By Harm Reduction Educators Steff Pinch and Marissa Martins
Current drug laws have created a high demand for substances with little oversight or quality control. When a controlled substance is bought, like alcohol, there are regulations and laws that make sure consumers know what they are taking. Labeling is required to tell people what kind of alcohol they are purchasing, where and how it was made, and its concentration. Because drugs are unregulated, misrepresentation of substances being sold is common. Drugs are often cut with other substances or fillers. Drug checking is a harm reduction intervention used to test a substance to get an idea of what’s in it. One way to do this is by using a reagent drug checking kit.
Reagent drug checking kits differ depending on what you suspect the substance that’s being tested might be. For example, the Marquis reagent is usually used to test a substance suspected to be MDMA or ecstasy. Most reagents react with more than one substance, so if a substance being tested isn’t what it was thought to be, the user has an idea of what the substance might actually be composed of.
Reagent test kits come with a color chart and a small bottle of the reagent. They can be bought online from places like Dancesafe, EZ Test or Test Kits Plus or purchased in person at the Toronto Hemp Company.
To test a substance, a porcelain surface like a plate is recommended, as it does not react with the reagent. Adding a very small amount of powder, pill scraping or crystal (about the tip of a ballpoint pen) to the porcelain surface and then adding a drop or two of the reagent produces a chemical reaction, causing the substance to change color. The color indicates the presence of a given substance. These tests are easy to do and only take a few minutes for a complete reaction.
Check out a full demonstration of using a reagent test kit in this video:
Disclaimer: These home drug checking kits are not fool proof. The kits show the presence of substances, but do not give information around purity (though for some substances, follow up purity tests can be done with different reagents). Reagent test kits also don’t account for how drugs are washed, which can affect the quality of the high. However, using drug checking kits can help users identify toxic cuts without ingesting the substance, identify harmful misrepresentations and make informed choices about how to use a given substance. Reagent kits have been successfully used by harm reduction organizations on site at music festivals in Canada since 2003.
Drug checking kits allow people who use drugs to get a better idea of what exactly the substance they are taking is, in an unregulated market with a highly toxic drug supply. Bigger budget methodologies, such as mass spectrometry, offer much more precise results.