This article is part of "Safe Sesh", a VICE harm reduction campaign produced in collaboration with The Loop and the Royal Society for Public Health. Read more from the editorial series here.
Somehow, I've worked my way into a career in which I mostly get paid to write about festivals and drugs. The upshot is that I get free entry to lots of festivals; the downside – for my health and general wellbeing – is that I get free entry to lots of festivals.
I don't spend every single weekend during the summer getting fucked in a field, but this year the gods (and various commissioning editors) deigned that I would be heading to four festivals in as many weekends. Unfortunately, this schedule happened to cross over with perhaps the busiest point so far in my working life, meaning I was going to have to return to civilisation from each weekender in an employable state, rather than having the luxury of moping around the house for days, buried under an avalanche of existential dread.
Clearly, I needed a cure for my comedowns.
Over the years I've come to believe that the only real post-sesh salvation is a course of sleep, exercise and positive thinking – that if you spend three days jamming intoxicants into your own face, you should expect some retribution. But there is a world of impassioned advice online that seems to suggest it doesn't necessarily have to be this way, so I decided to try the cures that were offered up here most regularly – a different one, each week by serotonin-sapped week.
WEEK ONE – 5-HTP
I started this experiment with some tablets containing 5-HTP, reason being: generally, the internet's most championed cures for a comedown are:
– 5-HTP supplements
– Sex and/or masturbation
Comedowns stem from physical ailments, not least tiredness and physical exhaustion, but they're also caused by a depletion of serotonin (5-HT) and the degeneration of 5-HT terminals in the brain. Serotonin is one of the most important transmitters involved in mood regulation (as well as other processes, like sleep and appetite), and MDMA releases floods of it when you're high. Thus, in the days after taking the drug, while your brain is still replenishing all that lost serotonin, you're prone to feel lower. 5-HTP is a precursor involved in the production of serotonin, so taking a supplement containing it could – in theory, at least (there's a dearth of scientific research in this area) – make you less likely to burst into tears during an episode of Couples Come Dine with Me.
Mine came as a soluble tablet that contained ginseng extract, Vitamin B12 and lots of other healthy-sounding things. It looked and and tasted like a thinner version of Berocca. I plopped it in some water and away it went.
How Sad Was I Afterwards? I actually felt weirdly giddy afterwards and started hanging up the washing while my photographer watched. However, I'm not ruling out the possibility of 5-HTP being a placebo that had tricked my gullible brain into feeling good about itself. Either way, I wasn't sad at all, and on Monday morning I was running at 90 percent, which is definitely higher than normal.
Final Score: A big, agenda-setting 9/10.
WEEK TWO – TRYPTOPHAN
Tryptophan is the amino acid that gets converted to 5-HTP, which eventually gets converted to serotonin in your brain. So the thinking is that gorging on tryptophan will help stimulate serotonin production.
Regularly quoted tryptophan-heavy foods are tuna, bananas and eggs, so I put a tin of tuna, two bananas and two eggs into a smoothie maker, with other tryptophan-heavy foods like tofu, pumpkin seeds and milk, then invited my photographer around to watch me hurl.
How Sad Was I Afterwards? Let's talk about this smoothie. The key thing to note is I fucking abhor tuna. When nuclear winter comes, it won't be plutonium or uranium making our eyeballs bubble, but the toxic perfume of John West, carried up and over our burning cities by the upthrust of that 100 megaton bomb.
Anyway, I took the first three sips and was convinced I would puke. I didn't, but I did heave, cry a bit and exhale some on the floor, which even my dog wouldn't lick up. It was very, very bad.
The paradox with tryptophan is that MDMA actually blocks the enzyme that converts it into 5-HTP. So the whole theory is utter bollocks. But – and here's the rub – after drinking it I was done for. It totally wiped me out. The second photographer left, I went straight to bed, googled "can you overdose on tryptophan" and fell into a dreamless sleep before I read the answer. Ten hours later, I woke up in a ridiculously good frame of mind.
Final score: 8/10. But it was a fluke.
WEEK THREE – WEED
When it comes to comedowns, the message around weed can be a little muddled. For many people, it's absolutely essential when trying to get through those lowest ebbs. Though, if you're looking at it from a purely scientific point of view, it's one of the worst things you can possibly do, because it's a sleep inhibitor. It inhibits your ability to reaching the deepest sleep phases, which your body needs to recover.
However, there's also a school of thought that if weed is going to make you chill out, isn't going to unduly interfere with your work/life and will help you get to sleep – and thus enter a routine that, on the surface at least, resembles normality – then it's worth a shot.
How Sad Was I Afterwards? One thing I'd noticed on the Monday was a weird twitch in my right eyelid, and – call me a hypochondriac! – weird twitches are not indicators of complete interior health, oracular or otherwise. Anyway, I gave weed up eight years ago, but actually quite enjoyed the hash – and it did definitely help me sleep, although I had to kick through some dense brain fog the next day. Also, it made me even more paranoid about the twitchy eye.
Final Score: 7/10
WEEK FOUR – DOGS
I'd done three of the four most suggested comedown cures and was left with the fourth: sex and/or masturbation. I'm currently single, so – while I can't pretend my parents will shimmer with pride when they eventually stumble upon this "piece" – I'm not going to make it any worse by writing a paean to the restorative effects of roughing up the suspects.
Instead, I decided to surround myself with dogs. I'd read about dog therapy – the idea that being around dogs, among other things, can help you heighten your mood – and thought it might do me some good on this hairy Monday afternoon
My friend Lizzy is a dog-walker, and she picked me up from home before I'd even had a post-festival shower, with four dogs in tow.
I genuinely planned to just go, fill my lungs with some air, play with the woofers and leave that meadow in a better mood. That's it. There is no science. But then we came upon this glorified ditch claiming to be a pond, which the dogs were all larking about in. I don't really know how it happened – maybe it was accumulated madness from four weeks of excess, maybe it was the temperate weather, maybe it had been a ball ache to get some good dog pictures and you can't fight the Id's desire to craft a vaguely arresting bit of content – but this went down.
How Sad Was I Afterwards? Look at the photo above: is that the face of a sad man? I felt elation. Elation and clarity. As those bewildered dogs and I sloshed out of that pond, I felt sharper than I had for a month.
Final Score: 10/10. I'm not going to lie and say I wasn't tired that week, but, honestly, I worked 12-hour days, didn't cry once and am still in employment.
Is there a moral to all this? First thing I'd say is: don't get fucked up at festivals for four weekends in a row. It's expensive and you'll end up looking like Tom Hanks in Castaway. Most importantly, it's a shit-storm for your brain, especially if you struggle with anxiety or your mental health.
The second thing – and the greatest weapon in the battle against a festival comedown – is to not go full throttle every day. Each festival, I reined it in on the last night so the journey home was less treacherous. Also, look after yourself when you're onsite. Eat as often as possible and drink loads of water, and if you're going to take drugs, do so sensibly with the drug-relevant harm reduction advice in mind.
In the days following, just try to stay positive and do whatever's necessary to keep you in that frame of mind. Except putting tuna in a smoothie. Never, ever do that.
Thanks to Guy Jones from Reagent Tests UK for the science advice and the concern.
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