I Tripped on Tryptophan (Or Tried to, Anyway)
Image: Derek Mead​


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I Tripped on Tryptophan (Or Tried to, Anyway)

Turkey definitely doesn't make you sleepy. But tons of Tryptophan does.

Turkey, it should be noted here and everywhere on this Thanksgiving, does not make you sleepy. The kidney of a steller sea lion, however, should.

That's because one serving of a sea lion kidney contains roughly 2,580 milligrams of L-Tryptophan, the essential amino acid that's often blamed for people being sleepy on and around Thanksgiving, as if a lethargic lifestyle and shoveling shitloads of gravy and sweet potato pie were not an alternative explanation for wanting to pass out on a couch somewhere. Turkey has about 350 mg of Tryptophan in it, for the record.


According to DIY druggies on the internet, you can also trip on Tryptophan, turn it into DMT, or, at the very least, force yourself to get very sleepy if you have a bunch of it. Unable to procure myself a sea lion kidney on short notice, a bottle of Trytophan-containing pills would have to do instead.

A quick note about finding L-Tryptophan (and not 5-HTP, a favorite supplement of people who do molly and other, harder drugs): It's not easy to find. The Food and Drug Administration took it off the shelves in 1989 because people kept getting really sick from an infected batch of it. It was put back on the shelves in 2001, but apparently barely anyone sells it anymore. A special thanks goes to Motherboard's researcher, Erik Franco, who managed to find some in a little grocery store in Manhattan's East Village after calling like 30 natural supplement stores.

It's also worth noting that there's very little literature about Tryptophan in the drug-using world in general, perhaps because there are any number of other things you can take that will definitely get you high.

With that said, here's my journey:


3 PM: I swallow my first Source Naturals L-Tryptophan dietary supplement pill ("helps support relaxation, restful sleep, and positive mood"). I order a Sapporo-brand beer at Washington DC's biggest steal of a fucking happy hour, which is very appropriately called "Crazy Hour" because everything is half off. That includes entire bottles of 750ml sake, which you can get for $12. It makes no sense.


3:05 PM: My Sapporo comes. I opt to not do sake bombs today, even though I thought it might be cool to call them "trypped out" sake bombs. I do not know if this is funny. I unscrew the cap on the L-Trytophan dietary supplement pill and pour the white powder into my Sapporo. It foams a lot, more than usual.

Image: Derek Mead

3:07 PM: Tryptophan doesn't sink in beer, even when stirred. It kind of forms clumps around the side of the glass. It also tastes very bitter, like every other white powder I've ever put in my mouth (except for flour, flour tastes like flour).

3:15 PM: I'm done with my trypped-out beer. I feel nothing. Also, the beer tastes gross.

3:30 PM: Three pills down.

3:40 PM: I propose to my friends that we have a contest to "see who can fall asleep the fastest."

3:41 PM: They say no.

3:45 PM: After I pee, I have non serious but noteworthy difficulty buttoning my pants.

4 PM: Four pills down. My right ear feels very hot, my feet feel very cold. I am not quite as quick on my feet as normal. I'm missing humor beats. I am feeling slightly forgetful and dazed in general. I want to play the sleeping contest game.

4:05 PM: I do, however, think everything is very funny. Kind of like when you're sleep deprived. It's not unpleasant.

4:30 PM: Five pills down; I have to leave the bar to pick up some film I dropped off from a previous Tryptophan excursion with the Motherboard crew that was aborted because none of us wanted to play the sleeping contest game on a Friday night. We decided for some reason that using a disposable camera to shoot art for this article would be a good idea. It's surprisingly difficult to find a one-hour photo that's open the day before Thanksgiving, however.


Motherboard Features Editor Brian Anderson experiments with Tryptophan. Image: Author

5 PM: I am on the Metro home, to my parents' house. I haven't been there in four months or so. I am playing games on my phone to keep myself from falling asleep.

5:05 PM: I am very, very thirsty.

5:07 PM: My heart is kind of racing and I can feel it in my neck. I wonder if I am experiencing some mild side effects of Tryptophan, which are noted on the Livestrong.com website and basically nowhere else and include "hallucinations, muscle spasms, trouble walking, increased sweating, fever, rapid heartbeat, faintness and diarrhea." There is not a lot of good medical literature for Tryptophan. Also, what the hell is the deal with with Livestrong.com and its insane Google ranking?

5:09 PM: I decide that I do not want to take any more Tryptophan, that five pills is enough for what is admittedly a nonserious endeavor. One dude on Erowid said that he "was tripping for four days straight" from very moderate amounts of alcohol, weed, and Tryptophan. I have had more Tryptophan than he did.

5:12 PM: A cop gets on my train and I fiddle with the pills in my pocket as if they are real drugs. This makes me feel like I am doing something wrong but I'm totally not, cop.

5:15 PM: I have a headache and my stomach hurts a lot. I want to puke but puking isn't encouraged on public transportation. I feel like I am watching myself move in slow motion.

5:20 PM: I beat a new level on Plants vs Zombies 2 and feel much better.


5:29 PM: I really have to puke and need some liquid, any liquid.

5:30 PM: I arrive to my parents' Metro station. My mom is there. I ask if she has anything to drink and all she has is giant bottles of orange juice. I drink from the bottle anyway.

5:31 PM: I tell her I am feeling a little sick and anxious so sorry I'm being weird; let's just get home.

Selfie with disposable camera: Author

5:35 PM: I want to turn on the car's overhead light to look for something I dropped. In doing so, I accidentally open the sunroof. A ton of snow falls on both of us. Somehow, this makes me feel at ease.

5:36 PM: Am throwing snow out the window.

5:45 PM: I get home to find that, in my absence, my teenage sister has not only taken my childhood room (in addition to her room) but has also (with collusion from my father) CUT A HOLE THROUGH THE WALL of our rooms, claiming two rooms and one giant open space for herself. All of my belongings are thrown in a closet somewhere and the walls are a different color. This transgression immediately snaps me out of my haze and into one of faux-outrage. All of my symptoms subside.

7 PM: I feel more or less normal again, but very, very tired.

7:05 PM: I go to sleep and sleep for 12 hours. I dream, but not in a crazy, tripped out sort of way.

7 AM: I feel totally fine.


Would I recommend taking a shitload of Tryptophan just to see what happens? No, I would not recommend doing it. Do I believe it's possible to trip on Tryptophan? Yeah, I think so, maybe. If you take the right neuroinhibitors and that sort of thing, you can apparently force your body to turn it into straight up DMT, which I imagine would be a very different experience than the one I had. If you take a ton of Tryptophan without adding any of that other stuff, you will probably just feel sick and tired.