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The South African Anti Drug Team




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Testing Drugs:


If not that serious send me an confidential e-mail: info@thesouthafricanantidrugteam.org.za


One of the biggest dangers of using drugs is the issue of quality control. For instance, pure Ecstasy tablets are made of 100% MDMA. But so many pills keep coming out with other substances in them. Some don’t have any MDMA in them at all. Even pills with the same logo (e.g. Mitsubishis) can be very different since they come from different batches/manufacturers. Sometimes other chemicals and compounds are substituted, some less harmless than others. This might to be to bulk out pure MDMA so the dealer can make more money. In this case, an inert bulking agent is usually used, and the effect is a low intensity E trip and that ripped-off feeling. In other cases, other drugs/ poisons such as DXM, Ketamine, Strychnine, Atropine and PMA have been found.


These are used because they are more readily available or easier to produce. Some of these are more dangerous than others. For instance with PMA, one dose produces some E-type feelings, but two doses can be fatal. And because it takes longer to come on than E, people tend to drop another thinking it’s a weak pill. There have been many deaths in the USA, Australia, Europe and South Africa due to PMA.


Ideally it should be the public health service that has pills properly tested and certified. In Europe, the Dutch model has shown that one consequence of systematic testing is to introduce an element of ‘quality control’ into the ecstasy market, and fatalities are minimal as a result. However, due the illicit status of E, we have to work around this.


What can we do to get a pill tested?

The easiest way, but not the most thorough, is to do the testing yourself. There is a very simple testing method available. This will help you find out what the pill contains. Although this test is limited, it will tell you wether or not the pill contains MDMA. You should try and do this test where you have the clarity of mind to do it properly in well-lit conditions. It will also be a good idea to share your results with others before the party or wherever else you are going to use it. The test can also be done at a club or rave, but in low light conditions it can be tricky to get reliable results.


How do Testing Kits work?

These ‘home’ testing kits use a chemical solution called Marquis Reagent. This is made up of the chemicals formaldehyde, sulphuric acid and methanol. A drop of the solution is added to a scraping from a pill. The solution changes colour indicating the presence of MDMA or similar substances ( MDEA, MBDB, MDA), Methamphetamine and 2CB. You then compare the colour the liquid turns to an indexed Colour Chart. The testing solution contains a strong corrosive chemical so you must be careful. If spilt, flush away with lots of water.


How reliable are these Reagent test kits?

A DIY testing kit is not in the same league as professional laboratory testing, which generally use a technique called gas chromatography. The home test can only indicate the presence of the main active ingredient. It cannot give any indication of quantity or other, secondary, ingredients. However, experienced testers in Holland claim that very subtle variations in pills can be detected, such as relative purity. The test is good for indicating you’ve been sold a complete dud or stuff like PMA.


There are limitations with the test - for instance a pill containing PMA and MDMA will test positive for MDMA, and you won’t know there is PMA in it. Same goes for DXM, which can be very dangerous if taken together with MDMA. Although these combinations do occur, they are rare. It will also turn dark with other prescription drugs, so it’s not entirely reliable but many would say it’s ‘better than nothing’. The Marquis Reagent doesn’t last  forever either. The agent can go off in as little as six months, although if it’s kept in a dark glass bottle, this may help to extend its shelf life.


Caution: If you test shows up MDMA or a variant, it does not mean that other harmful substances are not in there because the test is not looking for them. But generally, manufacturers do not mix PMA and MDMA.


Is it legal to test pills? It is legal to possess an ecstasy testing kit. It is, of course, illegal to possess ecstasy. Be discreet when testing in an open venue such as a club or festival - it would be illegal for you to test a pill, find out it contained any illegal substances and then hand it back to the person. You could be arrested for dealing.


Suggest that the pill-owner scrapes a sample off their pill themselves, rather than handing you the pill. You will need to be responsible about handing over any sharp instrument to do it with, especially if they are jittery or completely out of it.


NB:  There are manufaturers adding poison:

 1.   There are manufacturers of drugs adding rat poison and battery acid.