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Herbal Ecstasy

Legal substitutes for ecstasy are now popular. They contain various herbs or herbal extracts that are psychoactive and are advertised to have similar effects to Ecstasy but are claimed to be legal and safe.

In fact, none of them cause serotonin and dopamine release which are the keys to the emotional effect of ecstasy; some are dangerous and also illegal in the quantities recommended. Some cause similar physical effects such as tingling skin, raised blood pressure, heart rate and sweating, and it is possible that these physical effects remind us of ecstasy and stimulate our brains to release neurotransmitters, just as happens with 'contact high'. For their effectiveness, see below under Herbal Ecstasy Trial.

I sent a list of all the ingredients found in a variety of products and herbs sold as legal highs to a German specialist in psychotropic plants. She reported that most produced only speedy effects except the plant Ephedra or Ma Huang in Chinese, from which the drug ephedrine is extracted. "You feel shivers up and down your spine, especially in the roots of your hair. Ephedra makes you sweat and feel your muscles and skin more intensely. It can act as an aphrodisiac, especially for women. Unlike ecstasy it helps you to concentrate your mind, so that some people find it a good drug to use for mental work. As it's unpleasant to overdose, start with a low dose such as tea made from one teaspoon of dried herb stewed for 5 minutes and strained."

Ephedra is prescribed in Chinese medicine, but the maximum dose of the herb that may be legally prescribed in Britain is 600 mg 3 times a day. It may be for that reason that some brands of herbal ecstasy consists of several pills, each under the legal maximum.
Ephedra or ephedrine makes your heart beat faster and makes you breathe more deeply. This can feel exhilarating, but an overdose can be very unpleasant and may cause muscle spasms and even a heart attack. The safe dose varies according to the individual so that its easy to overdose unless you are used to it, so try a small amount first. According to British National Formulary, ephedrine is "not recommended and should be avoided whenever possible" and must not be used by people with heart disease, diabetes, hypertension or kidney disease. Side effects include racing heart, dry throat, anxiety, tremor and cold extremities. The maximum dose is 600 mg. Herbal ecstasy pills are sold at about £10, not much less than an E. A friend took some and liked it, but a man with her took the same amount and had a panic attack; he was taken to hospital and was told he could have choked to death.
Much cheaper than herbal ecstasy but equally effective (and risky) is ephedra herb, available from Chinese herbalists. Make a tea by brewing the dried herb in a cup of water for at least 3 minutes; then strain and drink. Start with one teaspoon per person and try more if it is not strong enough. It is astringent and bitter, but is more palatable with a little milk.

Khat or qat

A herb that is chewed in the Yemen; tastes foul but gives you a buzz since it contains drugs similar to amphetamine and ephedrine. Khat is increasingly sold in clubs but should be fresh to have the full effect. Long term use has been linked to cancer of the tongue.

Poppers (Isobutyl nitrate)

Legal in Britain, sold in sex shops and some clubs in small bottles. When sniffed or breathed in an open mouth "poppers" give strong rushes of energy for a minute or less, especially while on E. However, they can cause black out, headache, nausea and have caused death by heart attack.

DXM (Dextromethorphan Hydrobromide)

This is the active ingredient in some cough mixtures and capsules which can be bought over the counter, which some people use as a substitute for Ecstasy.

Low dose is similar to alcohol producing carefree clumsiness plus a touch of psychedelic and speedy effect. Intense and rhythmic music can induce a state of euphoria and dancing becomes fun. Overdoses can be unpleasant; imagination may become vividly experienced and on higher doses you may feel dissociation from your body. Dose is about 100-200 mg, but depends very much on the individual. Beware of cough medicines containing other active ingredients as they may have other effects, and avoid if you are taking an antidepressant of the MAOI type. Other types of antidepressants such as Prozac may increase the effect.


Dried mushrooms are classed as an illegal drug, but if you wait till autumn, pick psilocybin mushrooms and put them straight into your mouth you can get a legal high similar to acid, and preferred by many people because they are natural. But being natural does not remove the dangers of LSD: mushies can also make you paranoid in the wrong situation and may trigger psychosis.

GHB, (liquid Ecstasy or GBH)

An enthusiast says it removes inhibitions much like E but the biggest difference is that it slows you down until you eventually fall asleep. "After a night out on E and Speed, GHB is an alternative to smoking dope on comedown, and if you have sex it's good for a while until you fall asleep." My one experience was of feeling relaxed in a drunken way but giddy also and nauseous, but I was told this effect is caused by taking too much. It comes in small bottles, looks like water and tastes salty. Its related to GABA (gamma-amino-butyric-acid), neurotransmitter affected by alcohol, benzodiazepines and barbituates.

©Nicholas Saunders 1/96, revised 9/97 index
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