Illustration: Alex Jenkins
Festivals are back, baby. This means that a large portion of people will be going absolutely feral for at least three days this summer, doing weird shit like drinking lukewarm pints at 11.30AM and using a bin bag as a raincoat. For some, festivals are also the perfect place to take MDMA, cocaine and other mind-altering substances. Whether it’s the constant access to flashing lights or the entire set up feeling like a huge adult playground, recreational drug taking and music festivals have always gone hand-in-hand.
But what goes up must come down, and down again. Unfortunately, this trajectory is particularly heinous when the high is fueled by a diet of cereal bars, chewing gum and zero showering. The Monday following a festival can leave you smelling like an unwashed thong and desperately craving the warmth you never received as a child.
Thankfully, there are methods of coping with your comedown – or at least getting through it. With that in mind, I rank up Guy Jones, a senior scientist at The Loop and technical director at Reagent Tests UK, as well as Giulia Guerrini, the lead pharmacist at Medino, to find out how to prepare for the worst Monday ever.
Test. Your. Drugs.
In order to prep for a comedown, it’s important to know what you’re taking in the first place. Luckily, loads of festivals now have judgement-free testing tents operated by The Loop and you can buy testing kits pretty cheaply online. Also, please don’t buy random pills off a guy behind the portaloos at 3AM.
“So many drugs look visually identical to MDMA. We’ve seen a fascinating trend of suppliers making caffeine rock up to look like MDMA rocks; even drug-taking veterans can’t tell them apart,” Jones tells VICE.
“The worst imposter substances that we come across are called ‘cathinones’, often going by the slang ‘bath salts’,” adds Jones, referring to a group of drugs that include mephedrone. “These have a buzz at first, which wears off quickly. So the user takes a bit more to get where they want to be.”
Jones says that the effect of cathinones lasts in the body for approximately six hours extra, for each dose taken. “So if somebody takes five doses, that’s 30 hours that they will not be able to sleep. That makes for a really miserable comedown. You have to deal with sleep deprivation, you’re feeling paranoid and your hearts racing. That’s easy to avoid through testing.”
If you’re using MDMA, only take it once to avoid comedowns
Despite the fact that some studies have shown that MDMA does not in fact cause comedowns, it still has a reputation for making you feel like a sad sack of shit the following few days. The reasons for this are debated (is it the serotonin depletion, or simply because you have been dancing for 24 hours straight?). Either way, it can leave many feeling low and like crying at random and inappropriate moments.
While you might think it’s a good idea to just take another pinger and get over it, this is in fact not a good idea. Chasing the euphoric buzz of the first night not only won’t work, but will also make your comedown worse.
“The thing with MDMA is, after it’s been consumed once, you’ve already depleted [your] serotonin. Your system’s messed with. Taking MDMA on a second or third night is going to have a massively diminished effect,” Jones tells VICE, adding: “Even if you took the same amount, the impact comedown-wise is going to be exponentially much worse.”
Supplements can help, but there’s no silver comedown bullet
Unfortunately, there’s no special pill which can make you feel normal again. But there are, anecdotally, some things you can do to ease things. When I spoke to festival goers, a few swore that 5-HTP – a supplement that boosts serotonin levels – has been known to soften the edges of a particularly bad comedown. Others namechecked magnesium – a mineral that has been known to help stabilize moods.
As a pharmacist, Guerrini is often asked about remedies for nasty comedowns. She says that certain supplements won’t hurt, although they need to be taken safely. “5-HTP can help tackle any low moods you might be experiencing due to a comedown by boosting your serotonin levels,” she says.
“However, 5-HTP should not be taken 24 hours before or after taking MDMA, as it can cause serotonin syndrome, a build-up of too much serotonin, which can range from mild symptoms such as shivering or diarrhea to severe symptoms, such as seizures or muscle rigidity.”
Get some sleep…
Whether it’s because somebody thought playing the Jamie xx remix of “On Hold” for the sixth time at 5AM was a great idea and never been done before or you’ve simply consumed enough stimulants to prevent you from physically closing your eyes, you’re probably exhausted.
Jones stresses the importance of sleep on any comedown – which makes sense, seeing as sleep is when our brain heals itself and essentially gets rid of any toxic waste. Sleep not only allows your body to recharge from passing out on a lumpy yoga mat for three nights, but it can also help you return to health and stave off diseases.
Jones says that sleep is particularly important after taking cocaine and mixing it with alcohol. “Cocaine and alcohol interfere with the breakdown of the other in the body, extending the duration and maximizing the toxicity of each drug,” he explains.
“Cocaine makes you feel more alert and less drunk, while alcohol reduces the anxiety related with taking too much cocaine. This can lead to impulsively taking far more and messing with your dopamine levels. However, if you manage to eventually get that good night’s sleep, your dopamine levels will begin to be way less out of whack.”
Eat something actually nutritious
You can tell yourself that the reason you only had four Mars bars and a pack of Mentos to last all weekend is because you’re too financially responsible to spend £15 on a chewy burger, but that £55 baggie tucked into your phone case says differently.
Stimulants like MDMA and cocaine kill your appetite, sometimes for days at a time. When you actually feel like you can stomach some food, Jones recommends choosing something that actually might help you feel better.
“Generally, eating healthily and making sure your body has the nutrients it needs is valuable when your body is having a stressful time. This doesn’t mean giving it loads of calories in the form of crisps and sweets – but actually a varied balanced diet.”
Go get some pho or something. Don’t give into the desire to order a plate of greasy beige items – it will only make you feel worse.
Remember there’s a reason you feel this awful
Okay, yes, maybe you tripped so hard that you thought that everything from the festival stalls was free. Which, legally speaking, doesn’t excuse shoplifting four pairs of handmade earrings from the sustainable jewelery stand, but it does offer an explanation for why you’re sobbing about it.
“If you’re experiencing a very intense and emotional crash, it’s likely to be because you’ve taken a drug that is highly stimulating,” says Guerrini.
“These neurotransmitters are naturally released by your brain in smaller quantities, but normally they’re re-absorbed. Recreational drugs prevent this re-absorption in order to overstimulate the serotonin and dopamine receptors – but when the effect wears off, you essentially run out of your natural supplies.”
In other words, you’re not just randomly miserable because you’re an awful person and life is now hideous and grey. Your brain chemistry is simply making you feel that way. And the good thing is that it won’t last forever! The impacts of most comedowns diminish within two to three days, but everyone’s body processes the withdrawal differently so this can differ from person to person. Either way, just remember: It’ll be over soon!
And if you still need some advice on how to manage your comedown, here’s some anonymous anecdotal advice I collected while researching this article. Enjoy!
“The coke from Burger King just to feel something.”
“Dogs – dogs don’t judge you.”
“Stay in bed all day, watch Netflix and get a Deliveroo at approximately 4:30PM, have a shower and go for a short walk with another hungover friend.”
“Pub. Or indeed book another festival.”
“Watching Dave at Glastonbury bring the kid up and sing ‘Thiago Silva’ – serotonin moment.”
“Soup with loads of salt until I die.”
“My comedown cure is toast. Just gorgeous. It was so painful to eat, but the toast changed it for me, man. There was a BBC documentary on in the background about fishing – I vividly remember that. And me being fed toast. Toast will turn things around for you.”
“My comedown advice would probably be if you can’t hack it, stay away from drugs straight up. Sober raving is something I have been doing for the past year and honestly it is so much better than narcs at events. If you do take them, as soon as you are sober go for a run, get home, have a sit down shower, find a dog to cuddle, put a romcom on and spend the rest of your miserable day flicking through Hinge.”
@izzy_copestake / @alexgamsujenkins