After the High: Rest and Recovery
Well, you did it. Swallowed a strange little pill…and something about the world changed. Maybe you danced wildly, your soul filled with an incredible joy and strength. Maybe you just hung out and talked for hours with your friends. But…the high is fading, and you’re starting to feel tired. What now?
Find a comfortable spot. If you feel quite tired and aren’t already there, go home. If you still feel reasonably energetic, perhaps just seek out a quiet environment to lay back and chat or watch the world go by. What people feel like doing varies, but you’re probably going to feel better in a peaceful environment. Like the MDMA experience itself, the comedown is usually best shared with friends who are in the same condition if you aren’t going to bed yet.
The bad news is that you probably won’t sleep very well tonight (or day, depending on how late you were out) because of residual stimulant effects from the MDMA. A little pot or other sedative may help you relax. The next day, expect to be tired, unmotivated, and with little or no appetite. (The severity of the hangover varies quite a bit, but is very dependent on frequency of use…heavy users will usually have much worse hangovers.) If you feel irritable, take a 5-HTP capsule. In spite of what your stomach may have to say, try to eat a little. Fruit and other light foods can help you recover and are usually inoffensive. Towards evening your appetite should be improving and you may feel like a full meal. That night, sleep should come easily and be more-or-less back to normal.
The second day after use (days measured by sleep/wake cycles, not necessarily calendar) you should feel better, but may still be feeling a little tired.
A less typical (but still somewhat common) pattern of hangover is the ‘Tuesday blues’ phenomenon, where you feel quite good for a day or two after MDMA use, but then become irritable or depressed about three days afterwards. Regardless of which pattern you experience, a little 5-HTP can often treat any anxiety/depression that appears. However, anxiety/depression after use should also be regarded as a warning sign. Try to take a long break from drug use if it keeps happening, and don’t hesitate to ask for help from friends or a professional. Mental health problems are very common (more than half the population has suffered from anxiety, depression, or other mental health challenges), and are nothing to be ashamed of.
Putting your world back together
Well, you may have had quite a wild time. You probably felt better and more ‘together’ than you have in a long time. You may have said and did things that made sense at the time (being honest about your thoughts and feelings) that you aren’t so sure was wise after all when you sobered up. What to think of it all?
Feel free to ignore everyone and everything for a day or two while you get over the famous MDMA hangover. Let yourself get over any fatigue/residual side effects in peace. If the experience brought up issues for you, it’s probably better to think about them is when you feel more like yourself. Don’t make decisions in haste. Maybe something you thought of doing while high is a good idea, maybe it isn’t.
First time users often say that MDMA was a lot of fun, as expected…but it also left them changed in some small way. They viewed the world with a little more optimism. They viewed themselves and their lives with more compassion. They were more able to be open and trusting of others. There is, of course, a good neurological reason for this: Part of MDMA’s effect is to enhance learning mechanisms in your brain (or, as the animal behavioralists might put it, “MDMA enhances the acquisition of conditioned responses.”) Almost every experience we have in life becomes part of us, recorded in our brains as algorithms and weighted variables about who and what we are and what the world around us is. A traumatic experience can profoundly damage that sense of self and perspective on the world. By the same token, an ecstatic experience (to use the religious sense of the word) can elevate and expand it. For someone who doubts whether they deserve to be loved, what is it worth to know with every fiber of your being that you are loved? For someone who has suffered horribly, what is it worth to find a moment of perfect peace and grace?
MDMA can be a religious experience without the religion. It doesn’t tell people what to think or believe or do: It shows them a glimpse of what the human experience is capable of being like. MDMA can bring out the best in the human soul.
That feeling of rightness and peace will fade over the coming days and weeks, but that doesn’t mean it has to go away completely. An ecstatic experience will always be a part of you in some small way, regardless of how it was produced.
It was so perfect…and now it’s gone. Was it ever truly real?
Sometimes people feel shortchanged by the temporary nature of the MDMA state. Was what they felt just an illusion? A neurochemical con game?
My answer is that drugs reveal aspects of what our minds are capable of. It’s temporary. It may not be a state of mind that you’ll ever achieve while completely sober. But it is absolutely something that was generated from your own mind. Drugs essentially turn the volume up or down on different parts of the brain; the tune is still of our own making.
Don’t expect MDMA to solve your problems. No drug can do that. What it can do, however, is give you new insights which may allow you to work out your problems yourself. In the end, the gift of MDMA is more one of questions then answers.
MDMA sometimes produces a form of flashback. A ‘flashback’ is a triggered memory, and can be the result of any strong experience. In the case of drugs, flashbacks are the result of something reminding you of the drug experience, causing your mind to bring up a memory of the experience. Where things get interesting is that your brain doesn’t simply store memories as data; you ‘remember’ mental states and ways of processing information as well. As a result, if you have an intense MDMA experience at a rave, you might at some later time start to feel euphoric when you hear the same sort of music again. These events are infrequent, and the probability of experiencing such a ‘mental state’ memory declines with time as the memory of the drug experience fades. The probability of experiencing such a ‘flashback’ seems to be linked to the frequency of use and/or the intensity of an experience (since both strengthen the memory of being high.)
How long should I wait until I use again?
Human research suggests that it takes about a month for your brain to fully return to the state it was in before taking even a single, moderate (120 mg) dose of MDMA. Most people use more than that, and some people are more sensitive to the drug than others, and a consensus has emerged among the community of users that it’s best to allow around three months between uses. If you push it, (such as weekly use) the severity and length of the ‘hangover’ period can grow much worse as the regular disruptions of your brain’s serotonin system add up. That’s not to say weekly use will necessarily cause physical harm (like destroying your liver), but you may find yourself feeling like crap much of the time. The reason is that, besides temporarily depleting serotonin reserves, your brain ‘adjusts the volume’ on the serotonin system in response to the massive serotonin release caused by MDMA. With very heavy use (several times a week) users can become quite dysfunctional (panic attacks, major memory/concentration problems, in some cases amphetamine psychosis has been reported.)
Responsible drug use means moderation. MDMA can be a very seductive drug, making it hard for some people to resist the urge to run out and repeat the experience as soon and as often as possible, but if you go overboard, regardless of the drug used, you will pay a price for it. The poet Blake said that the path of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. That’s true, but when you drag your tired, fried, hung-over ass up to the gates of that palace you realize that wisdom was moderation in the first place. Been there, done that. If you overindulge, you will recover (it’s a mistake to assume that these somewhat long-term disruptions are signs of brain damage) but it’s no fun in the meanwhile. Some people just have to learn this lesson for themselves, but take it from the many thousands of users who have taken this road before: It isn’t worth it. Once a month is fine. You might get away with twice a month for a while. But very few people seem to be able to get away with weekly use for long. Be sensitive to your own mental state, and if you start to feel a little emotionally unstable or more tired/forgetful than usual, take a break for several months. Your brain will thank you.
‘Loss of Magic.’
Part of the charm of the MDMA effect is simply novelty. The most special experiences will usually be the earlier ones; with heavy use, the drug can become downright boring. The consensus among users seems to be that after perhaps 30-40 uses, much of the ‘magic’ of MDMA is gone. For many, this effect can be mostly reversed by a prolonged period of abstinence.
MDMA (like most drugs) can be very safe if you know what you’re doing. (Heck, it’s safer to be an MDMA user than a smoker or drinker even if you don’t know what you’re doing, but I don’t consider even one case of ‘death by ignorance’ acceptable.) Good luck and be careful!