So-called “herbal ecstasy” is actually a number of different products that are sold at convenience stores, liquor stores, gas stations, etc., that claim to be chemical alternatives to the banned substance MDMA (ecstasy). These substances come in a number of different forms:
- Herbal tea
- Smokable product
These products go by a number of different names, such as:
- Herbal Ecstasy
- Herbal X
- Herbal Bliss
- Cloud 9
- Ultimate Xphoria
- Orange Butterfly
- Rave Energy
- Green Hornet
- Liquid Trip2 Night
- Benzo Berrie
Herbal ecstasy products can be taken orally, snorted, smoked, and even injected. The products generally claim to be legal alternatives to ecstasy and to be safe to use or at least safer to use than ecstasy. However, there are various reasons to consider these products unsafe.
Are These Products Legal?
Ephedra is an ingredient that was used for weight loss and to increase energy.
According to information provided by The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, ephedra is a shrub-like plant used in Asian cultures for years as a medicinal herb (commonly known as ma huang). The plant contains a number of compounds, including ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, and norephedrine, all of which have stimulant properties. Ephedra was a dietary supplement that had a number of untoward side effects associated with its use (including some well-publicized fatalities), and it was banned by the Federal Drug Administration in 2004 as a dietary supplement; however, it can be prescribed by physicians in some states. Synthetic forms of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are regulated under different statutes. The synthetic forms of the chemicals in ephedra that are not sold as dietary supplements and a number of traditional Chinese herbal supplements are not covered under the FDA statute.
The majority of these herbal ecstasy products contain ephedra or ephedrine, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). These products typically claim to offer the benefits of club drugs like MDMA. These benefits are typically listed as:
- Increased energy: Because the substances have central nervous system stimulant properties, they enhance energy levels.
- Euphoria and increased sociability: In general, claims are made that these substances can deliver a specific type of high that is often associated with club drugs, make one more sociable and outgoing, and even expand one’s consciousness.
- Aphrodisiac effects: Many of the substances are marketed as being able to increase sexual prowess, or there are implied connotations regarding its ability to do this.
- Safe to take: Most manufacturers claim these products are safe, despite evidence to the contrary.
Because the major ingredients of these drugs are central nervous system stimulants, they produce feelings of increased energy, talkativeness, and friendliness. They may also deliver feelings of euphoria, wellbeing, and the feeling of increased sexual ability. However, NIH reports that these substances are associated with a number of potential detrimental effects that include:
- Fainting spells
- Appetite loss
- High blood pressure
- Cardiovascular issues, including potential heart attack
- A loss of inhibition that can lead to poor judgment
- Potential for seizures
- The development of psychotic behavior (e.g., hallucinations and/or delusions)
Anytime the use of a particular substance can increase the risk for cardiovascular issues or issues with seizures or potential stroke, there are potential fatalities associated with its use. This is why the FDA banned ephedra as a dietary supplement in 2004 (due to several well-publicized cases). Individuals will not experience all of the above potential effects, but some individuals may experience milder symptoms, such as nausea, and others more serious symptoms, including cardiovascular issues. The potential to develop serious side effects by using these substances is enhanced when individuals mix them with other drugs or alcohol. It appears that even mixing these drugs with caffeine can result in the potential for deleterious effects from their use.
It also appears that the use of these substances does result in the development of tolerance; however, the development of a formal withdrawal syndrome does not appear to be well documented. Certainly, individuals discontinuing the drug after periods of chronic use are liable to experience a number of symptoms, including depression, increased lethargy, shakiness, and even tremors or the potential for serious neurological issues like seizures in individuals who use the drug in combination with other drugs of abuse. In addition, herbal substances are not regulated by the FDA, and the substances can contain any number of potentially dangerous additives or drugs. This can increase the risk for serious effects.
Therefore, the bottom line associated with the use of herbal ecstasy products is that:
- They are potentially unsafe for use.
- The composition of these products is not regulated.
- Chronic use can lead to the development of a substance use disorder.
- Mixing these substances with other drugs of abuse can result in potentially serious consequences.
When an individual discontinues substances that are central nervous system stimulants, they often experience what has been termed by users as “a crash.” This can result in a number of symptoms that are primarily emotional in nature, such as:
- Serious depression and hopelessness
- Increased need for sleep and even lethargy
- Significantly increased appetite
- Autonomic nervous system symptoms that include issues with sweating, jitteriness, irregular heartbeat, and mild cardiovascular issues
- Irritability, mood swings, issues with anxiety, and severe cravings
Of course, using these substances in combination with alcohol or other drugs may result in a number of potentially serious effects that can include issues with seizures when one discontinues use. When an individual decides to stop using any drug of abuse, they should consult with a physician regarding the approach to abstinence that best suits their situation and needs. Since a large number of individuals using herbal ecstasy products are younger, the use of residential treatment in the early stages of recovery should be considered. Inpatient treatment should be monitored and closely supervised by an addiction medicine physician or psychiatrist.
A formal substance use disorder treatment program should include:
- Treatment of any identified co-occurring disorders
- Continued medical management and monitoring by an addiction medicine physician and/or psychiatrist
- Substance use disorder therapy in either an individual format, group format, or combination of individual and group therapy
- Family therapy, which can be extremely beneficial for adolescents with substance use disorders
- Social support groups, particularly 12-Step groups
- Long-term participation in an aftercare program that includes elements of the above
Because simply going through an inpatient program to deal with the early stages of recovery is not sufficient for anyone with a substance use disorder, it is extremely important that there is a strong psychoeducational component to all aspects of treatment. Treatment for substance use disorders is often a long-term endeavor and, in many cases, an ongoing endeavor that lasts for many years. Individuals who simply go through a withdrawal program and do not engage in an intensive treatment program relapse at rates close to 100 percent.