A quick run-down on all the stuff that's pretending to be MDMA but isn't.

Last summer, 31% of drugs sold as 'MDMA’ that were checked by KnowYourStuffNZ weren't MDMA, or were a mix of MDMA and something else.
So what was in there instead? What can you expect from some of the drugs sold as MDMA that aren't MDMA and how can you stay safer?

Synthetic cathinones, aka bath salts 

Most of what we're seeing passed off as MDMA are synthetic cathinones, drugs derived mainly from the khat plant. They're stimulants that tend to be somewhat similar-feeling to MDMA or coke – but they can also come with a whole raft of undesirable effects, too. 

Some people do take cathinones knowingly and enjoy them. But issues can arise when you don't know what you're taking – which means you won't know what its dosage is, what to expect or how to stay safer. 

Many cathinones have a lower dosage rate than MDMA, and can be dangerous if you take too much. That's why getting your drugs checked so you know what they are is a really good idea 

Some cathinones are more likely to give you a bad time – or make you seriously unwell. Here are a few key impostors it pays to know about:  


This sneaky drug kept has been popping up at drug checking clinics for the past couple of years. By all accounts, eutylone is a short, gritty high followed by a long, uncomfortable comedown. The dosage for eutylone is much lower than for MDMA, so if you take it thinking it’s MDMA, you could be in for more undesirable effects. 


Another one we've seen in the past, and it's come up again in drug checking clinics recently. By all accounts, not pleasant. One person who mistakenly took MDPV, thinking it was MDMA, described their experience: 
“I became incredibly anxious around even my closest friends and ended up locking myself in my room. I couldn't urinate, which led me to extreme discomfort, I and ended up going to A&E. 

I didn't sleep for 5 nights and was hallucinating talking to people who I knew weren't there. My memory was terrible and I couldn't remember even basic things, and at one point I believed I wouldn't recover and had thrown my life away.” 


This is a cathinone that's we've just started seeing in New Zealand. Proceed with caution if you find this – there's very little known about its effects and safety.  

Our friends at High Alert have put out a warning about dimethylpentylone.  

This isn’t an exhaustive list of cathinones either. We’re seeing new ones popping up on the scene, like 3- and 4-chloromethcathinone (3-MMC and 4-MMC). The latest adulterant fad changes all the time, so it pays to get your drugs checked to find out what you’re dealing with.  

Other stuff 

Mmm, coffee. Goes well with breakfast, less well with MDMA.

Based on past substances found during drug checking clinics, your MDMA could include anything from white sugar to methamphetamine.  
One to watch out for is caffeine, which KnowYourStuffNZ have found in pressed pills. Mixing stimulants – like caffeine and MDMA, or caffeine and cathinones – can mean you’re more likely to experience effects like increased heart rate and anxiety. Get your pills checked (and take it easy on the coffee). 

How to stay safer 

Check your drugs

We’ll say it again - one of the best ways you can stay safer if you choose to take MDMA is by checking your drugs. Drug checking clinics are now happening regularly across Aotearoa’s main centres. They’re free and completely legal. The clinics use reagent tests and a spectrometer to check your drugs with greater accuracy.  Find a drug checking clinic near you.

If you can't make it to a drug checking clinic, you can buy reagent tests online so you can check your drugs at home. Read more about how to use reagent tests for MDMA here. However, if MDMA is mixed with another substance, it can fool at-home reagent tests. If you can make it to a drug checking clinic, you'll get a more accurate result. 

Start slow, stay low

With any drug, but particularly things that are pretending to be MDMA, it's best to start slow and stay low. That means taking a small dose to begin with and giving yourself a good couple of hours to see how it feels.  

Re-dosing – taking more of a drug after you've taken your first dose – might increase your chances of having a crap comedown and other undesirable effects. We've got some tips for comedowns here. 

Don't assume one pill is one dose

Drug checking clinics have been seeing huge MDMA pressed pills containing up to 300mg of MDMA. Taking a large amount of MDMA all at once could mean you feel overwhelmed or experience unpleasant effects. Getting your pressies checked at a clinic can give an indication of how much MDMA is in your pill. If you can't do this, you could try crushing or cutting a pill into quarters, taking that, and seeing how it feels before taking any more.  

Stay Covid-wise

With Covid-19 circulating, it's best not to share equipment, including banknotes that you might use for snorting. Use a clean, cut-up straw, and don't share. 

We've got more tips on what to expect and ways to stay safer if you're taking MDMA here.

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