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
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
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
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
©Nicholas Saunders 1/96, revised 9/97
E for Ecstasy contents