Spending four days tramping around the fields of Glastonbury, with your drugged up brain splintered from reality, is a lot of fun. But do you know what isn’t fun? The ensuing wrecking ball of anxiety, self-doubt and exhaustion that follows. It comes around three days after, when your jaw has realigned and your lifestyle choices clonk you over the head like a brick.
That’s when you start questioning your entire back catalogue of life decisions and fantasising about scraping out the inside of your cerebral cortex and cleaning it out using a pressure washer.
In preparation for Glastonbury this year, I read about how health supplements can apparently dampen or even eliminate your MDMA comedown, and decided to give it a go. I took 5‑HTP (200mg a day for three days after the festival), magnesium (375mg before, during and after the sesh), vitamin C (1,000mg also before, during and after) and a bunch of green tea extract.
One thing I learned is that taking that many supplements is labour intensive – it’s the last thing you want to do when you’re high. You just want to dart around fields like a jolt of electricity. One guy, who saw me gagging after necking two clunky magnesium pills at Block9’s IICON stage during LSDXOXO’s set, shot me a pitying look. “Are you alright, mate?” he asked.
It was, maybe, worthwhile in the end. I didn’t seem to get any comedown. But I did get Covid (I blame Macca: the Pyramid Stage was rammed), and the infection knocked me for six. Maybe I just didn’t notice the comedown as I was busy writhing around in the pool of sweat that was once my bed, considering if it was all worth it (it totally was).
Anyway, all of my pre-festival research took place on Reddit, not exactly the bastion of scientific truth. So I turned to Dr. Russell Newcombe, Director of 3D Research, who took me through the supplements I took and how they can perhaps help improve a comedown.
“5‑HTP is the most well known supplement for dealing with MDMA comedowns,” he told THE FACE. “It’s an intermediate between tryptophan and serotonin.”
What does that mean?
“Your serotonin levels are low after taking MDMA and you might feel that as a comedown effect – bad mood, fatigue and so on. But you can’t buy serotonin from a shop, it wouldn’t work because it wouldn’t be able to cross the blood-brain barrier.”
“The precursors of serotonin, however, the nutrients that the brain uses to make these neurotransmitters, are the next best thing,” he continued. “Tryptophan is the neurotransmitter that boosts serotonin in the brain, it’s found in high-protein foods like eggs, cheese, fish and poultry. When the brain makes serotonin, it turns tryptophan into an intermediate chemical called 5‑Hydroxytryptophan, or ‘5‑HTP’. That can be ingested.”
So, if you want to get your precious serotonin levels back up to normal after getting messy, you can take 5‑HTP as a supplement. Having said that, 5‑HTP “must be taken after you’ve used MDMA and when you’re not planning to take any more”.
If you take it at the same time, you can risk ‘serotonin syndrome’ – where you boost serotonin too high. That’s very bad: it can lead to heat stroke, convulsions, blurred vision and hallucinations.
What about the green tea extract? “This is to do with the effect that ecstasy has on glutamate,” Dr Nuke says. “A lot of the neurotoxic effects of ecstasy are caused by glutamate levels getting too high. That neurotoxicity effect is caused by oxidative damage, particularly to serotonin and GABA neurons in the brain.”
“So you can take substances which are antioxidants, these are best found in fruit and vegetables. Antioxidants are also heavily found in green tea extract and grapeseed extract supplements.” What other ones might be useful to avoid nasty comedowns? “Things like magnesium, alpha lipoic acid and l‑carnitine,” he says. “These are all thought to reduce the neurotoxic effects of MDMA – especially if you do too much – on the glutamate system in the brain.”
As for vitamin C, “It’s a great antioxidant and it is used in making oxytocin which gets depleted after MDMA use,” Dr Nuke says. Oxytocin is the “love hormone” released when you take ecstasy, the one which never fails to produce situations where, just for a couple of hours or so, you seem to fall in love with complete strangers.
So, yes, you can take supplements to replenish all the good stuff that you’ve hoovered from your brain when you get fucked up. But, then again, it’s a lot of effort and you can do the same thing by just eating healthily and sleeping.
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