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Counterfeit MDMA pills on the rise due to Brexit and Covid

A woman on someone's shoulders at a festival, Ecstasy pills.

A lot of people who thought they were taking MDMA were actually taking something else (Pictures: Getty)

Almost half of the ecstasy pills sold at some festivals last year actually did not contain MDMA, a study has found.

For the last three decades, MDMA has been one of the most popular recreational drugs in the UK alongside cocaine and ketamine.

But the likelihood is now much higher that users who think they were taking the Class A drug were actually taking something else entirely.

According to analysis at three festivals between 2019 and 2021, the presence of MDMA in ecstasy pills or its powder form fell from 92.8% to 54.6%.

This means that almost 45% of the pills did not contain MDMA.

Those numbers come from the charity The Loop, whose scientists tested 846 pills in 2019 and 802 pills in 2021.

Instead of MDMA, many pills contained caffeine and cathinones — a new psychoactive stimulant thought to be a “cousin” to amphetamines.

MDMA as a powder. Brexit and Covid have caused disruption to the UK drug market with many medicines bought as Ecstasy or MDMA not containing MDMA.

MDMA is often sold as a powder (Picture: Getty)

MDMA in crystal form. Brexit and Covid have caused disruption to the UK drug market with many medicines bought as Ecstasy or MDMA not containing MDMA.

MDMA is ground into powder from crystal rock (Picture: Getty)

MDMA bomb. Brexit and Covid have caused disruption to the UK drug market with many medicines bought as Ecstasy or MDMA not containing MDMA.

Users often take MDMA in a “bomb” – they put powder in a cigarette paper and swallow it

This is believed to be partly because the UK lifted coronavirus restrictions ahead of the rest of Europe.

The UK’s illicit drug market supplies much MDMA from the Netherlands, where production would have fallen during lockdown when demand for ‘party drugs’ was lower.

But as Brits flocked back to clubs, festivals and other parties, cathinones were used to fill the gaps in MDMA supply.

The study also found that Brexit would have contributed to “unprecedented turmoil” for UK drug gangs – with shortages of truck drivers and disruption to supply chains.

Cathinones appeared in the UK in the late 2000s and were previously used as an MDMA replacement.

Revelers cheer at the Glastonbury Festival. Brexit and Covid have caused disruption to the UK drug market with many medicines bought as Ecstasy or MDMA not containing MDMA.

The Loop’s study tested drugs at three different festivals in 2019 and 2021 (Image: Getty)

dr Cardiff University’s Michael Pascoe, the author of the study, told Metro.co.uk it’s difficult to say whether cathinones are more dangerous than MDMA.

Different forms of cathinones tend to hit the market every few years, so there’s very little research on their effects.

Although dr Pascoe has not yet encountered a toxic cathinone, an increase in their use and production could soon lead to one being developed.

Insomnia has been the most commonly reported side effect of cathinones, as the drugs produce a “strong stimulant effect” rather than the feeling of euphoria most commonly associated with MDMA.

This can lead users to “take too much” in search of that euphoric feeling — and often end up having trouble falling asleep.

“Last year we saw festival-goers turning up outside medical tents in the morning and complaining that they couldn’t sleep all night,” said Dr. pascoe

The Loop is still in the middle of completing this year’s study, so Dr. Pascoe cannot say for sure if the decline in MDMA levels is still a problem.

However, they predict the presence of MDMA will increase as the European drug market catches up with Covid demand.


The Loop’s advice for drug users:

It goes without saying, but the safest way to use drugs is not to use them at all.

But here are some tips to reduce damage:

  • Start low, go slow; If taking pills start with a half or even a quarter, if you are smaller or less experienced pill strength varies from batch to batch so something you have taken in the past may not be the same strength.
  • Always wait at least an hour before even thinking about taking any more, so you can feel the full effects of the drug before deciding to increase the effects.

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at webnews@metro.co.uk.

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https://metro.co.uk/2022/06/08/fake-mdma-pills-on-the-rise-because-of-brexit-and-covid-16790528/ Counterfeit MDMA pills on the rise due to Brexit and Covid

Justin Scacco

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