KnowYourStuffNZ provides drug related harm reduction services at events and clinics around Aotearoa New Zealand, including drug checking. The result of every test is recorded and each year we collate our results across the event season, analysing:
- what people thought they had,
- what they actually had, and
- what decisions they made about taking the substances
- The COVID 19 pandemic dramatically reduced the number of large events we attended, and our sample number reflects this.
- A higher percentage of substances were consistent with what they were presumed to be than last year.
- Substances that are consistent with what they were presumed to be are still at a lower percentage than pre-2019 levels.
- 58% of people said they would not take their substances after it proved not to be what they thought it was
- Over time our data shows that a rise in high-risk substances is accompanied by a rise in people choosing not to take their substances
KnowYourStuffNZ activity, 2021-22
This season’s data covers the period from 1 April 2021 to 31 March 2022.
KnowYourStuffNZ was at 40 events during this period and tested a total of 1611 samples.
This was more events but fewer samples per event than previous years. This is due to several large events being cancelled due to Covid. Instead, KnowYourStuffNZ ran more public clinics with smaller numbers of samples per event.
We have tested the following numbers of samples across all years since 2016:
What drugs did people think they had?
Most people brought in what they thought was MDMA, ketamine, or LSD. This is consistent with previous years.
Please note that some substances used at events are not commonly brought in for testing. These include cannabis, psilocybin mushrooms, alcohol, and GHB/GBL.
How often were substances what people thought they were?
78% of the substances tested consistently with what clients thought they were.
This was an improvement on last year , but not as high as the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons.
- 2020-2021: 69%
- 2019-2020: 87%
- 2018-2019: 86%
13% of samples gave results that were not consistent with what clients thought they had.
7% gave results that were partially consistent. These samples usually contained the presumed psychoactive plus other substances. These include additional psychoactives, impurities, or non-psychoactive pharmaceutical or herbal substances.
In a few cases, the client thought they had a mix of two psychoactives, but the sample in fact contained only one.
Testing was inconclusive for the remaining 2% of samples (similar to previous years).
What did people actually have?
What we found in our testing
The most common substance found was MD (usually MDMA), which represented more than half of substances. The next most common were cathinones (usually eutylone) followed by dissociatives (usually ketamine) and indoles (usually LSD).
Cathinones represented 9% of the substances found. This is a drop from last year’s 20%, but still higher than previous seasons.
This is concerning as it’s the second most common drug family found in samples that we’ve tested. 80% of the cathinones that we found were thought to be something else.
Within this cathinone family, there are some particularly concerning finds. Eutylone and N-ethylpentylone have been linked to a number of hospitalisations in Aotearoa, and deaths overseas.
Some of the cathinones we identified, such as dimethylpentylone, 4-chloromethcathinone, and 4-fluoropentedrone are new (novel) cathinones and KnowYourStuffNZ is the first organisation to detect these in use in New Zealand. They have little or no history of human use and therefore uncertain risk profiles.
High dose MDMA pills
This season we found 19 pressed pills that we estimated to contain over 150mg of MDMA. These pills made up 2% of the MDMA that we found.
This is a decrease on the past 2 years, where high-dose pills made up 5-6% of the MDMA that was found.
Mixtures and Non-MDMA high weight pills
Of particular concern are a few high-dose cathinone pills that were found, which included eutylone, 4-fluoropentedrone, unknown cathinones, and MDMA mixed with dimethylpentylone.
How did testing influence people’s decisions?
58% of clients said that they would not take a substance when it was not what they thought it was. 27% said they would take it, and 15% said that they might take it.
Why did people choose to take a substance when testing showed it was not what they thought it was?
We asked people why they would take a substance when it wasn’t what they thought it was. As the response rate is low for this question, these results are indicative only. We found that:
- 48% (11 people) said that they intended to take it because they considered the substance to be desirable. In these cases, testing showed that the substance was MDMA (4), ketamine (3), or various other substances (2C-B, MDA, amphetamine, and sucrose)
- 26% (6 people) said that they intended to take it because they had consumed it before without problems.
- The remaining 26% (6 people) gave other reasons, including dubiousness of result accuracy and perceived harmlessness of the actual result when the substance tested as a non-psychoactive.
People find different substances more desirable than others when they are found in place of a presumed substance. We collated our results for samples that were not as presumed across all years of operation.
Most people said they would not take the substance if it tested as:
- no psychoactive, or
- non-psychoactive pharmaceutical/herbal
Most people said they would still take the substance if it tested as:
- an indole,
- cocaine, or
How did people intend to take substances?
Different consumption methods are associated with different risks. In particular, dosage can vary widely between consumption methods. Certain substances may also pose risks to delicate tissues such as nasal passages. Clients are asked how they intend to consume a substance so we can provide them with the correct harm reduction advice.
- 70% of clients said that they intended to take their substance orally or sublingually (under the tongue)
- 20% said that they intended to snort their substance
- 10% said that they were unsure about whether they would take it orally or snort it, or said that they would use other methods, such as smoking, vapourising, or rectal.
There are clear differences between drugs. Most people intending to take MDMA or LSD will take it orally or sublingually. Most people intending to use ketamine or cocaine will snort it. These results are consistent with those from last year.
Are we seeing changes over time in the proportion of substances that are what people thought they were?
This season’s proportion (78%) is higher than last year (68%), but still not as high in previous years.
2016-2019 showed a steady increase in the proportion of substances that were consistent with the presumed content. In 2020-21 this proportion dropped dramatically due to the widespread substitution of cathinones for MDMA. This has been less evident this year, but is still of concern.
Change over time in the proportion of MD Family and Indole samples that were what they were thought to be
MD family (mostly MDMA)
Between 2016-17 and 2019-20, there was an increase in the proportion of presumed MDMA that was actually MDMA, from 63% to 90%, followed by a sharp decrease to 66% in 2020-21. In 2021-22 the proportion rose back up to 79%.
MDMA was less likely to be as presumed than dissociatives or indoles, similar to last season.
Indole family (mostly LSD)
For LSD and other indoles, 93% of samples brought to us this year were what they were supposed to be. This is a slight increase from 90% in 2020-21 and a larger increase from 84% in 2019-20.
97% of the presumed LSD tested consistently with LSD, which is an increase on last year at 91%. 63% of the substances that were presumed to be other indoles tested consistently with what they were supposed to be, which is a decrease from last year’s 77%.
Dissociative family (mostly ketamine)
There was a slight decrease in the proportion of dissociatives that tested consistently with what they were supposed to be this season (85%). There had been a small increase over time prior to this season. Seasons after 2017 saw between 83% and 91%.
This result should be viewed with caution as the number of dissociatives tested in earlier years was low.
Are we seeing changes over time in the substances that people have?
This year we saw fewer cathinones and more MDMA samples than last season, which had seen a spike in cathinones being sold as MDMA.
However, the proportion of substances found this season that were cathinones is still higher than in 2017 to 2020 seasons. It was nearly the same as the proportion of dissociatives and indoles found this season.
The proportion of substances that were indoles has decreased slightly over time, whereas the proportion of dissociatives has slightly increased.
Change over time in whether people say they will take a substance when it’s not what they thought
More people said this season that they would still take a substance if it wasn’t as presumed than last year. This is accompanied by a lower number of samples not being as presumed.
- 2021-2022: 27% will still take the substance
- 2020-2021: 18% will still take the substance
Possible reasons for this are the decreased amount of undesirable substances found this year compared to last year. 56% of the substances that were not as presumed this season were cathinones, compared to 73% last year, which were mostly eutylone. MD and substances containing no psychoactive represented a larger proportion of substances that weren’t as presumed this season.
Cathinones are connected with more harm incidents and there have been warnings sent out about them in recent years. Their decreased presence this year might indicate that people were more willing to take substances that weren’t as presumed because there was a lower proportion of substances perceived as harmful.
People appear to be making different choices depending on what substance they end up having. A rise in substances perceived to be dangerous is accompanied by a rise in people not taking a substance when it isn’t as presumed.