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are there legal substances that mimic (some of) the effects of cocaine?
July 30, 2009 1:37 PM   Subscribe

are there legal substances that mimic (some of) the effects of cocaine?

I recently came across the following paragraph in the may 4th issue of the new yorker:

To learn more about the biochemistry of addiction,
scientists in Australia dropped liquified freebase cocaine on
bees' backs, so it entered the circulatory system and brain.
The scientists found that bees react much like humans do:
cocaine alters their judgement, stimulates their behavior
and makes them exaggeratedly enthusiastic about things
that might not otherwise excite them.


obviously addiction, (overly) altered judgement and the unmentioned aggressiveness that goes with cocaine aren't attractive but that last bit struck me: I would love to find a substance that would help me get more excited about things that presently just don't.

I ask this not because I am looking for a party drug and I am not interested in ruining my health beyond reason (meaning I accept that chocolate has a negative effect on my body and still consume it but wouldn't put up with asbestos just because it kept me warm inside). the concept is interesting to me because every now and then I find myself stuck doing tasks that require concentration and motivation but produce little joy. I wished increased motivation and excitement would enable me to work harder on those. (most have to do with either coming up with creative ideas or executing them, so keeping my ability to concentrate is crucial here.)

so in essence I am looking for a mood enhancer or a motivator. something that will change me from "this is okay but I wish I could be doing something else" to "just two more hours before I go to sleep, this is so awesome I just have to finish this."

some parts of this question may be poorly articulated. feel free to fire away with questions should that be the case, I am still trying to wrap my own head around what precisely it is I am hoping for. I am perfectly fine with it requiring a prescription and me having to talk to a doctor (please do note though that I am not in the US when recommending specific substances) but anything that would get a police dog excited is not what I am looking for as their station is right around the corner.
posted by krautland to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Coffee/caffeine, just not 2 hours before you go to bed.
posted by puritycontrol at 1:42 PM on July 30, 2009


Adderall or Ritalin, possibly Provigil, would be the commercial brand names of some drugs that might get you to that 'goal oriented' attitude. Amphetamines also provide similar effects but with greater possibilities for health problems. Not that the prescription stimulants don't have great potential for abuse and addiction, but at least the dosage is knowable and you can get a prescription for them.

I'd recommend getting good regular exercise and plenty of sleep, though. Sounds cheesy, but that can work wonders for mood and attention span.
posted by Skrubly at 1:45 PM on July 30, 2009


Yeah, modafinil which is the same as provigil I believe. It's an anti-narcolepsy drug that apparently affects dopamine productions and/or uptake similarly to cocaine. The vagueness is due to my lack of understanding of how it works - someone probably knows in details how dopamine and this drug interact.
posted by GuyZero at 1:51 PM on July 30, 2009


Coffee/caffeine, just not 2 hours before you go to bed.
that just makes me more awake and eventually twitchy, it doesn't change my mood.

I'd recommend getting good regular exercise and plenty of sleep, though.
I do run daily and try to sleep quite a bit but it doesn't always work out that way and it also doesn't change how I feel about certain tasks. it's not about trying to be able to go longer, it's about trying to change how I feel about doing the tasks in question.

Adderall or Ritalin, possibly Provigil (...) modafinil
that sounds interesting and someone suggested these via mefi mail (thanks). I will investigate as I know nothing about them.
posted by krautland at 1:54 PM on July 30, 2009


There are stimulants have a pretty wide range of legal statuses, from illegal to prescription to over the counter to freely available. What country are you in, as laws vary? As always, the usual declaimers apply--I'm just some dude on the internet, not your doctor, etc...

Wikipedia's article on Stimulants provides a good overview and links. Offhand, a few that come to mind that you may be interested in exploring more are: caffeine, nicotine, buproprion (Wellbutrin), modafinil (Provigil), and various ADHD treatments, such as amphetamines (e.g. Adderall) or methylphenidate (Rittalin). There are herbal substances with stimulating effects as well, though efficacy is somewhat shaky on some of them; ideally someone with more experience in this area can recommend something. Erowid has a large database of reports that may help give you an idea of what to expect with various drugs. Slate's article on modafinil is nice, as is Salon's.

You mention that many of these tasks involve creative work. As I understand it, these stimulants generally can lead to a "sit it down and crank it out" attitude, but they aren't generally associated with producing particularly creative or high quality output. They just involve different parts of your brain. Folks on acid trips are fantastically creative, but not exactly the most productive at, well, anything at all really.

Keep in mind that these drugs are considered controlled substances in many countries precisely because they have been shown to be potentially addictive or have abuse potential. This may or may not be an issue for you, and you may or may not know whether it's an issue until it's too late. Not all these drugs are as prone to screwing you up as cocaine, but they head down that road, and these are risks you need to be aware of and consider carefully.

Finally, I would consider where this request is coming from. Everyone wants to be able to charge through work once and a while and there's lots of stuff in life that isn't fun, but if you find that you're experiencing this feeling of not being excited by things in life often, that sounds like a sign of depression. This doesn't mean you're depressed or you need therapy or anything, but it might be a sign that you aren't really that happy with what you're doing. Rather than charge through it with drugs, you might want to consider changing your behavior to give you more satisfaction out of the things you do.
posted by zachlipton at 2:01 PM on July 30, 2009


I find that tribulus terrestris has a coke-like effect on me without any of the side effects. For me, it produces an energetic buzz rather than the manic, edgy kind of energy that comes from caffeine or amphetamines. YMMV.

You can usually find it in vitamin stores that stock stuff aimed at improving sports performance. It's also sometimes promoted as a libido enhancer.
posted by Lolie at 2:02 PM on July 30, 2009


Modafinil, which goes by the brand name "Provigil' in most places may fit the bill.
posted by floam at 2:03 PM on July 30, 2009


Skrubly: Adderall is another word for amphetamines, with the exact same effects and dangers. It's serious stuff. Ritalin is an amphetamine derivative with similar effects, but works slightly differently in the brain and isn't quite as potent.
posted by zachlipton at 2:07 PM on July 30, 2009


I dunno if this is worth the deprivation, but during my vegan era, I once abstained from refined sugar for eight months. At the end of said era, I plunged back into the non-vegan world by eating a Snickers bar. As Bog is my witness, within less than a minute, colours got brighter and sounds got sharper.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:17 PM on July 30, 2009


With strong stimulants "exaggeratedly enthusiastic" tends to mean being mean, loud, pushy, picking fist fights, overly horny, talking your mouth off, not making too much sense, being unreasonable, being irrational, etc. Im not sure what you want exists outside of coffee and some ginseng.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:27 PM on July 30, 2009


Provigil (modafinil) is not at all a motivator. It doesn't make you focused or excited like popular study drugs do. It's excellent at what it does -- keeping you awake and alert -- but that's all it does. That's why it isn't a popular study drug: it might help you pull an all-nighter, but it won't force you to write that paper, and it certainly won't make you have fun writing it. I've used it for a few years, so feel free to drop me a line with any other questions.
posted by booksandlibretti at 2:29 PM on July 30, 2009


Provigil is not a euphoric in the way that the amphetamines are which is why it has much lower potential for abuse and addiction. The subjective effects are nothing like cocaine.

It's fairly trivial to find legal substances that mimic the stimulant effect of cocaine; caffeine, as someone else has mentioned, will do exactly that if you don't have a tolerance. But as the OP notes, for a lot of people it doesn't act as much of a mood elevator or euphoric.

So the real test is finding something that acts as a bit of a euphoric. This isn't really possibly with legal substances because euphorics are generally made illegal as soon as use becomes at all widespread. Because god forbid that somebody, somewhere be having fun.

that will change me from "this is okay but I wish I could be doing something else" to "just two more hours before I go to sleep, this is so awesome I just have to finish this."

Yeah, nothing over-the-counter legal in the USA will do this. What you describe is pretty much exactly the effect of amphetamines but those require either a prescription or buying illegal substances of unknown quality from a street dealer.

As I said, if there were a legal and easy to acquire substance that did what you want it would not remain legal. The whole reason a lot of people use illegal stimulants is because they also want to go from "I wish I could be doing something else" to "THIS IS SO AWESOME".
posted by Justinian at 2:44 PM on July 30, 2009


Damn, we're overlooking the obvious.

Cigarettes. Nicotine is a strong mood elevator. That's why people get hooked so easily. Why do you think the morning ritual for a lot of people used to be a pot of coffee and some smokes? Pot of coffee + smokes = strong CNS stimulation and mood elevation, which is what cocaine does.

For gods sake please don't start smoking. Please. If the fact that it makes you smell bad isn't enough disincentive, after a couple weeks you'll have a tolerance and have to start chain smoking for any mood elevation. After a while you'll have to smoke just to not be a snappish, grumpy jerk all the time.

Also: cancer
posted by Justinian at 2:49 PM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Seconding the suggestion that provigil is the wrong drug. It just keeps you awake. It doesn't actually improve concentration. It's utterly perfect at what it does, and has roughly zero side effects. Unfortunately, what it does isn't what you want.

Adderal is amphetamine... just exactly amphetamine, not even altered. Ritalin is nearly amphetamine. Both of these are pretty damn addictive. And despite all the PSAs to the contrary, I've never felt the urge to clean my house or actually do anything tedious while on speed. It mostly makes me horribly impatient with such things... even things I normally enjoy doing. Which is why I hate it.

Also, if you've never tried cocaine, you should keep in mind that it probably isn't what you want, either. It's never made me usefully excited. The only effects I've noticed are what damn dirty ape lists... and even then, it's not especially strong. And the effect only lasts a little while. As George Carlin said, "You wanna know what cocaine makes you feel like? It makes you feel like doing more cocaine." Which is why I hate it.

Might I suggest nicotine? It has nearly identical effects to cocaine. You don't need to smoke. Get some nicotine gum.

As for actually making you interested in tedious shit: marijuana. You have to smoke enough of it, routinely enough, to get to the point where the high isn't just totally distracting. Most people don't get to this point, so most people can't actually do anything useful while high. Hell, most people can't order a Big Mac while high. But there are plenty of high-functioning chronic stoners who can complete any task given to them while stoned--although there's no avoiding short-term memory issues. If you train yourself to enjoy the mindset without being impaired, it's exactly what you're asking for. From mowing the lawn to hand-editing XML, pot turns tedious jobs into mildly amusing ones.
posted by Netzapper at 2:49 PM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Provigil is not a euphoric in the way that the amphetamines are which is why it has much lower potential for abuse and addiction. The subjective effects are nothing like cocaine.

Seconding this comment.
I am currently prescribed Provigil (for an off label use) and have tried cocaine. The effect of the two are only similar in the ability to focus. Provigil is regarded as a "mood brightener" but lacks the specific euphoria experienced with cocaine. YMMV, of course.
posted by Cookbooks and Chaos at 3:00 PM on July 30, 2009


Coffee with a slug of whiskey.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:05 PM on July 30, 2009


You don't need to smoke. Get some nicotine gum.

This might actually work but I'd hesitate to recommend it as it may lead to, you know, smoking cigarettes.
posted by Justinian at 3:32 PM on July 30, 2009


Caffeine, modafinil, methylphenidate, amphetamine, nicotine: none of these are anything like cocaine in effect. Legal cocaine homologues are mostly useless too. The closest thing I can think of is 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone which may be legal in your jurisdiction. However, I doubt it (or even coke) will make you feel how you want it to.
posted by turkeyphant at 4:07 PM on July 30, 2009


Caffeine pill and 2 aspirin tablets taken together. The aspirin takes the edge off the caffeine, and you get a happy, energetic high.
posted by marsha56 at 4:27 PM on July 30, 2009


If caffeine and aspirin was all it took to get high like coke I don't think they'd have them in the first-aid cabinet here at work.

Unless this explains why I seem so much less productive than everyone else.
posted by GuyZero at 4:59 PM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


The problem I see with this question is that, if there were any substances with what you're asking, everyone would know about them!

Try chugging cough syrup.
posted by InsanePenguin at 5:33 PM on July 30, 2009


And by that I mean, if an alternative to marijuana existed, which sounds like pretty much what you want, it would probably have been made illegal already.

Yes, I know there is no good reason for marijuana to be illegal. I'm just saying.
posted by InsanePenguin at 5:34 PM on July 30, 2009


Mindfulness meditation. It trains your brain to focus on the task at hand, and to notice your emotional states (ie, lack of joy, feeling like you'd rather be doing something else) without necessarily having to act on them. There is a small but growing body of evidence that meditating regularly causes changes in brain functioning. I find that when I meditate regularly, I'm able to simply do the work for the sake of doing the work, rather than wishing every second was filling me with unspeakable joy.

I had a professor who claimed she could tell which essays had been written under the influence of Ritalin or other pharmeceutical stimulants. She said that they tended to be repetitive, with every point over-explained, but with very little insight into which points were important and why. She said essays like this had gradually increased in number over the past few years, and were qualitatively different from the work of students who were just bad writers.
posted by embrangled at 6:24 PM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Benzedrex, a nasal decongestant. The only pharmacy I've ever found it at is Walgreens. Take the tube apart, put the cotton from the inside into a bottle of soda, shake it up, and drink over the course of an hour or so. (Don't actually eat the cotton, come on now.) The effects are similar, but not the same, and tend to last much longer.

I am so thrilled that this will forever be associated with my username. But it is the right answer to your question.
posted by srrh at 8:42 PM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


What makes you think the effects of a drug like cocaine and the addictiveness are different and separable phenomena?
posted by phrontist at 11:17 PM on July 30, 2009


&gt What makes you think the effects of a drug like cocaine and the addictiveness are different and separable phenomena?

What are you getting at? I see two possibilities:
  1. You're asserting that there are no positive effects, only feeling good because you're satisfying some addiction. Patently false, or there'd be nothing felt "the first time". Also, the effects have been well studied and there's nothing to corroborate this.
  2. You're asserting that the addiction necessarily follows any of the described positive effects. This is basically saying that cocaine addictive in the way that a roller coaster in your back yard would be addictive, but these modalities have been well studied and it's pretty clear that cocaine can cause physical dependance after prolonged usage.
I'd be interested in hearing what your actual point was meant to be.
posted by floam at 11:32 PM on July 30, 2009


Ritalin is very similar to coke in effect, but not nearly as intense. If you get Ritalin the right form, you can even crush up the little pills and insufflate (snort) them.
posted by telstar at 12:24 AM on July 31, 2009


> What country are you in, as laws vary?
I'm in germany.

>stimulants generally can lead to a "sit it down and crank it out" attitude
I see. what intrigues me though is the being more excited about things that usually don't excite you that cocaine offers. the getting enthusiastic about things that usually bore you.

>This may or may not be an issue for you, and you may or may not know whether it's an issue until it's too late.
my reaction to cocaine was "hey, this feels really great, I really do like this, I better not do this." it was definitely something I could have gotten used to quite easily, so I began avoiding it completely.

> if you find that you're experiencing this feeling of not being excited by things in life often, that sounds like a sign of depression.
I agree, that's always a possibility. alas, these are specific cases I am thinking about. let's say I am working on a project that isn't going to be some kind of standout work. my motivation usually comes from "hey, this could be great, we could make something that goes into our portfolios, gets us noticed, wins some award, gets our friends to wish they had done it." in those cases I'm the guy who will just stay and do another variation throughout the night, just keep on at it, happy to have such a great job. but not all projects are like this. there is always some client that just wants a dreadful poster to hang up in their bathroom stalls. you know, stupid shit that nobody cares about but someone has to do because they are our client and need all their needs serviced. I think every job has a few of those moments. when that happens, I truck through it but my motivation lacks and I think it shows in my attitude and output that I didn't pour my heart into it. I know when those moments come along. it would be great to be able to switch into a different mood. this is really not about being more productive but about feeling different about what I am doing.

>I once abstained from refined sugar for eight months.
your description sounds wonderful and worth exploring just for its potential but I'm a serious chocaholic. I can't get through a day without at least some sugar.

>tends to mean being mean, loud, pushy, picking fist fights, overly horny, talking your mouth off, not making too much sense, being unreasonable, being irrational, etc.
there are people who would describe me like that anyway. no, I kid. I hope. I don't wish to be more aggressive and I have hopes of not becoming such a person - I'm a happy drunk, if that comparison makes any sense. I would just like to be more excited about tedious tasks. imagine how easy it would be to clean your bathroom if you didn't dread doing it.

>Yeah, nothing over-the-counter legal in the USA will do this. (...) either a prescription or buying illegal substances of unknown quality from a street dealer.
I am in germany but street dealers are not an option. quality, as you said, is key.

>Cigarettes. Nicotine is a strong mood elevator.
I can't do that. smoking disgusts me. I can't even get myself to make out with a smoker.

>Also, if you've never tried cocaine
oh, I have. and I know I couldn't do it now as a casual habit without it getting horribly out of control, so I don't do it.

> Get some nicotine gum.
>Caffeine pill and 2 aspirin tablets taken together
hm. I'll consider that, thanks.

>Ritalin is very similar to coke in effect, but not nearly as intense.
hm.
posted by krautland at 2:50 AM on July 31, 2009


I see. what intrigues me though is the being more excited about things that usually don't excite you that cocaine offers. the getting enthusiastic about things that usually bore you.

Unless you, personally, have had this experience on cocaine, I really don't believe it does what you think it does.

Cocaine makes most people distractable. That is, they're excited by something for a while, and will work on it. But the moment something better comes along, they skip ship. Hell, I couldn't even keep a game of Monopoly going at the last coke party I attended. Everybody kept splintering up, with the attention spans of five year olds. Most people found that they wanted to "do something", by which they meant they wanted to expend physical energy: dancing, walking, etc.

You've fixated on this one phrase from one quote, and taken it to mean that, for example: I, as someone who hates doing the dishes, would just love to do some dishes if I were full of coke. What that phrase actually means is that I, as someone who doesn't like techno music, might respond to a suggestion to head to a techno club with, "Yeah! That's a fucking great idea, man!"

It's not useful interest. It isn't fascination with the boring. It's that everything sounds like a great idea. Start a fight? WHOO! Fuck in the bathroom? WHOO! Drive to Atlantic City? WHOO! Write a paper? WHOO! Write the third paragraph of the paper? Damn, this shit's boring, let's go get pretzels. WHOO!

If it's something you have to do, and you don't have friends goading you into something better, it's entirely possible to use it like methamphetamine to essentially incite a bout of obsessive-compulsive disorder. You can sit and get something done. But, it doesn't make it any more enjoyable.

Really, honestly, the drug you want is marijuana. You want the shitty bathroom poster to be interesting. Given that LSD and 'shrooms would leave you essentially unable to work, pot is your best bet here. This is especially true of creative work. Cocaine is going to dull your creativity, as it inhibits your ability to evaluate the quality of an idea. Marijuana just makes everything a little more fun.

Get some nicotine gum.
Caffeine pill and 2 aspirin tablets taken together
hm. I'll consider that, thanks.


I know I recommended the nicotine gum, but it really isn't what you want. Heavy nicotine doses do have the same sort of euphoria and stimulation as cocaine. But, as I'm trying to explain, that isn't what you want.

The caffeine definitely isn't the right answer, either. And aspirin isn't even psycotropic... it's just bad for your stomach.

Ritalin is very similar to coke in effect, but not nearly as intense.

But just as addictive.

But, hey... if you don't want to listen to those of us with experience using various drugs, and would prefer to listen to some vague quote, be my guest.
posted by Netzapper at 3:18 AM on July 31, 2009


my reaction to cocaine was "hey, this feels really great, I really do like this, I better not do this." it was definitely something I could have gotten used to quite easily, so I began avoiding it completely.

This complicates things. From the drug abusers I've observed in my life it's a rare one that only abuses one drug: alcohol and cigarettes; alcohol, cigarettes, and pot; alcohol, cigarettes, pot, and cocaine; cigarettes and Ritalin. It has lead me to believe that some people have a addictive personalities and tend to abuse whatever drugs they use, legal or not. You've probably heard about the tendency for alcoholism to run in families but you could also search for "twin studies drug abuse" for further information. Whether this is solely genetic or also involves other factors like situational and learned behavior, I don't know. But my guess is there is some combination that leads to that potentially addictive personality.

If you avoid cocaine because you recognized you had the potential to abuse it that's awesome for you, and you made a smart choice. I don't think it would be a smart choice to try and find the closest cocaine substitute you can that happens to be easier to legally obtain.
posted by 6550 at 5:26 AM on July 31, 2009


6550: I understand your point and fear you may be right concerning myself. I do have a sibling with addiction problems and I do myself go for enjoyable things in an obsessive way: I eat too much chocolate, I run any minute I can and once I start drinking I rarely stop before it's too late. I do not however feel the urge to drink constantly - I am merely a social drinker who basically never touches alcohol alone. I don't quite know what to expect were I to encounter a potentially addictive substance.
posted by krautland at 4:34 AM on August 3, 2009


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