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Phenethylamine Potential Uses, Dangers & Side Effects

Written by Siobhan Dunphy, PhD (Regenerative Medicine) | Last updated:
Evguenia Alechine
Jonathan Ritter
Puya Yazdi

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Phenethylamine is a trace amine found in tiny amounts in the brain that increases the release of the “happy hormones” dopamine and serotonin. Supplements are likely unsafe for most people and there is insufficient evidence that they improve mood, weight loss, or cognitive function. Read this post to find out more about the roles and dangers of phenethylamine.

What Is Phenethylamine?

Phenethylamine (also known as PEA, β-phenylethylamine, β-phenethylamine, 2-phenylethane-1-amine, and Benzeneethanamine) is a trace amine naturally found in the central nervous system and brain of humans and other mammals. The term “trace amine” refers to the fact that it is found at much lower concentrations than other amines [1, 2].

Phenethylamine is produced in tiny amounts throughout the brain and spinal cord and is made from the essential amino acid phenylalanine, which is mainly found in protein-rich foods [3].

It is metabolized by the enzymes monoamine oxidase B (MAO-B) and aldehyde dehydrogenase to phenylacetic acid, which is then excreted in the urine [4].

Phenethylamine supplements have not been approved by the FDA for medical use. Supplements generally lack solid clinical research. Regulations set manufacturing standards for them but don’t guarantee that they’re safe or effective. Speak with your doctor before supplementing.

Mechanism of Action

  • Phenethylamine activates a receptor (TAAR-1) in the brain to trigger the release of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters send chemical signals to different targets in the body causing various responses e.g., happy, sad, scared, awake [5, 6].
  • By activating TAAR-1, phenethylamine increases the release of serotonin, epinephrine (adrenaline), dopamine, and norepinephrine (noradrenaline) from neurons. These neurotransmitters affect mood, cognitive function, and mental well-being [7, 8, 9].
  • Phenethylamine may prevent the same neurotransmitters from taken back up (through reuptake transporters) by neurons, meaning they stay in the spaces between neurons (synapses) longer and they may have more time to exert their effects [6].

Potential Uses of Phenethylamine (Insufficient Evidence)

There is insufficient evidence for any of the uses listed below.

Phenethylamine should never be used as a replacement for approved medical therapies.

1) Mood

Phenethylamine increases dopamine and serotonin in the brain. Increasing these neurotransmitters in certain brain areas may promote a positive mood and lead to a greater sense of well-being. However, there is insufficient evidence to claim that phenethylamine, specifically, improves mood [10].

Limited research suggests that depressed individuals may have decreased phenylethylamine brain levels [11, 12, 13, 14, 15].

Some studies have shown that phenethylamine and phenylacetic acid, a byproduct of phenethylamine, are decreased in depressed patients [11].

In one study (prospective cohort) of 14 depressed patients with major depressive episodes, 60 mg of phenethylamine combined with selegiline (a monoamine oxidase inhibitor that blocks the enzyme that breaks down phenethylamine) reduced symptoms of depression in 12 patients over the course of 50 weeks [16].

In another study, 9 out of 10 depressed patients that previously did not respond to conventional antidepressant treatments reported elevated mood after taking a combination of phenethylamine and selegiline. The sample size of this study prevents us from drawing any conclusions [17].

2) Alertness and Focus

Clinical studies are lacking to rate phenethylamine for attention and focus.

Dopamine is a key neurotransmitter involved in regulating attention. By increasing levels of dopamine, adrenaline, and noradrenaline (epinephrine and norepinephrine), phenethylamine is hypothesized to increase energy, focus, and alertness. However, clinical data are lacking.

In mice, high doses of phenethylamine led to the same behavior as amphetamines, including increased energy [18, 8, 19].

3) Schizophrenia

The role of phenethylamine in schizophrenia is still unclear.

Excess phenethylamine in the urine of patients with specific types of schizophrenia has been reported, indicating it is being removed the body at an increased rate [20, 21].

One study in schizophrenic patients found lower amounts of phenethylamine and its metabolite, phenylacetic acid, in cerebrospinal fluid (CFS) [22].

The altered levels of phenethylamine may play a role in schizophrenia by increasing or decreasing dopamine levels. An increase in dopamine levels is often seen in patients with schizophrenia [23].

Phenylethylamine activates a receptor (TAAR-1) in the brain that decreases the symptoms associated with schizophrenia in rodents [6, 24].

Further studies are needed.

4) ADHD Symptoms

More evidence is needed to rate phenethylamine for attention disorders.

Similar to patients with depression, children and adults with ADHD may have decreased levels of phenylethylamine. However, only limited evidence supports this theory [25, 26, 27].

ADHD is a behavioral problem, mostly in children and teenagers, characterized by short attention spans. While ADHD is usually diagnosed by observing behavior, some scientists are researching whether measuring phenylethylamine in urine samples might also be useful [28].

In another study, patients who experienced a decrease in symptoms after taking methylphenidate for ADHD had increased phenylethylamine levels. This does not provide any information about the effects of supplemental phenylethylamine, however [29].

5) Sexual Drive

Evidence is lacking to support the effects of phenylamine on sexual drive.

Since dopamine and other catecholamines are released during excitement or arousal, phenethylamine has been linked to sexual drive and feelings of pleasure. Phenethylamine is therefore sometimes referred to as the “love drug,” though clinical trials are completely lacking [30, 31].

6) Weight Control

There is insufficient evidence to rate the effects on phenethylamine on weight loss.

Scientists are investigating whether phenethylamine can curb appetite, increase metabolism, and affect weight loss based on its influence on neurotransmitter levels. No clinically-relevant findings have yet been published [32, 33].

Despite the lack of evidence, phenethylamine is found in many weight loss supplements, usually in a modified form [34, 35].

Factors that Increase Phenethylamine Levels

1) Exercise

Exercise decreases depression and has been linked to increased phenethylamine [36, 37].

As such, some say phenethylamine may be responsible for the effect known as “runner’s high.”

2) Chocolate and Other Foods

Phenethylamine is found in chocolate, especially dark chocolate [38].

It is also found in fermented foods including some cheeses, certain red wines, and sausage [39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46].

Phenethylamine can be used to indicate food quality and freshness since large amounts of phenethylamine are produced by bacteria [47].

Some studies have found phenethylamine in chicken and fish and suggest this may be because of bacterial contamination [48, 49].

The phenethylamine in chocolate may, in theory, explain its reputation as an aphrodisiac (a substance that increases libido) [50].

Moreover, some scientists hypothesize that chocolate cravings may, in fact, be an attempt by the body to “self-medicate,” increasing phenethylamine levels and improving mood [51, 52].

However, cheese and sausage also contain phenethylamine but do not have the same reputation for causing cravings. Chocolate also has small amounts of other stimulants like caffeine and theobromine [53]. These could also be responsible for the mood-enhancing effects.

3) Supplements

Phenethylamine’s effect is limited when supplemented orally because it is likely quickly broken down in the body by the enzyme monoamine oxidase [4].

Research suggests that phenethylamine passes easily through the blood-brain barrier (BBB). Studies in dogs suggest that phenethylamine had a very short half-life (5 to 10 minutes) [54].

In addition, phenethylamine injected intravenously in rats was absorbed mainly by the lungs, liver, and kidneys, and less than 1% reached the brain [55].

Despite the lack of effectiveness and safety data, dietary supplements are widely available. The salt form, phenylethylamine HCL, is the most common phenylethylamine supplement, and phenylethylamine powders and tablets are also sold.

Slow-release versions of phenethylamine have been developed, designed to slowly release phenethylamine over time to prolong its effects. They have not been tested in clinical trials.

There is no clinical evidence to support the efficacy of these supplements whatsoever. User reports are mixed.

Drugs Made from Phenethylamine

Is It the Same as MDMA?

No, phenethylamine is not the same as MDMA. MDMA is an illegal drug, listed under Schedule I substances by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Schedule I drugs Schedule have a high potential for abuse and no approved medical uses.

Phenethylamines (plural), or substituted phenethylamines as they are known, are made up of the same chemical structure as phenethylamine, but by making slight changes to the structure it is possible to create new drugs with significantly different effects. One example is MDMA, which can alter a person’s mood and behavior [56].

Other substituted phenethylamines, like amphetamines, can also alter behavior and may cause hallucinations [57].

There are dozens of modified phenethylamines with stimulating and brain-altering effects. Other well-known phenethylamines such as amphetamines are often sold illegally as street drugs. They are also classified as Schedule I drugs [58, 59, 60, 61, 62].

Imitations of drugs are also created to be undetectable and are marketed as “legal highs.” So-called “designer drugs” have been manufactured from phenethylamines since the 1960s and are extremely dangerous [63, 64].

Entirely different phenethylamines are approved as prescription medications, used to treat ADHD and depression.

Side Effects & Dangers of Phenethylamine

Safety Data

Phenethylamine is likely unsafe for most people when taken by mouth.

It works similar to amphetamines and may cause similar side effects, including rapid heart rate, anxiety, and agitation.

Warnings on supplement packaging suggest some side effects including heartburn, constipation, nausea, and mild headaches. More serious side effects include insomnia, confusion, dizziness, intense headaches, and sudden increases in heart rate and blood pressure.

Note that taking phenethylamine supplements is different from taking substituted phenethylamines, which should be taken with extreme caution as they have been shown to cause schizophrenia-like psychosis [23, 65].

The US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has issued warnings to supplement manufacturers that their products contained such forms of phenethylamines called beta-methylphenethylamine (BMPEA).

Phenethylamine and its derivatives are classified as stimulants under the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) Prohibited List.

Illegal phenethylamines, such as MDMA, should be avoided by all costs. They can have serious and potentially fatal side effects like anxiety, depression, hallucinations, long-term changes in behavior [66].

Contraindications

People taking MAO inhibitors, which are used for treating depression, anxiety, and other neurological illnesses like Parkinson’s, or those that have a condition known as phenylketonuria (PKU) should not take phenethylamine since these disorders prevent the metabolism of phenylalanine in the body which can lead to negative side effects, such as severe headaches and hypertension, or even psychosis. Anesthetics may also interact with phenethylamine [67].

People suffering from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder should avoid this supplement [22].

Not enough is known about the safety of using phenethylamine during pregnancy, breastfeeding, and childhood. Avoid use.

Dangers

While phenethylamine supplements are thought to be relatively safe for humans, high doses of phenethylamine supplements have been shown to cause death in mice [68].

Phenethylamine-based drugs, however, may be extremely dangerous, which is why they are classified as illicit. The dangers and risks of heart attack and death from taking MDMA and methamphetamines are well-known [69, 70, 71].

In addition, at least 5 deaths have been reported in people who had taken “legal” phenethylamine-based drugs [64].

Limitations and Caveats

Clinical trials are lacking in humans, especially double-blind, randomized controlled trials measuring the effects of phenethylamine alone.

Dosage of Phenylethylamine

At present, there is not enough scientific evidence to determine an appropriate range of doses for phenethylamine.

According to manufacturers of phenethylamine supplements, the recommended dosage is usually between 100 and 500 mg 1 to 3 times daily and should not exceed 1,000 mg per day.

Dosages between 10 and 60 mg are used when combined with a strong monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) like selegiline, which prevents the breakdown of phenethylamine in the stomach.

We recommend against phenethylamine supplements until their safety has been fully verified.

User Experiences

The opinions expressed in this section are solely those of the users who may or may not have medical or scientific training. Their reviews do not represent the opinions of SelfHacked. SelfHacked does not endorse any specific product, service, or treatment.

Do not consider user experiences as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or another qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on SelfHacked. We understand that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified healthcare provider.

User reviews suggest phenethylamine supplements taste horrible and can cause mild headaches, loss of circulation, sleepiness, and loss of appetite, increased heart rate and in extreme cases vomiting:

“Horrible!! This product is SO disgusting… Don’t try to gag it down.”

“It works great for about 30-45 minutes… then it makes me sleepy.”

“I had pins and needles on my neck and face as if I lost circulation to my head.”

There are fewer users who didn’t have a negative experience:

“My level of concentration has been getting better in the two short weeks that I have been taking it and I do not seem to tire as fast.”

“Noticeably positive mood and definite boost in energy.”

“Works better than caffeine.”

“Fantastic burst of energy. No side effects. Highly recommend it!!”

More extreme effects have also been experienced:

“I started having tingling in my lips which spread to my face and scalp, intense head rushes and very noticeable euphoria. These sensations are so intense, it’s almost scary. It’s not unpleasant just very intense. That lasts around 30 minutes.”

Some users that have taken phenethylamine with hordenine and also reported the following effects:

“… you will have clean energy and excellent focus.”

“I feel positive, smile more, joke and I’m doing great on my new job. This product also seems to help me retain more information.”

“… it gives a very pleasant euphoric feeling for about ten minutes afterward leaving you feeling happy and energized for the rest of the day. It also helped me focus at school and work.”

While others have reported no effect at all:

“It just doesn’t work for me. Took pretty high doses.”

“It did nothing.”