In April, a drug-testing lab was set up at an Australian music festival, and now a report of the findings has been released. The results are disturbing, indicating more than half the drugs tested were not what their owners thought they were. Although festival pill testing is common in many countries, the detailed reporting of the results appears to be unprecedented, at least for an English-speaking country.
Australia has followed the common law-and-order approach to mind-altering drugs other than alcohol. When deaths occur at festivals they have been promoted as reasons to abstain rather than to create safer environments.
Recently, however, the Australian Capital Territory has undergone a change of heart, allowing the establishment of a testing lab within the medical precinct at the Canberra Grooving the Moo festival. Police searched patrons for drugs at the gates but agreed to leave visitors to the testing lab alone.
Preliminary announcements of the results, released shortly after the event, created shockwaves. Festival-goers who thought they were carrying MDMA (ecstasy) learned their drugs instead contained everything from caffeine or toothpaste to the more hallucinogenic MDA. MDMA was the dominant ingredient in less than half the samples, and often not present at all. Younger users were more frequently duped by their dealers.
Most disturbingly, one sample tested contained N-Ethylpentylone, while another revealed a chemical structure the testers had never seen before. According to the report; “[N-Ethylpentylone] is a dangerous drug that has recently emerged and has been responsible for mass casualty overdoses in New Zealand, and more recently deaths.” Many users abandoned their drugs near the test site.
The unrecognizable sample was probably a newly designed and largely untested drug. As study leader Dr David Caldicott from the Australian National University said to IFLScience; “You do not want to be the first person to try something new.”