Confessions of an Ephedrine Eater

Twenty minutes ago, I popped a pair of tiny white pills, each containing 25 milligrams of pure ephedrine. And right about now, I'm channeling the Latter-day Saints of the Wild West. I'm kicking back frontier-style with a steaming cup of Brigham Tea, and I'm thinking to myself: Fuck coffee. This fight-or-flight shit rocks.

You see, the Mormon pioneers were total speed freaks. Yeah, it's true. When they arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, the Goshute Indians introduced them to a cure-all potion, long favored by medicine men and brewed from the stems and flowers of a desert shrub. The Mormons liked it so much they named it after Brigham Young. The tonic's active ingredient was the same as in the Asian herb ma-huang: ephedrine. Natural crank.

If you've taken an over-the-counter cold medicine, you've probably taken ephedrine. You know how it says on the box "Won't make you drowsy?" Guess why. But to really do ephedrine, to tweak on it, you have to ingest a more, shall we say, committed dose -- at least 25 milligrams.

Maybe you don't want to go there. I understand. Ephedrine's literally not for the faint of heart. But since I'm looking down the barrel of a long night, here's what 50 milligrams feels like.

The rush came on with a tingling chill, like the caress of a breeze on sweat-beaded skin. That was the drug penetrating my blood-brain barrier, tricking my adrenal gland. Bio-chemically, I'm girded for battle or the hunt. Mentally, I know I'm safe and warm, with a stocked pantry. The sensation is one of euphoria and anxiety intertwined, as if I'm perpetually walking into a surprise party.

This part's fun while it lasts, but I know from experience I've only an hour, maybe ninety minutes, before the synthetic wet kiss cremates in the flames of undiluted nervous energy.

Ephedrine's not a feel-good drug. Its essence is purely utilitarian. I've found that when I do it, I'd better have a focused, worthy and, most important, pre-planned goal in mind. Otherwise I bounce off the walls at four in the morning, alternately reorganizing my CD collection and peering through the window blinds to see if the Men in Black are still out there.

I did my taxes on ephedrine last week, and it was fantastic: all those intricacies of the Internal Revenue Service code; all the calculations and re-calculations; all those delightfully precise forms to fill out with perfect block letters and numbers. Driving all night on ephedrine is less tedium than Homeric odyssey; beware the siren's song of truck-stop pinball.

Working out on ephedrine, I'm bionic. I can run like Lola. I can lift more weight, make more shots, climb more floors, and do it all faster and with less perceived effort. Performance-enhancing drug? Hell yes, it is, but scary. Hard exercise on ephedrine inspires my heart to abandon four-four time for acid-jazz beats, which sound a lot better on a Miles Davis album than reverberating in my chest cavity. I've listened through a stethoscope; it's not cool.

Ironically, it was a doctor who introduced me to high-dosing ephedrine. It was five years ago, and I had the flu, bad. I also had deadlines. So I go to see my primary-care physician and tell him I just need something to get me through the next 48 hours, and then I can crash. Homeboy hooked me up with ten 25-milligram pills. No prescription, no charge. They were from his personal stash. "These got me through medical school," he said. "Take two and you'll feel a lot better."

Physicians in China have been prescribing ma-huang for all sorts of sickness for at least 2,000 years, so my doc wasn't encouraging me to jack up on speed or anything. Oh, no, not at all. He was merely practicing the ancient and revered art of herbalism. At least he asked first if I have any heart problems or high blood pressure. I don't. Which is good for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that high-dosing ephedrine is likely to kill you if you have heart problems or high blood pressure. If you don't, it still might kill you, but only if you do a lot.

I do a lot. And I'm not alone. I see you out there. I know you by your black-pooled pupils and by the way your fingers tremor oh, so slightly, like mine are right now. I see you in the gym; I see you in the dance clubs; I see you in the mall; I see you in Wild Oats buying organic produce you won't eat because you're hardly ever hungry. I see you in the health-food stores. You're perusing the colorful bottles of dietary supplements and weight-loss aids and workout fuels with their long lists of wholesome-sounding ingredients designed to camouflage the high doses of ephedrine they contain so that Cherry Creek socialites who vote Republican can better lie to themselves. "Oh, no, I'm not doing drugs. I'm taking a dietary supplement." Yeah, yeah, Jenny Crank. Why don't you send your nanny out for another bottle of maximum-strength Oxycut?

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David Holthouse
Contact: David Holthouse