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The Armchair Chemists Using Health Food Supplements to Hack Their Molly Comedowns

The day after taking molly is one of the most depressing days of your life, but some people say the ticket to avoiding the MDMA blues altogether can be found in the vitamin aisle

Every time I take MDMA, the psychoactive drug also known as molly, the routine remains the same. The drug kicks in, and I must dance, talk and touch my friends along with any faux fur blankets that happen to be in the vicinity. The drug’s native benefit is euphoria, which it delivers in spades. I think repeatedly, I have never had a better night than this. No touch has ever felt better than this. All of this lasts for several blissful hours. The whole time, I can’t imagine feeling anything but perfectly in tune with the universe and all its inhabitants.

Then, the next day arrives. As David Sedaris once wrote, “You’re forced to pay tenfold for all the fun you thought you were having.” He was talking about the comedown from crystal meth, but the principle applies in some capacity to all stimulants.

I’m not anti-molly — I enjoy the drug and take it irregularly (the only way to safely take it, since it causes severe brain damage over time when overused). I am, however, anti-molly-comedown, which is one of the worst experiences a body can have. The older I get, the worse and longer-lasting my comedowns seem to be. When you enter your molly hangover, you’ve never felt such sorrow. It might occur to you as you wallow that the sorrow is attached to nothing and must be an after-effect of the high, but this notion stands in the way of feeling the sorrow to the fullest, so you dispense with it in favor of groaning. 

Your body is hungry for nutrients and electrolytes, but you can’t make it clamber out of bed in search of any. The first time I tried molly, the post-high depression lasted half a day before I found my way back to my emotional baseline. The last time I took it, I felt low for close to a week afterward. Depression is the cost of admission. As the saying goes, what goes up, must plummet down — and stay there for days, moping.

Different bodies experience both the high and the comedown differently, of course. MDMA enthusiast Lydia (a pseudonym), 31, is currently in school to become a licensed marriage family therapist. She has taken the drug in one form or another nine times since the age of 19. “For most of my life, I have dealt with depression and anxiety and PTSD, stemming from childhood trauma,” she tells me. “Each time I’d take [MDMA], I’d make progress on what I was feeling, and move through a trauma flashback with more ease, and find myself able to process through something a little further. Anxiety would significantly leave my body during the experience, and then would leave me feeling much better for months afterward.”

For Lydia, either MDMA or psilocybin (the psychoactive component of mushrooms) has accomplished everything from connecting her more closely to her body during the pandemic to rescuing her relationship with her romantic partner. She also hasn’t suffered from the same high-highs-to-low-lows roller coaster that always plagues my day-after molly experiences. 

Her secret? Supplements.

“I rarely have taken MDMA without a supplement to help with day-after effects,” Lydia says. But slow down — not just any supplements will do, and there’s some bad information out there. “I’ve only ever had one bad comedown that left me feeling depressed, and it was after reading various articles containing misinformation about how 5-HTP is good to take post-dose, when it’s actually highly dangerous. I believe this caused me to have temporary serotonin syndrome.”

Serotonin syndrome stems from a too-quick spike in the brain’s level of serotonin — numerous drugs (many non-recreational) can cause it, but it’s a particular hazard of a bad MDMA comedown. Per the Mayo Clinic, symptoms can range from agitation and diarrhea to more severe ones like seizures. 5-HTP, which in its naturally bioavailable form helps the brain synthesize serotonin, puts you at high risk for serotonin syndrome if you take it post-dose — when the brain is already depleted of its serotonin. Technical stuff, I know, but the upshot is: Don’t take 5-HTP in the hopes of hacking your day-after serotonin. In fact, don’t take it within 24 hours of dosing, period.

So what does Lydia take instead? “[The NUAA User’s News] guide has worked wonderfully for my body, and it notates supplemental suggestions by the hour, pre-, during and post-dose,” she explains. The guide recommends nine different supplements and does indeed suggest an hour-by-hour schedule for taking them. 

Maybe this is the place to state the obvious, which is that I’m not a doctor — my resume actually consists of nothing more than a piece of Word Art that says “NOT A DOCTOR.” But addiction treatment clinician Tyler, whose full name I’m withholding because his institution didn’t give permission for him to speak with me for this story, is skeptical of the efficacy of taking supplements to curb the uglier side effects of MDMA use. “The thought process, I think, is a little skewed, because to me the answer is never adding chemicals to chemicals,” he says. He outlines the potential flaws in the procedure from the point-of-view of a user: “I have this street molly, and I don’t know what’s in it. I’m gonna have a good time, but [the next day], I have this depressed lethargy and I want to take something to boost me out of it. Now, my assumption here is that the ecstasy or molly is what caused [the lethargy], but I was probably also drinking that night, maybe there was cocaine, maybe a whole multitude of things.”

A note on supplements in general: A school of thought does exist that they’re, well, bullshit, at least in the forms sold at vitamin and health food stores. This wasn’t always the case — for example, the fortification of milk with vitamin D all but eliminated rickets in the U.S. But such fortification comes from an era when vitamins were used to correct deficiencies rather than to further optimize an already-healthy body. Making matters worse, in 1994, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act was passed, allowing supplement manufacturers to skip FDA approval as long as their supplements had already been marketed in the U.S. before the act’s passage. To this day, the market is overrun with useful and pointless supplements alike because the government can only stop supplements from being sold if they’re proven after the fact to be either hazardous or incorrectly labeled — tough for the FDA to prove, considering the sheer number of them.

Tyler agrees with this logic, particularly as it concerns the potential benefits of taking supplements to counteract a molly hangover. “You’re assuming that the 5-HTP you’re buying at GNC or Vitamin World is real, when the reality is that those aren’t FDA approved or regulated,” he says. “So now you’re taking an unregulated thing by mouth for recreational purposes, and then using another thing that’s maybe even sketchier.” And even if the supplements are as innocent as their labels attest, there are complications. “You don’t know what formulation really works,” Tyler points out. “Do you take it by mouth? Is it sublingual? Do you eat a meal with it? These Vitamin World-type places do a good job of just saying everything works without having any evidence for it.”

As uses go, addressing a molly comedown seems more like using supplements to correct a defect than to optimize a perfectly fine brain. Plus, I’d do anything to avoid that post-MDMA certainty that I absolutely need to die. So what alternatives does Tyler recommend for the supplement-suspicious?

First, he points out that many people tend to look at the tablets in which MDMA is typically sold and assume that one tablet constitutes one appropriate dose. “Always start by taking a portion of the tablet,” he says. “You can avoid the hangovers the following day if you take a quarter or half and take more every 30 minutes or so, and see how you respond that way.” He offers an example: “Never take these drugs alone. I was in Vegas with my brother, and he took a tablet [of MDMA] and handed me one, but I didn’t take it. I put it in my pocket, watched him take it and waited 30 minutes. If he’d gotten sick from it, at least I could aid him in the first 30 minutes. My brother brings this up like I’m the king who has the royal food taster, but it’s a good way to do it. Has anyone already taken the tablet? If they’ve taken the tablet and they’re feeling okay, maybe it’s safe to try it.”

Mixing intoxicants is a no-no too, no matter how fun it is — especially considering the shady provenance of street drugs. “Half of these people are having alcohol hangovers and assuming it was MDMA. There’s little test strips that you can use, dissolve a little clipping of your pill and put this test strip in it, and it’ll tell you, ‘Be careful, this isn’t MDMA,” he says. Tyler points to a study done by DanceSafe, a harm-reduction org that deals specifically with this. They collected 529 samples between 2010 and 2015, and only 60 percent of the MDMA samples really contained MDMA.

Otherwise, the usual rules apply: drink plenty of water and eat a solid meal before taking MDMA, or indeed any drugs. “The first rule is to know yourself, know your body and know your health,” Tyler says. “If you have cardiac disease or something like that, or if you take psychotropic medications for mental health reasons, you should be considering how those things can interact. And one thing I really have to hit home is: Fentanyl is becoming ubiquitous in all street drugs. Someone that you’re partying with should always have Naloxone on hand, which is being distributed at clubs these days, in libraries and anywhere people can take a class to learn quickly how to use it.”

Perhaps supplements are a red herring, a distraction from the inherent riskiness of playing with street drugs (and, of course, adding alcohol and other drugs on top of one’s supposed MDMA). Maybe it really is a molly hangover, or maybe it’s just a regular hangover with some non-MDMA additives sprinkled on top to drag things out for days. Tyler’s final recommendation? “You shouldn’t be going in unprepared,” he says. “If you feel sick, ask for help — during intoxication but also during recovery. Why shouldn’t you walk into an urgent care and tell them, ‘I took way too much molly last weekend — can you do some blood work and see if I need IV fluids?’”

Wise words: Test your drugs, take them slowly and try to be generally nourished before taking them at all. While the idea that supplements can dispel a molly hangover is certainly a hopeful one, it’s unlikely to do as much as a more holistic, well-rounded approach to caring for one’s body — before taking drugs and just in general, too.