To find upcoming drug checking clinics near you, see our drug checking calendar.

What is drug checking?

Drug checking is a free and confidential service that checks the safety of drugs by using a spectrometer and reagent tests. Drug checking is the most reliable way to see what is in your drugs in New Zealand and helps people to make more informed decisions about what they use.

Drug checking is legal in NZ. Currently, ESRKnowYourStuffNZ, the NZ Drug Foundation and the New Zealand Needle Exchange Programme are legally able to provide drug checking services. You can find out where the next drug checking clinic is happening here or through their social media. Drug checking services are confidential, meaning they won't take any of your personal details and they are not able to take your drugs off you.

 

Check out our article for more information on what to expect if you go to a drug checking service.

Why use drug checking services?

In an illegal drug market, there is always a risk that the drugs you buy are not what you think they are. Many of the drugs in New Zealand are mixed with other drugs or sold as something they aren’t. A significant amount of the MDMA that is tested at drug checking clinics turns out to be synthetic cathinones like eutylone (also known as bath salts). This can happen with many different drugs. Synthetic cannabinoids can be sold as real cannabis and NBOMe can be sold as LSD (acid), while drugs like cocaine can have more fillers like creatine or lactose in them then actual cocaine. This could happen because of a shortage of a drug or because the drug has gone through many hands and been ‘cut’ with other things in the process.

Manufacturers may also choose to use more dangerous drugs like synthetic cathinones because they are cheaper to import and carry less legal punishment for being caught. This can lead to people having unpleasant and unexpected experiences because their drug is not what they think it is.

Photo of crowd at a concertPhoto by janilson furtado on Unsplash

What is drug checking like at a festival?

What can spectrometers test?

A spectrometer is a machine that tests drugs and compares them against a large database of samples. It can tell you if the drug is mixed with anything else or if it is an entirely different drug altogether.

Photo of drug checking equipment

Spectrometers can test many different drugs but won’t be able to test plant material like cannabis or mushrooms. Sometimes, drugs like synthetic cannabis are also sprayed onto plant material and cannot be detected by the spectrometer. LSD can’t be tested with the spectrometer but can be tested with reagent tests (see below). Liquids like GHB and GBL can be tested, but if they are too watered down, the spectrometer may not be able to give an accurate reading.

The same goes for any other drug that is dissolved in water. Pills can be tested, but they must be broken in half and have some of the drug scraped out from the middle. Sometimes, the spectrometer can’t give a reading for pills if they contain too much filler and not much of the active ingredient in the drug. This is more of an issue for prescription pills like benzodiazepines than pressed pills like MDMA.

Can you check your drugs at home?

You can test drugs yourself by using reagent tests. These are liquid chemicals that are dropped onto a small amount of a drug to detect what is in it. There are different types of reagent tests for different drugs, such as Marquis, which is commonly used to test MDMA. In New Zealand, reagent tests can be bought from places like The Hemp Store and Cosmic. 

Reagent tests won't tell you the purity or dose of the drug – just whether or not the drug is present. For example, if you test MDMA, the reagent will turn a certain colour to tell you there is MDMA in the pill or powder. However, the pill or powder could still contain other drugs like synthetic cathinones (bath salts), which the test does not identify. Sometimes, there are several reagents you can use to test one drug, which can help you feel more confident that your drug is what you think it is. Some drugs like LSD can only be tested by reagents and not a drug checking spectrometer (the Ehrlich reagent is used for this).

Fentanyl test strips are another type of home test you can use to check your drugs. These strips test for the potent opioid fentanyl and many of its analogues. In places like North America, many different drugs are laced with fentanyl; this has been one of the main causes of fatal overdose over the last several years. While we don't have the same adulteration with fentanyl in New Zealand, it can be a good idea to test for it, especially if you are using an opioid (ie. heroin) or if you plan on injecting any drug. For more information on fentanyl test strips, see our 'What are fentanyl test strips?' article. 

Reagent and fentanyl test strips may not be the best way to test drugs, but they are both fairly cheap and easy to use. They are also very accessible to people in New Zealand and can easily be purchased and used at home. If you don’t have access to a drug checking service, reagents and fentanyl test strips are a good option to consider.

For more information on reagent tests, see our 'What are reagent tests?' article.

What if you can't get your drugs checked?

If you can’t access this service or reagent testing, think about whether you want to risk taking the drug, especially as the current market has lots of drugs that aren’t what people think they are. If you do decide to use, try doing these things:

  • Talk to your friends who have used the same drug from the same place to hear about the kind of effects they experienced. They may be able to offer advice on whether or not to take it.
  • Start with a small amount and wait an hour to see how you feel before you take more (re-dose). This way, if things don’t feel right, you haven’t taken too much.
  • Avoid mixing with alcohol or other drugs, especially if you aren’t 100% sure what you are taking, as all drugs interact with each other differently.
  • Make sure you and your friends know what to do if an emergency or overdose happens and that they know the signs of when things are going wrong. If you are at an event, scout out chill spaces and emergency services before you use.
  • Follow KnowYourStuffNZ, High Alert and NZ Drug Foundation for updates on what is out there right now in New Zealand. This can help you to decide whether you want to take the risk using an unknown drug. These organisations will post information about whether there is a certain pill or drug that is dangerous.
  • If you have taken something that has given you unexpected or unusual effects, you can report this to High Alert. This is confidential, and you won’t be in trouble with the law for reporting. This can help them figure out what dangerous drugs are out there and give important information to people who use drugs about how to be safer.