Three months on from the collapse and death of Ana Hick outside Twisted Pepper, drugs are making headlines. The near death experience of Amy Thompson in Edinburgh last week has again shined a light on the use of pills in contemporary nightlife. This is the first piece in a new series which will look at different drugs from the perspective of harm reduction, a concept that assumes that where people choose to use illegal substances, they should be armed with the information to do so safely.
In this article, we will examine MDMA, the substance most commonly sought out in pill form in Dublin. There are a number of problems with buying street MDMA in Ireland, chief among which is the likelihood of adulteration. Recently PMA or PMMA have been misrepresented as MDMA with increasing frequency. While both have appeared in pills sold across Europe since the early 1990s, the past few years has seen an uptick in their presence in lab tasted pills. This is the unanticipated result of changes to the regulation of illegal substances by the state when ‘head shop drugs’ were added to the list of scheduled substances.
A lack of clarity on what’s in pills combined with a lack of education have proved catastrophic and despite the headlines, people continue to take recreational drugs.
Speaking recently, Minister of State for the National Drugs Strategy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin alluded to the changing nature of recreational substance use in Ireland stating that “I was told 10 years ago we were basically dealing with 20 substances, now we are dealing with 420.” All 420 jokes aside this means that now more than ever before it is important to know what you’re taking and how to take it when it comes to any substance.
Smell and taste mean nothing. While MDMA is bitter to taste, the binding agents used in pills can mask flavours and can smell like anything. Pills vary from batch to batch and within batches. A press that might have been described as safe previously can pop up later adulterated and riding on its predecessors’ good reputation.
MDMA is typically found in two forms, crystals and pills. We’ll be dealing exclusively with the latter in this piece. A typical dose of MDMA is 100mg. The pills found on the street can vary wildly in their strength from below 100mg to over 200mg. The strawberry shaped pill pictured above has been reported in colours including pink, red, green and blue and is estimated to contain between 140mg and 160mg of MDMA. This is just one of a number of types of pill which are available in Dublin at the time of going to print.
MDMA, as you well know, is illegal. Therefore, it also goes unregulated. Unlike for example, alcohol, it is impossible to know that what you are buying is what you expect it to be. The only way to find out what’s in any pill is through laboratory testing which is both expensive and time consuming to undertake.
So, how can you try to be safe? Firstly, check PillReports – a website on which users can submit information on pills they’ve come across and their own experiences in taking them. It’s important to remember that this information is entirely subjective and unverified. This said, the site is a good starting point to obtain information.
You can also purchase testing kits online. These can be used to check two things; for the presence of MDMA and for the purity of MDMA. The kits use a simple reagent test to indicate the presence of a given substance by producing a colour. They are entirely qualitative meaning that the results they give are not certain and can only be taken as a rough indication of the presence of a substance. Kits also have difficulty indicating the presence of multiple substances and can give false positives or unclear results. They serve a purpose and are far safer than not testing, but they can’t be relied upon with certainty.
Taking a pill without research and testing is like having unprotected sex. You’re taking a risk, one that can be reduced but a risk all the same. Don’t take stupid risks
So what happens when you take MDMA? Start low, taking half and waiting. The effects of MDMA are markedly different than those of alcohol, which is likely the baseline against which you will measure your experience. The effects can take up to an hour and a half or more to come on. If you’re not feeling ok at this point, don’t take the other half and wait it out. This can take upwards of four hours so keep calm and drink water. Small sips every fifteen minutes is enough, remember that too much can be as bad as too little so go easy.
The effects of MDMA which are sought after are the mild to extreme mood lift, increased willingness to communicate, an increase in energy, ego softening, decreased fear, anxiety, and insecurities, and feelings of comfort, belonging and togetherness among others. Lights will seem brighter, music will feel more engaging and you’ll have the urge to move.
There are also negative effects which include eye wiggles, jaw clenching, anxiety and a racing heartbeat. Both men and women often have difficulty urinating which can be dangerous if the retention of water in the body becomes too high. Men will also notice a temporary loss of erectile function. No two people react in the same way to any substance and so it is important to bear in mind that what you feel and what someone else feels may be very different.
It’s a little like being in the passenger seat of a car. You’re going somewhere, but you’re not really directing that journey.
Anecdotally, magnesium supplements are of some use in alleviating jaw tension. Taking a multivitamin supplement and Vitamin C in advance of using MDMA is also said to reduce the damage caused by oxidation and neurotoxicity though little research has been undertaken in this area. Like alcohol, the use of MDMA has been demonstrated to cause lasting effects on brain function which worsen as a result of heavy use.