All about Pre-Loading
You may not be a health food nut, but there are some very handy things on the shelf of your local granola-and-tofu store. Some supplements can reduce side effects, help the hangover, and possibly even help keep you safe.
We’ve all seen oxidation. It’s what rusts metal. It’s what turns a slice of apple or banana brown if left exposed to the air. Oxidation is what’s happening when laundry bleach ruins your clothes, or hydrogen peroxide lightens your hair. (Chemically, “oxidation” means electrical charge is being pulled off a molecule/atom.)
Why does this matter to you and me? Because oxidation is also something that’s constantly going on in our bodies. Virtually all of our metabolic processes produce oxidizing chemicals (like hydrogen peroxide.) As our metabolism and demands on our body go up, more of these oxidizing chemicals are produced. When we take a drug, our body’s breakdown of the drug creates even more oxidative stress on our cells and tissues.
In fact, it’s this process of producing oxidizing chemicals while drugs are being broken down that can cause liver damage from many drugs such as alcohol. In the case of amphetamine-type drugs (including MDMA) this has a special significance, since these drugs are drawn into your brain and broken down, which can lead to neurotoxicity (damage to brain cells) in extreme cases.
The good news is, your body knows exactly how to deal with such things. First, it has enzymes that break down these oxidizers as they are being produced. Second, your body has a lot of antioxidants floating around in it. An antioxidant is a chemical that neutralizes oxidizers (but is used up in the process.) As a result, unusual demands on your metabolism (such as smoking, drinking, or using MDMA) tend to reduce levels of antioxidants (because they use them up.)
What does this mean for you, the responsible drug user? Well, it means that taking some antioxidants before and after your drug use can help prevent damage to your cells. Some popular antioxidants:
• Vitamin C: Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C is found in large amounts in citrus fruits like limes, oranges, and grapefruit. Besides being an antioxidant, vitamin C is important to the immune system. Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin, so it mainly stays in the blood and other water-rich parts of cells like the cytoplasm.
• Vitamin E: Nutritionally important, this vitamin is also a good antioxidant. Vitamin E is lipid (fat) soluble, which allows it to penetrate deeply into fatty tissues (including the brain) and even get inside of cell walls. In one experiment, mice fed a severely vitamin E deficient diet suffered serious neurotoxicity when given a large dose of MDMA, while mice on a normal diet were unharmed!
• Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA): ALA is an interesting antioxidant because it’s both lipid-soluble and water-soluble, allowing it to get virtually anywhere in the body. As a downside, ALA is more irritating to the stomach than E and C, limiting the amount that can be comfortably taken. ALA may also be broken down very quickly in the body.
• Melatonin: Traditionally sold as a sleep aid, melatonin is a very effective antioxidant on a per-weight basis, but at the doses recommended (as little as 0.25 mg) would be ineffective to use as an antioxidant. Since I don’t know what the consequences of high doses (100 mg or more) would be, I don’t recommend melatonin for this purpose.
• Green Tea, Grape Skin Extract, etc.: These substances have significant antioxidant properties, but are relatively unresearched.
What should I take? How much?
For antioxidants, I suggest Vitamin C and E, simply because they are generally well-tolerated, inexpensive, readily available, and fairly well researched (in the context of both general health and MDMA use.) Vitamin C and E are also two of the body’s main normal antioxidants and work well together. Try 2-4 tablets/capsules of each over the course of the day before and/or the day of MDMA use. A little more the day after can’t hurt either. If you don’t want to be bothered with elaborate plans, a few capsules each of C and E several hours before use should still be beneficial.
Is taking antioxidants necessary?
Not at all. But, it’s such an easy and cheap way to help your body deal with stress and recover that it seems perverse not to.
A word on the benefits of antioxidants: There isn’t a magic or ‘special’ antioxidant that you need. Any antioxidant at all should be helpful, and taking many different ones isn’t necessarily better than taking one or two. They also aren’t a cure-all. Antioxidants can probably give you a larger safety margin, but do not guarantee that nothing bad can happen. Take all the usual precautions (avoiding prolonged dancing in hot environments, if dancing get moderate (but not excessive) water intake, and don’t mix drugs.
What the heck is 5-HTP?
5-HTP is the chemical your brain turns into serotonin. Since MDMA use depletes serotonin levels, 5-HTP is a quite useful tool for recovering after use. Taking a little 5-HTP can prevent the more notorious possible aftereffects of MDMA use, such as depression and anxiety for a day or two (which is partly due to low serotonin levels.)
For the curious, the full biological pathway for serotonin production is:
1. The amino acid tryptophan is digested from protein in your food.
2. The tryptophan is turned in 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) by an enzyme in your brain called Tryptophan Hydroxylase.
3. The 5-HTP is converted in 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT, better known as “serotonin”) by another enzyme called Aromatic Amino Acid Decarboxylase.
As a practical matter, most of the tryptophan and 5-HTP are broken down by the decarboxylase enzyme long before they get to the brain, but the brain doesn’t need much. So, it’s Food –> Tryptophan –> 5-HTP –> serotonin. 5-HTP is particularly useful because it’s the last link in the chain, making it the most effective way to enhance serotonin production with a supplement.
5-HTP has traditionally been taken as a sleep aid, natural antidepressant, and weight loss aid (all of which are the result of its enhancement of serotonin levels.) It has become much more popular with the realization of how it could benefit MDMA users.
How should I use 5-HTP?
In the context of using MDMA, I’d suggest one capsule two hours before taking the MDMA (entirely optional), another capsule when you come down, and one a day for several days afterwards. If you feel irritable or depressed, take one more capsule as needed.
Can taking a bunch of 5-HTP before using MDMA make the high more intense/last longer?
To some extent, yes. By increasing the amount of serotonin available to be released, 5-HTP can help MDMA work. However, doing so introduces a new unknown factor. If you try this, take one or two capsules two hours before taking the MDMA. (You need to have some time between taking the 5-HTP and MDMA or the MDMA’s effects can be blunted. Some people report that even three hours is not enough to prevent this effect.) The effect isn’t likely to be dramatic, but can help ensure that you get the full effect of the MDMA.
Could I get high just from taking 5-HTP?
Sort of. If being slightly cheerful and giddy for 10-15 minutes is worth a day of feeling sick (severe gas, vomiting, diarrhea, etc.) One of the things that has constantly amazed me is the adventurousness of drug users: If you can think of it, somebody has probably tried it. Massive doses of 5-HTP have been tried, and the results were less than encouraging if you wanted a recreational effect.
Where do you get 5-HTP?
Health food stores and drug stores/pharmacies in the US often carry 5-HTP, or you can order some online (just search for “5-HTP” at Google.) Mail order can be much less expensive. (Unfortunately, 5-HTP is not available over-the-counter in some countries, although one could always just mail-order some from overseas if there are local restrictions on it’s sale.)
• Magnesium: Some users report that taking magnesium supplements reduces the tendency to clench your teeth while on MDMA. I haven’t tried it myself, but the idea makes some sense. (Mg++ ions are involved in controlling nerve firing.) Magnesium may also reduce the ‘eye wiggles’ side effect sometimes seen with MDMA, although that one doesn’t seem to really bother people.)
• Calcium and potassium: No known benefit, and may make jaw clenching, etc. worse. (These small metal ions promote nerve firing.)
• L-DOPA, Tyrosine, and Alanine: These are precursors to dopamine, just as tryptophan and 5-HTP are precursors to serotonin. L-DOPA is normally prescription-only, and should be considered dangerous. Tyrosine is considerably less potent at producing dopamine, alanine is the least effective of all. Both are sometimes taken to try to enhance the MDMA high by supporting dopamine (and norepinephrine) production. I regard this practice as being of questionable safety: Dopamine and norepinephrine appear to be major contributors to heatstroke and death in animal overdose and neurotoxicity experiments. While the risks probably aren’t terribly great, I cannot recommend this practice in the absence of further research. Besides, if you can’t enjoy MDMA for what it is, perhaps it’s time to give it up.
• Grapefruit juice: Some grapefruit juice has a (naturally occurring) chemical in it that can interfere with the metabolism of certain drugs by inhibiting an enzyme in your liver called CYP3A4. If a drug is aggressively broken down by this 3A4 enzyme, then grapefruit juice can significantly increase the drug’s effect by interfering with its breakdown. Although MDMA can be broken down by this enzyme, it’s a minor contributor to the drug’s metabolism. As such, inhibiting CYP3A4 would likely have little effect.