Why are pills so strong right now?
New findings report that ecstasy is reaching more than double the average dosage, so we caught up with the Global Drug Survey to find out what’s up
“It confirms what we’ve known for the past couple of years,” observes Dr Adam Winstock of the Global Drugs Survey. “Pills are definitely getting stronger”. In a new report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), findings show a “recent resurgence in use of MDMA in Europe and increased availability of high-strength MDMA tablets and powders”. In 2005, pills contained around 80MG of MDMA. Now, the average sits at around 150MG, but new pills popping up have tested upwards of 250MG.
Last month a young woman died in Manchester after taking one of these apparent super strength pills. Reports say it was a ‘Mastercard’: big and red with a groove down the middle, to make it easier to snap in half. Another collapsed in the same city after taking a ‘Lego’ pill. Every year or so, particular strains of pills make the headlines because of their potency: UPS pills, Blue Ghosts, Partyflocks, causing mass panic. Pill Report, an online forum for testing and reviewing drugs, is inundated with warnings to stay away from particularly shaped and coloured tablets. The media tells us it’s not pure MDMA at all, but anything from LSD to high doses of caffeine. It’s confusing and information is convoluted. It’s hard to know what to believe, and importantly how to stay safe.
MDMA has certainly proved its longevity, and it isn’t going anywhere. We spoke to Dr Winstock about the facts, myths and tips that surround the party drug.
Why are these pills getting stronger?
Dr Adam Winstock: It’s easier to make good quality MDMA and that’s because there’s new pre cursors available, with new synthetic roots. The way governments would previously try and restrict the manufacture of MDMA was to reduce access to precursor chemicals, and they did that pretty successfully, but about 2-3 years ago, a new precursor chemical was developed that’s easy to make, which is still unregulated.
In terms of why pills are getting stronger, we spoke to some people in Holland and they put it down to manufacturers wanting to break into a market.They want to differentiate their products, so that’s why we see physically bigger, stronger pills. It’s maybe a way of getting a reputation. It’s about getting their brand noticed in a really crowded market place. But they’re mistaking big doses for what people want, and it’s not. If everyone knew that each pill they bought had 100mg of MDMA, then they could break it in half and take 50, or whatever. Now we wind up with pills that look the same, big and small, but you end up with some that are 250-300MG.
Are they as strong as they were in the 90s?
Dr Adam Winstock: Pills in the 90s were just made of MDMA when quality distributors came along. They were about 80-100mg. Pills have never been as strong or as consistent containing MDMA. But in the 80s and 90s, people certainly weren’t bucking pills out with 200mg.
Increasingly people are purchasing powder though, because it works out cheaper buying a gram than a few pills at seven quid each. It makes better sense if you’re a drug dealer.
Are these strong pills being cut with other things, like PMMA?
Dr Adam Winstock: Most of the time no, because MDMA is pretty easy and cheap to make, so why would you bother? There are occasions where there will be pills floating around that have something else in them. Some pills might not have MDMA in them and may contain methylone, ethylone or butylone.
For the past 12-18 months, pills flogged as MDMA are going to have something psychoactive in them, and most likely to have MDMA and MDMA alone. I’m sure there are dodgy, unscrupulous people who may have a whole batch of something nasty they want to get rid of, but actually dodgy and nasty stuff is as difficult to knock up as quality MDMA. At festivals where pills and powders being sold, some may have ALPHA PVP, which is a very potent, long acting stimulant drug. People are taking that in the belief that it was MDMA powder or a pill. People were becoming aggressive, confused and psychotic. The fact is that you can’t differentiate one crystalline stimulant powder from another. Crystal meth looks really similar to MDMA powder, but a drug dealer is obviously going to get more money flogging crystal meth than MDMA.https://www.youtube.com/embed/rFuN2zYFeyg?enablejsapi=1&wmode=opaque
What’s the average dose of these super strong pills?
Dr Adam Winstock: The average MDMA dose is about 120-150MG, but there were pills floating around in the Netherlands last year that actually had 330MG. That’s the highest dose pill that I’ve been made aware of. A fair number floating around have 250MG in. While 250MG might not be far off the dose taken over an entire night, if you take that dose all at once, most people will find it really unpleasant. They’ll come up too strongly, they’ll vomit, become confused and hallucinate. If you talk to clubbers in Holland, one thing that is putting them off MDMA is that high dose MDMA just isn’t nice. I think people believe the purest drug is the nicest and it’s just not true. Most people need to work out what their optimum base is. Some people like coming up and feeling that rush even though they might be sick and throw up, other people don’t like that.
Are they coming exclusively from The Netherlands?
Dr Adam Winstock: Yes, they remain one of the biggest manufacturers in the world. They’ve got access to big labs, there’s a history with great dealing networks. It’s a nice centrally placed European country for easy access, with fairly liberal drug policies.
Are the prices fluctuating? How does the UK compare to elsewhere?
Dr Adam Winstock: About nine quid was the average last year, and about 35 quid per gram of MDMA. The price is going up year-on-year. Pills four or five years ago were averaging at a fiver. The cheapest are in the Netherlands where it’s four euros a pill and 24 euros a gram. The most expensive were in New Zealand, where it was almost 30 euros a pill and 260 euros a gram.
The average amount taken by UK users was 0.42 grams per session: the average around the world is 0.28, so the UK looks like the heaviest users.