5-HTP (5-Hydroxy-tryptophan) is decarboxylated to the neurotransmitter serotonin (5-HT) by the enzyme aromatic-L-amino-acid decarboxylase.
5HTP as Therapeutic Supplement
5-HTP, which is found in certain foods like turkey and cheese, is often sold as an over-the-counter therapeutic supplement. In this case, it is usually sourced from the seeds of the Griffonia Simplicifolia plant. Production of 5-HTP as a supplement increased when a similar serotonin-altering supplement, L-tryptophan, was banned in the United States because of a tainted batch which caused serious side-effects in users. 5-HTP has many advantages over L-tryptophan: besides being safer to produce and arguably more potent it can cross the blood-brain barrier more easily than L-tryptophan. 5-HTP in supplement form is usually sold in gelatin capsules. These capsules typically contain between 50mg and 100mg of 5-HTP.
Some studies of 5-HTP have been completed which indicate that 5-HTP has potential in the treatment of depression and possibly anxiety, panic disorder, sleep disorders and obesity. As a result of these studies, there is a reasonable indication that 5-HTP may not be effective for those who haven't already responded well to an SSRI antidepressant. Additionally, one open study suggests that people with anxious depressive syndrome may see better results from 5-HTP. In fact, a survey of all published studies of clinical outcomes with 5-HTP indicate that it yields similar results to those obtained for small scale studies of FDA accepted SSRI's.
Unfortunately, the studies to date are incomplete, even if promising, for the treatment of mild to moderate depression. Reviews of these studies do indicate potential still remains for 5-HTP in the treatment of depression, though further trials are stressed as necessary before arriving at any firm conclusion. Some caution and diligence should be exhibited regarding 5-HTP barring further study and review.
In recent years 5-HTP has been sold by health food companies as an alternative treatment for depression and mood disorders. Its role as an intermediary in the biosynthesis of serotonin indicates that this chemical may indeed be effective in treating these and other serotonin-related disorders, but there is some debate on the conclusions of the clinical trials which have been carried out using the drug.
5-HTP has also been used as a supplement by users of Ecstasy to help replenish depleted serotonin, thus alleviating the depression and overall mental unsettlement in the days following MDMA usage. 5-HTP is inccreasinglly being used prior to the use of MDMA as this both further reduces the negative psychological effects of depleted Serotonin following MDMA usage, and also acts as a booster to the MDMA during usage. MDMA and 5-HTP information and advice
5-HTP also has mild psychoactive effects on REM sleep.
5-HTP supplements instead of SSRIs
In mid 2004, a Congressional hearing on prescription drugs noted that 1 in 6 children in the United States are being prescribed an anti-depressant product. At the end of 2004, some "block buster" anti-inflammatory drugs were in the news for being dangerous, bringing new focus to the safety and moral issues regarding targeted end-user marketing of prescription drugs. Some think that anti-depressants are vulnerable to similar allegations.
Natural healing professionals often recommend 5-HTP supplements instead of standard SSRI/MAOI prescriptions as 5-HTP allegedly accomplishes the same goal without resorting to disturbing the brain's natural metabolic procedures. Instead of interrupting the recycling of serotonin as in the case of SSRIs, and instead of preventing the end consumption of serotonin as in the case of MAOIs, 5-HTP supplements are claimed to provide more raw material to be used in the body's natural serotonin production process. This raw material that is processed by the body to produce needed serotonin is called tryptophan and its only source is through ingestion of certain foods, turkey being the most cited example. Tryptophan was also sold as a supplement in health food stores until a contaminated shipment, which resulted in 1500 cases of eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome and over 30 deaths, prompted the United States Food and Drug Administration to ban it as an over-the-counter nutrient. As a response to this ban, health supplement producers decided to market 5-HTP in its place. Recently, however, as noted above, pharmaceutical grade L-tryptophan has become available "over the counter" in the U.S.
5-HTP supplements are claimed to be more effective than tryptophan in raising serotonin levels, due to the liver being less interested in metabolizing 5-HTP before it can enter the brain, compared to tryptophan. However, they do not receive as much marketing attention as the patentable drugs.
Though there is no official dosage, most supplement providers recommend 50mg to 100mg 5-HTP. 5-HTP should be taken just before bed because it often causes drowsiness. One should never exceed 300mg 5-HTP within a 24-hour period. The result would be elevated serotonin levels in the brain which can lead to serotonin syndrome.
Promoters of 5-HTP claim that it causes fewer side effects than traditional antidepressants. Side effects of 5-HTP may include nausea, constipation, gas, drowsiness, or a decreased sex drive. It can also have adverse interactions with other natural and traditional drugs.  Others warn that the long term effects of 5-HTP are not known, and point out that people using any psychiatric drug, natural or otherwise, should be under a doctor's supervision. [2