Why you feel like a depressed bag of shit after taking drugs

Why you feel like a depressed bag of shit after taking drugs

VicesOctober 08, 2018 By Isabelle Kohn

Drugs are slippery little bastards.

One moment they're making you feel all euphoric and superhuman. The next, they turn on you, sending you into a dark, sad hole of depression from which the only escape is a 48-hour Rick & Morty marathon with a side of delivered Jimmy John's.

Many people report feeling this way after taking drugs. Most of the time, their depressive symptoms are mild and last only a day or two. However, some heavy users can experience post-drug depression that persists for much longer periods of time after taking substances like MDMA, cocaine, amphetamines or even weed — particularly if they use frequently or take hefty doses. At the same time, many people who use drugs don't get depressed at all. 

What's going on here? Why do drugs make some people feel like crying to George Michael's "Careless Whisper" in the shower, while others walk away unscathed?

In short, it has everything to do with neurotransmitters.

Neurotransmitters affect how we think and feel, controlling our emotions for better or worse. Each one is affected by different drugs you take at the Bassnectar after party.

Dopamine is affected by cocaine, amphetamines, marijuana and ecstasy.

Serotonin is affected by ecstasy and LSD.

Noradrenaline (Norepinephrine) is affected by amphetamines and opiates (heroin, morphine etc).

The majority of drugs work by releasing large amounts of these neurotransmitters in the brain. This release of dopamine, serotonin and/or norepinephrine is what causes the mood-elevating effect of drugs, as well as the feelings of empathy, self-acceptance, and emotional closeness with others that so many people find valuable and rewarding.

But by releasing large amounts of neurotransmitters, drugs also deplete the brain’s supply of them. It then takes some time for the brain to replenish what was released, and during that period, you recklessly sob at baby animals and feel like the worst shit in the world. How long this lasts depends on your individual diet, general heath, genetic makeup and how much of the drug you took. On average though, animal studies suggest that it takes between 48 hours and one week for brain levels of serotonin, dopamine and norepinenphrine to return to a normal level.

Another possible explanation is the down-regulation of neurotransmitter receptors. Not only do drugs drain your brain's neurotransmitter reservoirs, but they also cause your brain to decrease the amount of receptors it has for them. The means that even if there is some available dopamine, serotonin or norepinephrine floating around in there, it'll have nothing to bind to. You'll get no mood-boosting effect.

These theories only apply to people who feel like poop after partying, though. What about people who don't feel depressed after drugging?

Scientists believe that post-drug depression is usually only noticeable in people who have pre-existing depression, or at least some symptoms of it. And since depression presents itself in a multitude of ways both perceptible and not, people may not even be aware they have it.

Translation: drugs decrease neurotransmitters and receptors in both depressed and non-depressed people's brains, but only the pre-depressed experience the debilitating effects of it.

It's also likely that many compulsive drug enthusiasts are unconsciously trying to self-medicate their depression with drugs, so pre-depressed people may also just do more drugs.

Last theory? Some people experience negative side effects from certain drugs like lowered sex drive, constipation and paranoia, which are all in turn associated with feelings of depression themselves. If you're already depressed, being constipated and unable to fuck certainly won't help.

Thankfully though, there are some things you can do to minimize feelings of drain and despair the day after your cocaine binge.

Moderation. Given the biochemical reasons elucidated above, you can easily see why when it comes to drugs and depression, less drugs is more ... not sadness. If you're already prone to melancholia, this is especially true for you.

Eat well. Your body produces serotonin by combining together various amino acids found in proteins. Maintaining a well-balanced diet that includes enough complete proteins and the proper vitamins and minerals will help you stay healthy and rebound more easily from serotonin depletion.

Sleep. Many of your brain’s restorative processes take place while you sleep. Not getting enough sleep may significantly lengthen the time it takes for your brain to replenish its neurotransmitters, so ... sleep it off.

Avoid booster doses. Try not to take more when you come down. Remember, when you come down, you've already depleted much of your neurotransmitter supply. Depleting it even more will lengthen the time it takes to be replenished.

And what of everyone's favorite non-narcotic substance, 5-HTP? Does that actually help relieve depression after the heroin-molly wears off?

It's got mixed reviews. 5-HTP is the precursor molecule to serotonin, so the line of thinking goes that if you boost levels of the precursor, you make more serotonin from it.

Some studies have shown that 5-HTP does in fact boost brain serotonin levels and can successfully relieve symptoms of depression that way. However, other studies have shown this effect may be more of a placebo since you generally have to take it for a few days to weeks before it starts to show a noticeable effect.

So, should you take it? If it helps you, take it. Can't hurt. However, it'll only work if you're depressed after taking a drug that acts on your brain's serotonin system; it won't do shit to boost your dopamine or norephinephrine. For that, you can follow these tips on how to naturally boost your bod's dopamine and norepinephrine supply.

Well, kids, with that knowledge, we hope you go forth into the seething underworld with a better knowledge of what drug depression is and how to deal with it.  Just know that no matter how many tears you cry the morning after the Beyonce on Ice show, we're there, crying along with you. We're all in this together. Our tears are one.

That's how oceans are formed ... at least according to the LSD trip we're coming off of.

[cover photo jurien huggins via Unsplash // originally published August 23, 2016]