The highs are often high, but the lows are often low.
People who use drugs are familiar with their preferred highs, but they’re also familiar with the accompanying lows. When used recreationally, drugs come with comedowns, crashes, and other conundrums. All this depends on things like dose, set, and setting. For the casual user, the highs often invite lows that range from mildly annoying—like a clogged nose after a coke sesh—to potentially life-changing—like a post-acid trip reflection.
For many people who use drugs, these after-effects are just part of the package, an often inconvenient but inevitable price to pay for whatever perceived benefits they get from the substances. Some people have found ways to deal with these after-effects, but experts say some of these tricks can come with their own dangers.
Twenty-five-year-old Tim, for example, always makes sure he’s in a good place, physically and mentally, before an acid trip. Like other names in this story, “Tim” is a pseudonym used to protect the subjects from the legal repercussions of using illicit drugs.
“Before a trip, I’ll make sure to be very hydrated, already have a big meal in my stomach in case food gets weird [as some users report], make sure my mental state is at a stable point, and have good thoughts, vibes, places, friends, and pets nearby to hang or talk to at all times… I practice meditation and mindfulness daily and find that if I stick to it, I’ll usually find my best path forward,” Tim said.
Some people who use acid claim the experience is one of the most meaningful of their lives, but many also warn of “flashbacks,” a possible after-effect in which people re-experience the high long after taking the drug.
LSD is not considered an addictive drug, but Mark Ian Mendoza, a certified addiction and recovery specialist and senior program director at Bridges of Hope, a rehabilitation center in the Philippines, said this doesn’t mean the hallucinogen is necessarily safe. Mendoza considers the drug one of the “most dangerous” as he said it can “drastically alter brain perception.”
Most comedowns from an acid trip are generally characterized by a gradual return to one’s senses and “ordinary” life. A few hours after the peak, for example, the vivid visuals characteristic of an acid trip begin to fade, and things may appear dull in comparison to how they were a few hours prior. People might also begin to be more aware of their bodies, and notice how hungry, dehydrated, and tired they’ve become. There are people who say they experience an “afterglow” after their acid trips, or a sustained improvement in mood after the high has worn off, but coming down from acid can also leave people feeling agitated, anxious, and just a bit “off,” as they make their way back into the regular groove of their lives.
For these reasons and others, many people who have done acid say this transition back into “the real world” can be difficult to navigate.
Tim said coming down from acid is a kind of psychological game you play with yourself—you can see it as only a struggle and a fight, or as an “eternal dance of light and dark.” He added that something as simple as watching the sunset might help, too.
“Having a chill sunset view after a long trip usually can ground most people struggling with the ‘bad vibes,’ as long as they choose to accept what they did and are doing.”
Other comedowns—like that of cocaine—are less about mindsets and more about physical effects.
Cocaine is a lot like potato chips. It’s rare for people to have just one chip, and it’s rare for people to have just one bump or line. Matt, 37, said the first line of coke in a sesh is euphoric but short-lived, so people normally follow up with more lines and bumps. Aside from the euphoria, however, these lines and bumps also come with other—less desired—effects.
“It elevates your heart rate, often uncomfortably,” said Matt, adding that the feeling of overstimulation after doing the drug is the biggest negative for him. Other after-effects of cocaine can include tightness in the chest, paranoia and aggression, dizziness, nausea, tremors, vertigo, and muscle twitches. Long-term use can also cause heart and mental health problems.
One more immediate effect of the stimulant is that it often makes it difficult for the person who used it to fall asleep. To manage this, Matt turns to downers that he says help him relax and doze off. However, these could also have negative effects on the body.
According to Mendoza, the addiction and recovery specialist, the dangers of taking downers without the proper guidance of a physician can lead to dependency, which can then lead to addiction. “It can also cause impairment in memory, judgment and coordination, irritability, paranoia, and suicidal thoughts,” added Mendoza.
Another common effect of snorting the white powder is getting a clogged, swollen, or dry nose. To combat this, some people swear by chopping their blow as finely as possible, sniffing water after every bump or line, alternating which nostril they snort with, and using saline sprays to decongest. But experts say that chronic snorting of cocaine can lead to serious issues.
“Chronic snorting can destroy tissues in the nose and sinuses,” said Mendoza. “It can also cause holes in the nasal septum… A hole can change the shape of the nose, cause serious breathing problems, and lead to chronic infections and pain.”
While the high from a line of coke lasts around 15 to 30 minutes, the high from an MDMA pill used recreationally can last hours—but with it comes its infamous crash.
“There are always two sides to MDMA. Along with all the beauty, you have to be very careful and aware of the difficult aspects of the drug… MDMA is powerful in that it includes a lot of unpleasant physical effects,” said Ray, 31.
While high on MDMA, many people involuntarily clench their jaw and grind their teeth. They can also sweat profusely and feel hot, overwhelmed, and restless. Ray said these can make the high “very difficult, gross, and anxiety-ridden.”
But the main concern for many people who use MDMA is the emotional comedown—the crash.
“The comedown is vaguely comparable to the Monday back at work after the best vacation you’ve ever experienced,” said Ray. “It can be depressing and meaningless in comparison to the fun you just had… It can be extremely difficult to physically find a sense of happiness or joy for hours, days, or even weeks afterward.”
Mendoza explained that MDMA works by overstimulating three neurotransmitters—serotonin (helps regulate mood, sleep, pain, and other behaviors), norepinephrine (increases alertness, arousal, and attention), and dopamine (affects motivation and pleasure). But the overstimulation, particularly of serotonin, comes at a cost.
“Even though MDMA initially boosts serotonin levels, the drug actually reduces serotonin production after the high ends,” said Mendoza. “Low levels of serotonin can trigger anxiety, depression, poor self-esteem, and impulsive behavior. These symptoms can make the person more likely to turn to MDMA for another high, causing the cycle [of] addiction.”
Ray said that one way he fights the crash is by setting intentions for his highs.
“The higher you go, the more difficult it can be to settle back into yourself. Aimless drug use has its place, but I find I’m less in control of where it takes me. I find intentional use of these drugs can leave me feeling accomplished and revivified. When you set an intention or goal, it can change the way you perceive your comedown,” he said.
Some intentions Ray has set for himself include loving himself more, forming deeper connections, and exploring the origins of his shame. But he said any intention can serve as a guidepost for people to lean on throughout and after their high. People might still have difficult comedowns, but having an intention will help them make sense of it.
“Experience those high highs, look at the type of person you are when you feel the best, and bring those beautiful thoughts and feelings back with you when you come down.”
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