Image of the phenethylamine skeleton
Ball-and-stick model of phenethylamine
Clinical data
Other namesPEA; phenylethylamine, phetamine
Psychological: low–moderate[citation needed]
Physical: none
None–Low (w/o an MAO-B inhibitor)
Moderate (with an MAO-B inhibitor)
Routes of
Oral (taken by mouth)
Drug classCNS stimulant, anorectic
ATC code
  • none
Physiological data
Source tissuesSubstantia nigra pars compacta;
Ventral tegmental area;
Locus coeruleus;
many others
Target tissuesSystem-wide
ReceptorsVaries greatly across species;
Human receptors: hTAAR1
BiosynthesisAromatic L-amino acid decarboxylase (AADC)
MetabolismPrimarily: MAO-B
Other enzymes: MAO-A, SSAOs (AOC2 & AOC3), PNMT, AANAT, FMO3, and others
Legal status
Legal status
  • AU: Unscheduled
  • CA: Unscheduled
  • NZ: Unscheduled
  • UK: Unscheduled
  • US: Unscheduled
  • UN: Unscheduled
Pharmacokinetic data
MetabolismPrimarily: MAO-B
Other enzymes: MAO-A, SSAOs (AOC2 & AOC3), PNMT, AANAT, FMO3, and others
Elimination half-life
  • Exogenous: 5–10 minutes
  • Endogenous: ~30 seconds
ExcretionRenal (kidneys)
  • 2-Phenylethan-1-amine
CAS Number
PubChem CID
CompTox Dashboard (EPA)
ECHA InfoCard100.000.523 Edit this at Wikidata
Chemical and physical data
Molar mass121.183 g·mol−1
3D model (JSmol)
Density0.9640 g/cm3
Melting point−60 °C (−76 °F)
Boiling point195 °C (383 °F)
  • NCCc1ccccc1
  • InChI=1S/C8H11N/c9-7-6-8-4-2-1-3-5-8/h1-5H,6-7,9H2 checkY

Phenethylamine (PEA) is an organic compound, natural monoamine alkaloid, and trace amine, which acts as a central nervous system stimulant in humans. In the brain, phenethylamine regulates monoamine neurotransmission by binding to trace amine-associated receptor 1 (TAAR1) and inhibiting vesicular monoamine transporter 2 (VMAT2) in monoamine neurons. To a lesser extent, it also acts as a neurotransmitter in the human central nervous system. In mammals, phenethylamine is produced from the amino acid L-phenylalanine by the enzyme aromatic L-amino acid decarboxylase via enzymatic decarboxylation. In addition to its presence in mammals, phenethylamine is found in many other organisms and foods, such as chocolate, especially after microbial fermentation.

Phenethylamine is sold as a dietary supplement for purported mood and weight loss-related therapeutic benefits; however, in orally ingested phenethylamine, a significant amount is metabolized in the small intestine by monoamine oxidase B (MAO-B) and then aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH), which converts it to phenylacetic acid. This means that for significant concentrations to reach the brain, the dosage must be higher than for other methods of administration. Some authors postulated its role in people's falling-in-love without substantiating it with any direct evidence.

Phenethylamines, or more properly, substituted phenethylamines, are the group of phenethylamine derivatives that contain phenethylamine as a "backbone"; in other words, this chemical class includes derivative compounds that are formed by replacing one or more hydrogen atoms in the phenethylamine core structure with substituents. The class of substituted phenethylamines includes all substituted amphetamines, and substituted methylenedioxyphenethylamines (MDxx), and contains many drugs which act as empathogens, stimulants, psychedelics, anorectics, bronchodilators, decongestants, and/or antidepressants, among others.

Natural occurrence

Phenethylamine is produced by a wide range of species throughout the plant and animal kingdoms, including humans; it is also produced by certain fungi and bacteria (genera: Lactobacillus, Clostridium, Pseudomonas and the family Enterobacteriaceae) and acts as a potent antimicrobial against certain pathogenic strains of Escherichia coli (e.g., the O157:H7 strain) at sufficient concentrations.


PEA powder and crystals

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 odor, 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 derivatives

Substituted phenethylamines are a chemical class of organic compounds 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. Dopamine is simply phenethylamine with a hydroxyl group attached to the 3 and 4 position of the benzene ring. 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 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 aluminium 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.

Electrosynthesis of phenethylamine from benzyl cyanide

Assembling phenethylamine structures for synthesis of compounds such as epinephrine, amphetamines, tyrosine, and dopamine by adding the beta-aminoethyl side chain to the phenyl ring is possible. 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.

Thirty minutes of moderate- to high-intensity physical exercise has been shown to induce an 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. Monoamine oxidase deaminates primary and secondary amines that are free in the neuronal cytoplasm but not those bound in storage vesicles of the sympathetic neurone. Similarly, β-PEA would not be deaminated in the gut as it is a selective substrate for MAO-B, which is not found in the gut. Brain levels of endogenous trace amines are several hundred-fold below those for the classical neurotransmitters noradrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin, but their rates of synthesis are equivalent to those of noradrenaline and dopamine and they have a very rapid turnover rate. Endogenous extracellular tissue levels of trace amines measured in the brain are in the low nanomolar range. These low concentrations arise because of their very short half-life. 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.

Skydiving has also been shown to induce a marked increase in urinary phenethylamine concentrations.



Phenethylamine pharmacodynamics in a TAAR1–dopamine neuron
A pharmacodynamic model of amphetamine and TAAR1
via AADC
The image above contains clickable links
Both amphetamine and phenethylamine induce neurotransmitter release from VMAT2 and bind to TAAR1. When either binds to TAAR1, it reduces neuron firing rate and triggers protein kinase A (PKA) and protein kinase C (PKC) signaling, resulting in DAT phosphorylation. Phosphorylated DAT then either operates in reverse or withdraws into the axon terminal and ceases transport.

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 human trace amine-associated receptor 1 (hTAAR1) as an agonist. β-PEA is also an odorant binding TAAR4 in mice thought to mediate predator avoidance.


By oral route, phenethylamine'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), the semicarbazide-sensitive amine oxidases (SSAOs) AOC2 and AOC3, 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.

See also

This page was last updated at 2023-12-27 15:27 UTC. Update now. View original page.

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