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What's in a pill?
Last Edited By: on 25 Apr 2010 (+ 4)

That is a really good question. Unlike alcohol, illicit drugs do not come in nice neat packaging that says 5.5% MDMA, nor does your pill come with a list of non-active ingredients. So what is in your pill?

From Manufacturer to You

To understand what may be in you pill it is helpful to understand the pill manufacturing process. Before you get excited we are not going to supply you with a "how to", just a brief overview of the journey of your pill from birth to you.


There are four stages to the manufacture of a pill:


  1. The MDMA is initially produced as a powder
  2. The MDMA powder is then mixed with other substances that go into the tablet. Sometimes colours are added. A filler is also added to give the pill more body and bind the ingredients together
  3. This mixture is then weighed out
  4. The tablets are then pressed using a pill press. Normally a die is used in the pressing process to print a distinctive logo in the pill.


Seems pretty simple however there are a few issues including:

You can't always get what you want

Due to the illicit nature of the precursor chemicals required to make ecstasy (and the difficulty acquiring them), manufacturers cannot always get the ingredients they require. But who lets a lack of ingredients get in the way of a good recipe? In fact, in some cases the pill you have bought may have little or no MDMA in it at all. Research conducted with police detainees in Australia in 2008 found that nearly half of the detainees who reported ecstasy use within the previous 48 hours returned a negatve test for MDMA. Just over a third of these detainees however did return a positive test for methamphetamines.

What you see, ain't necessarily what you get

Many of us use the appearance of things to judge its worth. Manufacturers know this and therefore when a particular pill becomes popular, manufacturers will produce identical pills with the same logo. However today's white heart or green buddha maybe very different from the next one as while the pills may look identical they may have very different ingredients.


Similarly some of us try to establish what is in a pill by it's taste and/or scent. There is a couple of problems with this method. First of all there is no common consensus as to what MDMA tastes or smells like. Andectdotal accounts range from aniseed to bitter lemon. Secondly manufacturers sometimes introduce ingredients to alter the taste and scent of a pill.

Pill Testing

Pill testing is another method that some of us have tried in order to find out what is in our pills. Also known as reagent testing is the process of applying a chemical to a small amount of your drug, and using any changes in the colour of the chemical as an indication of the content of your drug.


Pill testing has been the subject of much controversy over recent years. The argument essentially has two sides:


Those against: drug use is never safe and pill testing sends the wrong message that knowing what may be in a drug will make it any safer to use. If pill testing is permitted it may also be seen to be condoning drug use.


Those for: Pill testing is an initiative to reduce the potential for harm for those who do use illicit drugs. By being able to test for contents of a pill, the user is more informed about what they may be taking.


Both sides of this debate do agree however that pill testing is unable to determine purity, quantity, and may not be able to identify all active substances.

See Pill Reports for more information regarding pill testing.

For a downloadable fact sheet regarding test kits we recommend enlighten.

What might be in my pill?

Well apart from MDMA, probably the most common active component to a pill is methamphatamine either in combination with MDMA or on its own. There are a range of other substances however that may be used either as the chief psychoactive ingredient or as an adulterant. The table below outlines a few of the substances sometimes found in pills.





The effects of PMA are similar to MDMA, however it takes much longer for the effect to feel the effects. A lethal dose of PMA is significantly lower than that of MDMA, and because of the delay in effect, people will sometimes take more of the PMA adulterated pills to try an achieve an effect, which can lead to an overdose.


Chemically similar to MDMA however many users have suggested that MDA has greater hallucinogenic qualities

Benzylpiperazine (BZP)

used as a substitute for MDMA in the legal high industry. Since becoming a scheduled substance in NZ and the UK, large quantities of this substance have been exported from China (the primary manufacturer of ‘legal’ chemicals) to be used in the illegal market. Effects for some people are similar to MDMA, although many people report adverse reactions. The crash or hangover effect is reportedly more profound than MDMA


Similar to MDMA


Ketamine is a dissassociative anaesthetic and can cause respiratory problems. Ketamine should not be mixed with alcohol. Can also cause hallucinations.

DXM – a pseudo-legal dissociative similar to ketamine. The legal status (i.e., it is used in some over-the-counter cough medicines) has made it an attractive import that is used as an adulterant in ecstasy

How do I know what's in my pill?

Well the short answer is that you really can't know. Many of us have developed different methods to try and establish what is in a pill however you really can't tell. You could try any number of the methods discussed in this article but it is also advisable that you have a plan for if anything goes wrong, and remember if you don't feel right seek medical advice immediately.

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