Herbal Ecstasy trial
I was given 50 samples of 'Herbal Ecstasy' (with a butterfly logo) to
try out at Glastonbury festival in 1994, complete with instructions:
"Open your heart and allow yourself to become overwhelmed, because
then and only then can you feel the true force of this experience... All
six senses may become intensified. Things may seem crisper and clearer.
Sounds may sound louder and feel more intense. Touch becomes more enhanced,
things just simply feel better to touch, tastes, see, smell, and feel. Imagination
will flow more rapidly, thoughts may become clearer and new ideas may appear
at a more rapid pace."
I handed out 100 samples as herbal Ecstasy on a deposit which was refunded
in exchange for a completed questionnaire, but 50 were herbal vitamin pills.
Some people compared their pill with others, deduced they had a placebo
and reported no effect, but among the rest the results were similar. Experiences
reported varied from nothing to the best ever with no hangover - yet as
many were wildly enthusiastic about vitamin pills as herbal Ecstasy. I asked
each user to say how much they would have paid for the pill, and the average
for vitamin pills was £4.12 while for herbal Ecstasy was £3.98.
The company with the butterfly logo has quoted me out of context to make
false claims: "Enjoy Natural Euphoric Sensations From an Herbal Dietary
Supplement...People reported all kinds of effects. Some even saying that
it was the best ecstacy experience they'd ever had. - Nicholas Saunders,
U.K.; E for Ecstacy, 1992."
In November 1995, I visited the maker's stall on Venice Beach in LA, and
sure enough found myself quoted as above. I complained to the man behind
the stall (who I believe was Norris Preston), but he insisted that he had
quoted me word for word; said he was "very disappointed" in the
article I wrote and then suggested that I take a walk, but ran away when
I tried to photograph him. Later I heard that he had made several million
dollars from selling his product.
Later, in San Francisco, I was introduced to an expert in psychotropic plants
who had offered to formulate a mixture of herbal extracts that really would
have an emotional effect. But the company decided that a truly effective
product would soon be outlawed. From a business viewpoint it made more sense
to sell a mixture which caused its effect by the active placebo principle:
by giving users a drug that produces similar physical effects and building
up their expectations of an emotional effect, many people induced the expected
In 1997, I was visited by a British man who told me he distributed the
product in Britain. He had had some analysed and the only active ingredient
was caffiene, although it had a trace of ephedrine. Presumably the manufacturers
have changed the content in response to the law.
Because something is natural and legal does not mean it is safe. Herbal
Ecstasy without Ephedra will have no greater direct effect than coffee or
caffeine drinks such as Red Bull, while Ephedra may well be more dangerous
than MDMA. Remember that poisoned darts are tipped with natural herbal extracts!
A large part of the effect of any drug depends on expectations, and someone
who knows and expects the mood produced by ecstasy is likely to experience
that, especially when prompted by some familiar physical reaction. Expectations
can trigger moods by releasing neurotransmitters in the brain, just as happens
when someone takes a drug.
©Nicholas Saunders 1994, revised 1997
E for Ecstasy contents