Researchers looking at microscopic machines have developed one that has a high accuracy in testing for MDMA, the active ingredient in Ecstasy. While intended for law enforcement this might be useful for festival and club safety testing organisations such as The Loop.
First, let’s examine the science and then look into practical implications.
Jan O. Jeppesen, a chemistry professor at the University of Southern Denmark, working with colleagues in the Biomedical Research Networking Center in Bioengineering, Biomaterials & Nanomedicine (CIBER-BBN) research network, was looking at nano-machines that work at a molecular level. These machines are so small that they can only be seen through a powerful microscope and can consist of a handful of atoms. One team recently won a Nobel Prize for similar work, which lies at the very cutting edge of science.
The machine that CIBER-BBN discovered is a porous ball of atoms that holds a group of molecules. The ball of atoms ‘opens up’ and the molecules inside glow when exposed to MDMA. This light can be detected by a sensor, giving a quick visual reference as to the presence of the molecule.
If there is no MDMA present, the atomic balls stay closed and their luminescent molecules do not light up. The test is both extremely accurate and can detect very tiny concentrations of MDMA. It is estimated that the test can detect 1 gram of MDMA in 1000 litres of water, or in human terms a far smaller than the psychoactive dose of the drug. It is also extremely accurate, with a near 100% success rate with no false positives in the testing.
According to Jeppesen, “It is our impression that a need exists for more reliable, user-friendly and cheaper tests. What makes our method stand out is that it can detect even small traces.”
Wider implications of MDMA testing
There are a number of ‘roadside testing kits’ that law enforcement professionals use around the world. These are used to test whether an arrest is possible before sending the substance on to a pathology lab for accurate testing. One of the issues many law enforcement organisations find is that some of the tests can generate ‘false positives’ and end up with people taken into custody only to find that the path labs discover that the supposed drug is an inert substance. Having a cheap and highly accurate testing kit for MDMA would reduce the amount of police time wasted on ruining people’s night out.
If developed further this could be used with similar confidence to that of the roadside breath test, making law enforcement when it comes to drug driving as effective as keeping drunks off the road.
What about drug safety organisations?
The Loop is a drug safety organisation that is focused on testing pills and powders at festivals and in clubs. It is set up around reducing the risk of the user taking the wrong dose of a pill and ending up in a hospital. They currently use the same kit as police pathology labs use to test the pills and powders. A Vice article in 2016 showed the kit they use: It is, “a £25,000 gizmo called the Fourier Transform Infra-Red Spectrometer (but let’s just call it “the machine”).’ The Vice article continued, “The drugs are scanned by an infrared laser on the machine, which instantly feeds back the information into a computer. It runs tests for content and strength, giving the latter a rating out of 1,000.”
According to The Loop’s website, searching for sub-psychoactive amounts of the substance as the nano-machine above isn’t going to be in their remit anyway. In a summer 2016 article they stated, “the MDMA crystal currently in circulation in the UK is very high purity – 83% – and even higher at recent festivals where The Loop has been testing.” Where a lot of pills in circulation don’t contain any psychoactive substances at all (that’s the risk that comes from drug dealers regulating their own market and not the government) the risk that comes from taking Ecstasy is not in whether there is any in there so much as how potent the pills are. There have been deaths attributed to incorrect E use in the last couple of years and this is largely down to people not being able to handle the strength of the hit they get.
The Loop’s #CrushDabWait campaign focuses on the user taking a small amount first to see how strong it is for themselves and making the judgement as to whether they can hack a whole pill without their night ending in hospital. The Loop article reported Fiona Measham, co-Director of The Loop and Director of its drug testing programme as saying: “My research shows that MDMA crystal remains the most popular party drug amongst festival goers and clubbers but purity and contents can vary considerably in illegal markets. When purity increases it takes a while for behaviours to readjust and we often see more problems. We want to keep people safe and advice as simple as ‘crush-dab-wait’ could save lives”.
However, there may be a possibility for teams of volunteers to go out to clubs and festivals without using £25,000 worth of equipment in the future. That would reduce the costs involved in setting up a testing centre at a club or festival and potentially tackle the risks of people ODing. Could more clubs and festivals test pills in future as a result? This would certainly tackle much of the risks associated with drug use.
Whatever your opinion is of drugs laws, no one wants people driving cars when off their tits on substance or another. In my opinion, we should have a government regulated psychoactive substances market that protects the user of the pill from profiteering drugs dealers. Even in this utopian world, law enforcement professionals should be able to stop people from driving and prosecute them for drug driving offences as they do for alcohol today. The nano-machines would be an effective tool in their armoury in this instance. That could ensure accurate busting for what will never be an acceptable offence, good drug laws or otherwise.
This article was originally written in English, If you see any errors please email us at words@The-TripReport.com