By James Randerson.
Testing kits based on reagents that change colour in the presence of chemicals in the ecstasy family are available around the world, mainly via the internet. They typically consist of one to three small chemical bottles and are deed to be portable, so that the user can carry out a test in the toilet of a nightclub for example. Ez test ecstasy kits, which can test up to pills, do not claim to measure the dosage or purity of a pill, but simply the presence or absence of MDMA — the chemical name for ecstasy — or very similar compounds.
Clubbers use them to screen out pills that are likely to contain other, potentially more dangerous, substances. PMA, for example, is sometimes sold as ecstasy but has been associated with several deaths in the US, Europe and Australia. The experiments revealing the unreliability of the tests were carried out by Rebecca Murray and colleagues at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
Murray believes the kits performed badly because the colour charts provided do not match well with the colours actually observed. Also, assessing the changes is very subjective and especially challenging if lighting conditions vary.
But while ecstasy remains illegal, he says, a fallible test is better than no test at all. Two of the tablets contained MDMA, while the rest were composed of other compounds sometimes found in pills such as ketamine, morphine, caffeine and d-norpropoxyphene. The first tester rated seven of the pills, including both the MDMA tablets, as not containing the drug, the researchers told the American Academy of Forensic Sciences conference in Chicago last week.
The one pill the tester believed had tested positive in fact contained morphine. In contrast, the second tester thought six samples contained MDMA, rating the ketamine and d-norpropoxyphene tablets as negative. Amsterdam based company EZ Test were the first to start marketing the kits and have sold abouttests worldwide in the past six years.
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