How to party safely when ‘fake’ MDMA is on the rise

4 mins
15 Jun 2022
How to party safely when ‘fake’ MDMA is on the rise

New research suggests half of MDMA isn’t actually MDMA

words Louis Staples

Remember when we were promised that Brexit would lead to “sunlit uplands”?

First came all those lorries being backed up at Kent, which was a bit of a stress. Then there was that period when the supermarkets had no vegetables, which wasn’t great either. But now it’s ramped up a level: fake MDMA.


The problem

People are being warned that an “unprecedented shift” in the drug market means that there has been a sharp and potentially “harmful” increase in fake MDMA. A report by the drug-checking charity The Loop, alongside researchers from Cardiff University and the University of Liverpool has revealed that around 50 percent of substances sold as MDMA (ecstasy) at festivals in England last year weren’t actually MDMA.

Why is this happening?

It’s being caused by a combination of Brexit, last year’s Covid lockdowns and police operations against supply chains, apparently.

If it’s not MDMA, what is it?

The experts say that the fake pills were made up of ingredients such as cathinones, a new psychoactive substance (NPS) and caffeine.

What are the side-effects?

Some users reported ill-effects such as panic, psychosis and prolonged insomnia. Thanks Brexit!

Most importantly: is there a way to do MDMA safely?

When it comes to MDMA, it’s always best to start with a low dose and go slow. And the good news is that, according to The Loop – who have already been testing pills at festivals this summer – it’s likely that MDMA has “returned to pre-pandemic levels”. Still, at 2022’s Parklife festival, the group tells Woo they discovered several new pills in circulation, with an average strength of 1.5 times higher than normal.

Andrew Gomes, Communications Lead of Release, the UK's national centre of expertise on drugs and drugs law, tells Woo that it is difficult to know how many dangerous substances are in circulation. “We're unable to know what adulterants are in circulation, or whether there are new and more dangerous substances being missold to consumers,” he says. “This can also change from year to year. This will continue to be the norm as long as markets continue to operate within an illegal framework.”

Is it possible to test your drugs anonymously, before taking them?

Gomes tells Woo that there are some specific services that people can use to test their drugs anonymously. There is the WEDINOS service, which posts their drug test results online for people to check. The Loop is also operating a drug testing service in Bristol on the last weekend of every month. “Additionally, people can purchase reagent test kits online for at-home drug testing,” he says. “Ideally, drug testing would be available for everyone and everywhere, as this is the best way to avoid any unwanted or dangerous surprises.”

What to do if something doesn’t feel right

The best thing to do if you begin to feel unwell is to seek medical attention, even just as a precaution. Unfortunately, because of criminalisation, people who take drugs recreationally can be reluctant to do so. In one study, 16% of students who use illicit drugs reported having a “scary experience” but not going to a hospital or seeking help for fear of punishment or legal consequences. “Until drugs are decriminalised and drug testing is commonplace, the best someone taking drugs can do is read up on harm reduction advice on their drug of choice, and make sure they go out with friends that can look out for each other,” Gomes says. “Please seek emergency medical help if you're feeling bad after consuming drugs.”

So there we have it: the situation is far from perfect, but there are ways to try to stay safer on the sesh this summer.

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