E for Ecstasy by Nicholas Saunders
Appendix 1: Reference Section
- 54 Conversation with Dr. Les King, team leader of the drugs intelligence
laboratory at the Forensic Science Laboratory at Aldermaston, part of the
Forensic Science Service, a Government agency, 14/12/92
- The drugs intelligence laboratory analyses suspected drugs sent by the
police, that have been seized from people arrested on suspicion of being
in the possession of controlled drugs. Dr. King points out that samples
sent to the lab are not necessarily representative of what is being sold
on the streets. No statistical analysis of samples is done at Aldermaston,
but Dr. King related his impression of the overall pattern of findings,
based on personal experience. The lab is not usually told what drug to look
for and therefore runs a series of tests to see whether any controlled drug
- Impurities are not looked for. But the typical weight of a tablet sent
to the lab is from 200 to 600 mg, so non-psychoactive filler is nearly always
used. Dr. King has not come across or heard of poisonous substances present
in samples of Ecstasy.
- Nearly all samples are in the form of capsules and tablets. The lab
consistently finds that about 90% contain an active ingredient, while the
rest are fake.
- When tablets contain MDMA, MDA and MDEA, there is not normally any other
drug present. Typically, tablets or capsules contain about 100 mg MDMA or
60-70 mg MDA. Doses vary by 10-20% above or below this amount according
to the 'brand' of tablet or capsule, but each brand is fairly consistent
from one pill to the next. Recently, a lot of MDEA has been seen but not
enough to establish a figure for a typical dose.
- The trend in 1991 and 1992 was an increase in MDA but this has peaked
and MDMA, MDA and MDEA are now found in roughly equal proportions. MDEA
is still on the increase.
- There has been a tendency over the years towards dilution of doses -
a typical Ecstasy tablet today probably contains some 10-20% less MDMA than
it would have contained a few years ago.
- Each brand of Ecstasy isaround for 3 to 6 months. Dr. King says this
short brand lifespan may be due to fake lookalikes giving the brand a bad
name. Tablets composed of amphetamine-based concoctions may be sold as Ecstasy,
when MDMA is in short supply. However, these are also sold under other names.
- In the past year there has been a trend towards "amphetamine cocktails".
One contained amphetamine and LSD, complete with ground-up paper (presumably
the 'blotter' LSD is usually supplied on). Another, believed to be sold
under the name "banana split", contained amphetamine, cocaine
and LSD. Another recent cocktail is amphetamine and Tiletamine. Tiletamine
is a vetinerary anaesthetic similar to Ketamine and is manufactured in England
for export only. A few kilos were stolen but the source has now been cut
- A reagent, known as Marquis, consists of sulphuric acid and formaldehyde.
It turns orange when mixed with amphetamines and shows a black/purple colour
when combined with MDA, MDMA and MDEA. However, it also turns black with
various prescription drugs and even paper, so cannot be reliably used to
test drug samples. [Someone doing such tests "day in day out"
may build up enough experience to distinguish between the colour changes
in Marquis when it is combined with MDA, MDMA and MDEA - various shades
of brown and orange - but inexperienced users could not hope to do so.]
Marquis does however serve as a fairly reliable test for opiates, which
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