ATC code none
IUPAC ID phenylethan-2-amine
Molar mass 121.18 g/mol
Soluble in Water
Density 962 kg/m³
Boiling point 195 °C
liability Psychological: low–moderate
Addiction liability None–Low (without an MAO-B inhibitor) Moderate (with an MAO-B inhibitor)
Legal status AU: Unscheduled CA: Unscheduled UK: Unscheduled US: Unscheduled UN: Unscheduled
Phenethylamine (PEA), also known as β-phenylethylamine (β-PEA) and 2-phenylethan-1-amine, is an organic compound and a natural monoamine alkaloid, a trace amine, and also the name of a class of chemicals with many members that are well known for their psychoactive and stimulant effects.
- Natural occurrence
- Substituted derivatives
- Detection in body fluids
Phenylethylamine functions as a monoaminergic neuromodulator and, to a lesser extent, a neurotransmitter in the human central nervous system. It is biosynthesized from the amino acid L-phenylalanine by enzymatic decarboxylation via the enzyme aromatic L-amino acid decarboxylase. In addition to its presence in mammals, phenethylamine is found in many other organisms and foods, such as chocolate, especially after microbial fermentation. It is sold as a dietary supplement for purported mood and weight loss-related therapeutic benefits; however, orally ingested phenethylamine is primarily metabolized in the small intestine by monoamine oxidase B (MAO-B) and then aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH), which convert it to phenylacetic acid. This prevents significant concentrations from reaching the brain when taken in low doses.
The group of phenethylamine derivatives is referred to as the phenethylamines. Substituted phenethylamines, substituted amphetamines, and substituted methylenedioxyphenethylamines (MDxx) are a series of broad and diverse classes of compounds derived from phenethylamine that include empathogens, stimulants, psychedelics, anxiolytics (hypnotics) and entactogens, as well as anorectics, bronchodilators, decongestants, and antidepressants, among others.
Phenethylamine is widely distributed throughout the plant kingdom and also present in animals, such as humans; it is also produced by certain fungi and bacteria (genus: Lactobacillus, Clostridium, Pseudomonas, and Enterobacteriaceae) and acts as a potent anti-microbial against certain pathogenic strains of Escherichia coli (e.g., the O157:H7 strain) at sufficient concentrations.
Phenethylamine is a primary amine, the amino-group being attached to a benzene ring through a two-carbon, or ethyl group. It is a colourless liquid at room temperature that has a fishy odour, and is soluble in water, ethanol and ether. Its density is 0.964 g/ml and its boiling point is 195 °C. Upon exposure to air, it combines with carbon dioxide to form a solid carbonate salt. Phenethylamine is strongly basic, pKb = 4.17 (or pKa = 9.83), as measured using the HCl salt and forms a stable crystalline hydrochloride salt with a melting point of 217 °C.
Substituted phenethylamines are a chemical class of organic compounds that are based upon the phenethylamine structure; the class is composed of all the derivative compounds of phenethylamine which can be formed by replacing, or substituting, one or more hydrogen atoms in the phenethylamine core structure with substituents.
Many substituted phenethylamines are psychoactive drugs which belong to a variety of different drug classes, including central nervous system stimulants (e.g., amphetamine), hallucinogens (e.g., 2,5-dimethoxy-4-methylamphetamine), entactogens (e.g., 3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine), appetite suppressants (e.g. phentermine), nasal decongestants and bronchodilators (e.g., pseudoephedrine), antidepressants (e.g. bupropion), antiparkinson agents (e.g., selegiline), and vasopressors (e.g., ephedrine), among others. Many of these psychoactive compounds exert their pharmacological effects primarily by modulating monoamine neurotransmitter systems; however, there is no mechanism of action or biological target that is common to all members of this subclass.
Numerous endogenous compounds – including hormones, monoamine neurotransmitters, and many trace amines (e.g., dopamine, norepinephrine, adrenaline, tyramine, and others) – are substituted phenethylamines. Several notable recreational drugs, such as MDMA (ecstasy), methamphetamine, and cathinones, are also members of the class. All of the substituted amphetamines are phenethylamines as well.
Pharmaceutical drugs that are substituted phenethylamines include phenelzine, phenformin, and fanetizole, among many others.
One method for preparing β-phenethylamine, set forth in J. C. Robinson's and H. R. Snyder's Organic Syntheses (published 1955), involves the reduction of benzyl cyanide with hydrogen in liquid ammonia, in the presence of a Raney-Nickel catalyst, at a temperature of 130 °C and a pressure of 13.8 MPa. Alternative syntheses are outlined in the footnotes to this preparation.
A much more convenient method for the synthesis of β-phenethylamine is the reduction of ω-nitrostyrene by lithium aluminum hydride in ether, whose successful execution was first reported by R. F. Nystrom and W. G. Brown in 1948.
Phenethylamine can also be produced via the cathodic reduction of benzyl cyanide in a divided cell.
It is possible to assemble phenethylamine structures for synthesis of compounds such as epinephrine, amphetamines, tyrosine and dopamine by adding the beta-aminoethyl side chain to the phenyl ring. This can be done via Friedel-Crafts acylation with N-protected acyl chlorides when the arene is activated, or by Heck reaction of the phenyl with N-vinyloxazolone, followed by hydrogenation, or by cross-coupling with beta-amino organozinc reagents, or reacting a brominated arene with beta-aminoethyl organolithium reagents, or by Suzuki cross-coupling.
Detection in body fluids
Reviews that cover attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and phenethylamine indicate that several studies have found abnormally low urinary phenethylamine concentrations in ADHD individuals when compared with controls. In treatment responsive individuals, amphetamine and methylphenidate greatly increase urinary phenethylamine concentration. An ADHD biomarker review also indicated that urinary phenethylamine levels could be a diagnostic biomarker for ADHD.
Skydiving induces a marked increase in urinary phenethylamine concentrations.
Thirty minutes of moderate to high intensity physical exercise has been shown to induce an enormous increase in urinary phenylacetic acid, the primary metabolite of phenethylamine. Two reviews noted a study where the mean 24 hour urinary phenylacetic acid concentration following just 30 minutes of intense exercise rose 77% above its base level; the reviews suggest that phenethylamine synthesis sharply increases during physical exercise during which it is rapidly metabolized due to its short half-life of roughly 30 seconds. In a resting state, phenethylamine is synthesized in catecholamine neurons from L-phenylalanine by aromatic amino acid decarboxylase at approximately the same rate as dopamine is produced. Because of the pharmacological relationship between phenethylamine and amphetamine, the original paper and both reviews suggest that phenethylamine plays a prominent role in mediating the mood-enhancing euphoric effects of a runner's high, as both phenethylamine and amphetamine are potent euphoriants.
Phenethylamine, being similar to amphetamine in its action at their common biomolecular targets, releases norepinephrine and dopamine. Phenethylamine also appears to induce acetylcholine release via a glutamate-mediated mechanism.
Phenethylamine has been shown to bind to two human trace amine-associated receptors, hTAAR1 and hTAAR2, as an agonist.
By oral route, phenylethylamine's half-life is 5–10 minutes; endogenously produced PEA in catecholamine neurons has a half-life of roughly 30 seconds. In humans, PEA is metabolized by phenylethanolamine N-methyltransferase (PNMT), monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A), monoamine oxidase B (MAO-B), semicarbazide-sensitive amine oxidases (SSAOs), flavin-containing monooxygenase 3 (FMO3), and aralkylamine N-acetyltransferase (AANAT). N-Methylphenethylamine, an isomer of amphetamine, is produced in humans via the metabolism of phenethylamine by PNMT. β-Phenylacetic acid is the primary urinary metabolite of phenethylamine and is produced via monoamine oxidase metabolism and subsequent aldehyde dehydrogenase metabolism. Phenylacetaldehyde is the intermediate product which is produced by monoamine oxidase and then further metabolized into β-phenylacetic acid by aldehyde dehydrogenase.
When the initial phenylethylamine concentration in the brain is low, brain levels can be increased 1000-fold when taking a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI), particularly a MAO-B inhibitor, and by 3–4 times when the initial concentration is high.