Drug Testing - spectrometer

While it’s always safest not to take any drugs at all, testing can help minimise the risks. Here’s why it matters.

Sometimes when a substance is sold as one thing, it turns out to be mixed with something else – or it may just be an entirely different substance. This can cause serious harm.

Drug checking is harm reduction. While no drug use is the safest drug use, when you are properly informed about what substance you have, you can take steps to better manage the risks. In fact, our partner KnowYourStuffNZ found that most people won’t take a substance when it turns out to be something other than what they expected. That’s why it’s so vitally important to ensure you’re properly informed.

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How can you be sure what you’re taking?

There’s no way to know if a substance is actually what you think it is, unless you get it tested. For example, it’s common for MDMA to actually be another drug, or mixed with different substances like synthetic cathinones, known as ‘bath salts’. These other drugs may be different in strength, have different effects, and may take longer to have an effect which could lead to re-dosing and an increased chance of overdose.

While it’s always safest to not take any illicit drugs at all, testing can help minimise the risk. You can’t just take someone’s word that you have what you think you have, and you can’t just go on sight or smell alone.

The best option is to attend a drug testing clinic run by KnowYourStuffNZ, in partnership with the NZ Drug Foundation. Here, a sample of a substance will be put through a FTIR spectrometer, which will then tell you what is in the sample, including active ingredients, fillers, cuts, or potentially dangerous substitutions or additives. What it doesn’t do, however, is measure purity.

KnowYourStuffNZ has operated a checking service for some time, however new legislation introduced at the end of 2020 has made it legal for drug checking to be provided by appointed service providers at festivals, events, and other locations. It makes it legal for someone to handle illegal drugs for a few minutes for the sole purpose of testing them. The drugs themselves remain illegal.

Drug testing clinics are free, and are run on a regular basis in Wellington and other cities – they’re generally announced on Facebook.

If you can’t get to a testing clinic, then a reagent test is your next best bet. In New Zealand, these are legally available from the Hemp store or Cosmic. Worth keeping in mind that while these tests can show you if a substance has been entirely replaced with something, they won’t be able to tell if something has been added to a substance.

For example, it won’t be able to detect if cathinones have been mixed with MDMA, it will only be able to show if a substance has been entirely replaced with cathinones. So, if a substance returns a positive test result for MDMA, that doesn’t mean the substance is unadulterated.

Reagent tests come with clear instructions to help interpret results. Follow the steps carefully to ensure accuracy!

If you think a substance you or a friend took is actually something else:

  • Don’t take anymore.
  • Don’t take other drugs or drink alcohol.
  • Seek medical advice.

When you are safe, please tell us about your experience. This will help keep others safe.

You can find out more about drug testing through the NZ Drug Foundation.

If you have any concerns about your own drinking or drug taking, get in touch with the Alcohol Drug Helpline on 0800 787 797, or text 8681. You’ll be able to speak with a trained counsellor who can provide you with helpful information, insight and support. They’re available 24/7, all calls are free and confidential. You can also chat to the team through their website.