2 thoughts on “Stop it, hippies:Why phenibut and kratom aren’t as safe as you think Leave a comment

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