How legit are DIY drug testing kits?

DIY-ing is always a risky game, mix drugs into the equation and you’re in for a hell of a ride. Even if your dealer says it’s the good stuff, how can you be so sure? DIY drug testing kits are legal and you can buy them off the internet to test the safety of your drugs before taking them. Sounds legit right? Sadly not always – we explore the pros and cons of using them.

Two young women are standing on the pavement. One friend is showing the other DIY drug kits on the phone. This is a wide-angle image.

How do drug testing kits work?

The drug you want to test will influence the kit you buy. Kits are available for commonly-used drugs including MDMA, cocaine and ketamine. If you’ve bought MDMA for example, you’ll buy an MDMA testing kit to detect the presence of MDMA. Then, in theory, the kit tells you whether your drugs contain any nasties or whether you’ve been fobbed off with a baggie full of talc.  

Once your kit arrives, you’ll need to get equipped with your Breaking Bad-style goggles and gloves. Place a tiny scraping of your drugs onto a plate and drop the testing solution onto it. Next you’ll observe the colour change and compare it to the reference chart. The reference chart will tell you what colour your drug should be and what other colours mean. For instance, according to the ‘Marquis’ testing method, MDMA will go purple/ black whereas PMA (a much stronger and more dangerous drug often sold as MDMA) will show no colour change. Don’t worry this isn’t a urine test, you just have to leave the drugs. 

How accurate are drug testing kits? 

The short answer? Drug testing kits in the UK aren’t very accurate. You might think that they’d be fast and reliable, but the research just isn’t there yet. For example, the test won’t pick up every type of ‘nasty’. Just because your results say your pill contains MDMA, doesn’t necessarily mean it hasn’t been cut with other – potentially deadly – substances.

Some tests are slightly more sophisticated and will include chemicals to test for more than one substance. These ones require you to test several scrapings from your drugs. They might, for example, be looking for substances like PMA, PMMA and MDA. These are the potentially fatal ‘nasties’. They’re stronger than MDMA and often take longer to take effect meaning people double-dose when they don’t feel the high. It’s important to note that despite testing for more of the baddies, these fancier DIYs can still miss other potentially harmful substances.

Suppliers of drug tests also state that lighting and impurities can alter your test results. Basically, unless you’re a mastermind chemist, results are pretty ambiguous.  

Are they better than nothing? 

The fact that you’re pausing to think about drug safety is great. The more you consider what you’re taking and where your drugs come from, the more likely you are to be safe. Unfortunately, at this point, home drug test kits just aren’t reliable enough. Some people argue that testing is better than blindly chucking mystery drugs into your system but that’s not always true. Seeing a clean test result might give you a false sense of security and lead to fatal consequences. Bottom line is, if you decide to use the tests, never rely on the results to keep you safe and always remember:

  • Don’t double dose, especially if you’re waiting to come up. Give it time for the drug to kick in before you chow down more.
  • Be around trustworthy friends who can look after you if anything goes awry. Make sure they know what you’ve taken, and when you’ve taken it.
  • Don’t mix your drugs as combinations of drugs can have unexpected effects on the body.
  • Stay hydrated with sips of water but don’t drink too much as this has its own risks.

Head here to find out about Drugs First Aid in case anything goes wrong

Is there a safer alternative? 

More accurate drug testing does exist but it’s not widely available. Organisations like The Loop provide on-site forensic drug testing at some festivals, run by experienced chemists. At their tents you can anonymously drop off your drugs to have them tested. The results are more reliable than home testing kits but remember that ‘unadulterated’ drugs can still be dangerous – especially if taken in high doses or when mixed with other drugs.  

Next Steps

By Holly Turner

Updated on 27-Aug-2021