fillers 1

From sugar to creatine, plaster of paris to toothpaste, drugs on the illicit market are often diluted or ‘cut’ with fillers to bulk out the drug.

This is often done to bind ingredients together, make a substance ‘go further’ or weaken the effects of a drug.  

Fillers are a given when the substance is in a pressed pill, but are also sometimes present in powdered or crystal drugs. Fillers might not be mixed evenly with a drug, so each pill or baggie could have a very different dosage. 

It’s important to know what fillers are in your drugs because: 

  • Some fillers can be harmful if injected or snorted 

  • Some drugs are mixed with fillers that are also psychoactive, like caffeine 

  • You could be allergic or sensitive to some common fillers or binders, like lactose 

That’s where drug checking can help you find out what’s in your drugs. Head to our calendar to see drug checking events near you. 

In 2023, drug checking found that the five most common fillers were sugar, creatine, dimethyl sulfone (MSM), lactose and cellulose. Some drugs were commonly mixed with other psychoactive drugs. For example, we’ve seen MDMA containing synthetic cathinones, and methamphetamine containing isopropylbenzylamine.  

One of these substances contain MDMA. The other is MDMA with filler. Can you tell which is which?  

Most common fillers found in drugs

Sugar. The most common filler we’ve found through our drug checking clinics is sugar. While it may be a bummer to find out your drugs are partly just sugar, the risk of harm with this filler is pretty low. That said, sugar can cause irritation to your nose if you’re snorting it. 

Creatine is a naturally occurring compound often used by athletes to improve performance and increase muscle mass. Like many other fillers, it’s available as a white powder. But you’re not likely to get buff from the amount that may be present in your drugs. Snorting creatine may make your nose feel blocked up. 

MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) may also be known as dimethyl sulfone. MSM is an odourless sulphur-based chemical with a white crystalline appearance. It’s found in both plants and animals. It’s often used as a supplement that helps with some medical conditions, like arthritis. It’s unlikely to cause unwanted effects, but because of its appearance, you can’t tell it’s there without getting your drugs checked. 

Lactose is sometimes referred to as ‘milk sugar’ due to only being found naturally in the milk of mammals, often used in movies as fake cocaine. Unless you’re lactose intolerant, snorting a little bit of lactose is fairly harmless. However, if you’re doing a lot of it every day (like Jonah Hill when filming The Wolf of Wall Street) you can get very sick – Hill was hospitalised with bronchitis! 

Cellulose is an organic compound found in most plants. It’s commonly used as a filler in pharmaceutical drug tablets but can be found as a filler in other drugs, too. It’s generally harmless to swallow, but if you’re snorting large amounts, you could cause damage to your nose or airways.  

Special mention to sixth on the list, Parexyl. Parexyl is a brand of toothpaste, but when Parexyl has shown up in drug samples, further testing has shown this is referring to dicalcium phosphate (which is a common toothpaste ingredient). Calcium is relatively harmless to consume.  

Some of the more concerning non-psychoactive fillers we’ve found include gelatin, Epsom salts and garlic powderall of which would be painful or dangerous to snort or inject.  

A word about paracetamol 

Paracetamol (aka Panadol) and other over the counter painkillers (like ibuprofen) are sometimes found as fillers in drugs. We’re starting to see this turning up a bit more, and we’re keeping an eye on it. It’s worth remembering that paracetamol in high doses can cause liver failure. If you’ve had issues with your liver or kidneys, your doctor may have let you know that you can’t take paracetamol or ibuprofen – all the more reason to get your drugs checked so you know what’s in them. 

How drug checking can help 


We’re very fortunate to have legal drug checking in Aotearoa so, next time you plan to consume drugs, bring yours in to get checked. Not only can we tell you what’s in them, the clinics help us keep an eye on trends and concerning drugs coming through the market, making everyone safer. 

Find a drug checking clinic near you.

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