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Beat’s Guide to DIY Pill Testing and Harm Minimisation

Beat’s Guide to DIY Pill Testing and Harm Minimisation

May 2017

Whether it’s available at festivals or not, there are easy ways you can test your pills yourself.


The topic of pill testing is like a venus flytrap, devouring us more and more every time someone falls sick at a music festival, overdoses, or is apprehended for possession.

It’s a hurricane that doesn’t look likely to abate soon, with Australian politicians’ varying stance on the issue a reason for that.

In October 2017, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews flipped his position on safe drug-injection rooms after a jump in heroin overdoses in Victoria. He implemented a two-year trial of the service in inner Melbourne drug hotspot, Richmond. The facility is currently running at North Richmond Community Health and is open 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

But his opposition to pill testing at music festivals won’t waver and as recently as May, Andrews forwarded his stance on the matter.

“These drugs cannot be consumed at a safe level, therefore, we will not be putting in place a pill testing regime,” he said.

This reaffirmed similar views the Premier had in January.

“There are (sic) no safe levels at which these substances can be taken and there was proof positive of that yesterday,” Andrews said at Melbourne’s Midsumma Pride March.

“We are not having pill testing in this state, not under a government I lead anyway.”

The juxtaposition of promotion versus minimisation separates the debate — does the very service of pill testing, in fact, promote drug use as it provides a safety net? Or, does it reduce harm, given that punters can stop themselves from taking a substance based on the composition of their drug?

As the pollies continue running in circles, there are some ways you can get ahead of the pack. There are pill testing kits that you can buy and use, yourself.

It’s all a bit daunting at first, but we’ve put together a guide on what pill testing kits are, how to use them and where to get them from.

Remember, taking drugs is always done at your own risk. There’s no more effective harm minimisation than not doing them. But if you’ve consciously made a choice to do so, there are legal options out there that can help reduce the risks — albeit, never entirely eradicating them.

What is a pill test kit and how does it work?

A basic pill test is a process of dripping a reagent (i.e. liquid mixture) onto the substance you are concerned or curious about. For the purposes of the exercise, we will introduce the most common testing method, the Marquis reagent test. This was pioneered by Russian pharmacologist, Eduard Marquis in the late 19th century.

The Marquis reagent is a liquid composed of a mixture of concentrated sulphuric acid and formaldehyde. The combination of these chemicals creates a reaction which causes an altered colour. This colour and the time it takes to eventuate can help you determine what chemicals are present in your drug.

The Marquis reagent is effective in searching for the presence of ecstasy, meth/amphetamine, cathinones, DXM, 2C-B and more. You don’t need much of the substance and won’t need to sacrifice an entire cap or pill for the sake of the test.

Where do I get a pill testing kit from?

Australian company EZ Test is pretty much your one-stop shop for picking up the relevant kits. And they’ve got the whole bounty.

Starting with the Marquis reagent test, EZ branch out into relevant tests for ketamine, cocaine, LSD, GHB and more. EZ also have tests that can examine the purity of substances such as MDMA or cocaine.

For more thorough analyses, EZ also stocks an “Ultimate Ecstasy Pack” and an “Ultimate Coke Pack”, if you want to zero in further.

But what about the myths?

Myth 1: My dealer should have already tested them

Having trust that your dealer has tested your drugs before selling them to you is a very complacent, ignorant mentality to have. While most dealers will attempt to test their drugs before dishing them off, there’s always a chance that human error or even apparatus error could’ve slipped in. There’s an understanding that dealers who flog less, test less while dealers who shift more, test more. It is also believed that many dealers will be using the same test as you — a commercially available examination, that’s convenient. Often this is the Marquis test.

Myth 2: A “positive” result means your drugs are “pure”

If a sample matches the colour on your given chart, it doesn’t mean that the substance is purely that drug. For example, on the Marquis test, the colour for MDMA is a purple-black shade. If your test returns this colour, it doesn’t mean it is “pure” MDMA but rather that there are traces of MDMA. It certainly doesn’t rule out the presence of any other substances.

Ultimately, what you’re looking for is a bad result, a result that indicates that something dangerous might be in the drug. For example, if someone added the dangerous psychedelic methylone in with MDMA and it wasn’t mixed properly, there would be patches of yellow and purple in the result. In this instance, it indicates a bad result and despite not knowing why exactly it has returned a bad result, that is enough evidence to show it might be dangerous — now you would destroy the substance.

What you should remember

Pill testing can be a daunting exercise, especially if you’re not science-ey. For your off-the-shelf setups, the method is relatively simple, but with simplicity comes uncertainty. There’s no way of being able to simplify your substance to the quantities of each ingredient unless you enter the lab. You should never take a commercial pill test for its word, there is potential for error, and the potential for ambiguity. You may receive more obscure results than you do absolute ones, but if there is any evidence of an ingredient that is dangerous or unusual, that’s all the substantiation you need to throw it out.