Mid-season update – what drugs are at festivals this summer

This season, much like last summer, has seen more n-ethylpentylone and more high dose MDMA.

N-ethylpentylone has become the main adulterant in MDMA and our main substance of concern. N-ethylpentylone is in the cathinone family of drugs, sometimes referred to as “bath salts.” In previous years we’ve seen all sorts of different substances sold as MDMA. This year vast majority of substitutions have been only n-ethylpentylone, a drug that we’ve heard called “a shit time for a long time.”

If a sample is presumed to be MDMA but tests show that it’s not, it is most likely n-ethylpentylone. A new development has been a number of samples of both pressed pills and crystal which contain MDMA mixed with n-ethylpentylone, a combination which led to us issuing an alert just after New Year about blue crown pills. These mixtures will appear to be MDMA in a reagent test, but could lead to unexpected consequences including anxiety, heart palpitations, and insomnia. N-ethylpentylone has been implicated in two deaths overseas and numerous mass hospitalisations, including in New Zealand. You can read more about n-ethylpentylone on our website.

We have also seen a continuation of the pressed pills containing 2-3 doses of MDMA. Pink Porsches, Green Guccis, Yellow Rolexes, and Blue Louis Vuitton pills are all still around, and should be approached with extreme caution. We also have some evidence that these pills are now being copied. Copycat pills could contain anything, including toothpaste, so we recommend testing even with a ‘known’ press. New high-dose pills we have tested include a pink pill shaped like a Canadian maple leaf that is estimated to contain 3 standard doses of MDMA. Even taking less than a whole pill has resulted in people needing medical attention this summer, so treat these with caution.

There is also a lot of supposedly MDMA crystal around that tests as MDMA. Care should be taken with this – even when a substance is what you are hoping for, it’s still not “safe”. Measuring doses by eye is a particularly unsafe practice in the current climate, as is snorting.

We recommend approaching even tested substances with extreme caution. Start small – half or less than the dose you would normally take – and start slow – wait at least an hour to gauge the effects before considering  having more. We also recommend against snorting these substances. It’s damaging to your nose, the effects will wear off faster, and you may be be tempted to take more. It’s more harmful and more expensive, so if you are taking anything, oral is the safer route.

This summer we have also been asked by event medics to let people know that they shouldn’t be afraid to seek them out if they do get into difficulties. The medics want you to know they are there to help, and they will do it in confidence. If you are at all concerned about your wellbeing at an event, please go see them.

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ALERT: Blue pills containing n-ethylpentylone and MDMA

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N-ethylpentylone found in pills obtained as MDMA

KnowYourStuffNZ tested pills over the New Year and found a particularly dangerous substance mixed with MDMA. Five pills from separate sources were tested and all were found to contain low amounts of MDMA and potentially dangerous levels of n-ethylpentylone.

N-ethylpentylone is a stimulant from the cathinone family, also called “bath salts”. It may produce short-lived euphoria followed by a long period of overstimulation including racing heart, high blood pressure, anxiety, overheating, and inability to sleep for up to 36 hours.  In large doses it has been associated with deaths overseas and hospitalisations in New Zealand. Because of the high redose compulsion and low active dose, it is very easy to overdose. You can read more about n-ethylpentylone at our website.

The identified pills are pale blue and round with slight speckling and a four-pointed crown stamped on one side.  

MDMA NEP NYE 2018

When tested with Marquis and Mandelin reagents they show the black colour change associated with MDMA. Testing with the more reliable FT-IR spectroscopy has confirmed these pills also contain high levels of n-ethylpentylone. The amount of n-ethylpentylone present may vary between pills. Users of single pills have reported anxiety and unpleasant experiences which may be potentially dangerous.

REAGENT TESTING WILL NOT REVEAL THIS ADULTERATION.

It is likely that these pills have spread throughout New Zealand, therefore any substance that looks like this should be treated as dangerous regardless of your location.  

N-ethylpentylone was also detected in powders and crystals of various colours. In total, approximately 15% of “MDMA” tested over New Years was found to contain n-ethylpentylone. Please approach all untested substances with extreme caution:

  • safest of all, do not take it
  • if consuming, start small, start slow – take a third or less, and wait at least an hour before having more
  • do not snort or inject
  • do not mix with other substances, including alcohol
  • do not take alone

If you think you may have inadvertently consumed n-ethylpentylone and are concerned, please contact your nearest medical service and be honest about what you believe you have taken.  

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Nosebleeds are the least of your worries – why snorting is a bad idea

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Remember when you were four and your Mum used to tell you not to put things up your nose?  Turns out lots of kiwis didn’t listen. According to Adam Winstock of the Global Drug Survey, 30% of kiwis who use MDMA insufflate (snort) it. That’s nearly twice the global average.

There’s a general view out there that snorting MDMA gives you more ‘bang for buck’ because when snorted the high comes on faster and more intensely.  However it also wears off faster, leading to higher likelihood of redosing – so over the course of an evening a user may end up taking more than usual, which is both expensive and risky. Snorting also carries its own set of risks:

  • Putting dry, potentially irritant powders on the nasal lining can lead to injury, loss of sense of smell, and long term respiratory problems.
  • When you snort a substance much of it goes directly to the bloodstream, bypassing the stomach and liver filters. This is what leads to the faster, more intense high.  However this lack of filtering can also exacerbate the negative effects of the drug, such as anxiety and nausea.
  • Faster routes of administration are associated with higher risk of forming dependence.
  • What if it’s not the drug you think it is?

This last one is a real concern in New Zealand. By now it’s old news that cathinone substitution is an issue here. We’ve talked about it at length this summer. We’ve found cathinones in samples presumed to be MDMA and in ones obtained as cocaine, both substances commonly snorted by kiwis.

Remember how we said above that a faster, more intense high can also exacerbate the negative effects? If the ‘MDMA’ is actually n-ethylpentylone and you snort 100mg of it, you’ve just bypassed the stomach and liver filters on a triple dose and you’re most likely in for a faster, more intense, up to 36-hour-long very unpleasant time that may well land you in hospital or worse. 


We hear this story far too often – someone snorts what they think is MDMA and then comes to us with a list of scary symptoms ending with “That definitely wasn’t MDMA.” The bottom line is that these people are lucky to be alive. While they have probably learned their lesson, there are still many people out there who snort powders without knowing how risky it is.

To lower your chances of death, remember the following:

  • Listen to your Mum – don’t put random stuff up your nose
  • Don’t let your friends put random stuff up their noses either
  • Unless it’s been tested, it’s *all* random stuff.

Stay safe out there NZ.

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“Faulty batch” warning not helpful

A warning has been released by Canterbury DHB after 9 people presented at Christchurch hospital Saturday night.

Unfortunately it appears that the DHB is speculating about what the people had taken in the absence of knowing for certain, and have released a vague warning about a ‘faulty batch’. There is no such thing as a faulty batch.

KnowYourStuffNZ in its testing of ‘MDMA’ this year has found:

Any of these would have associated potential dangers, but none of them are a ‘faulty batch of MDMA’.

The information in the alert is of almost no use to users. The warning contains no mention that the substance could be something completely different, no description of the substance, and no information about what sort of symptoms a user may experience that would signify danger. This warning might as well say “Don’t take MDMA.” Such an approach has been entirely ineffective at stopping people taking MDMA to date.

This is why New Zealand needs a properly-functioning Early Warning System, with protocols for what an effective, harm-reduction-focused warning looks like. At the very least, a warning should contain:

  • a description of the substance so users know what to avoid
  • information about the content of the substance – if this is not known, that should be made clear and warnings should refrain from speculation
  • information about symptoms that signal danger.

We have released four alerts about substances of concern since the beginning of 2018. Right now, we are NZ’s Early Warning System. This is not good enough. The NZ government has been talking for years about implementing one, but the talk has not resulted in action. Warnings are left to DHBs with limited knowledge of illicit drugs and harm reduction, and community groups such as ourselves.

The government needs to step up and progress the national Early Warning System immediately. Meanwhile, we will continue to release information about substances of concern as they arise.

On the topic of the Christchurch mystery drug, our advice is:

  • Approach all unknown substances with extreme caution.
  • Unless they have been tested and confirmed to contain the desired substance and only the desired substance, they are *all* unknown.
  • Substitution, adulteration, and extremely high dose pills are all currently being found in the market.
  • When using, it is much better to take a fraction of a dose and await developments (at least an hour) than to take the whole thing without knowing what it is and risk a trip to the hospital.

Be careful out there, folks.

[EDIT: Three weeks after thirteen people were hospitalised in Christchurch after ingesting this mystery substance, NZ Police confirmed that the substance was n-ethylpentylone. We published our warning about this substance two weeks before this event and five weeks before the Police. This shows that KnowYourStuffNZ is already acting as New Zealand’s drug early warning system. However, we are constrained by the legal grey area that we operate in. Clarifying the law and allowing us to operate openly will save lives.]

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This summer’s crap drug: n-ethylpentylone

If it isn’t MDMA, then it’s very likely to be a new drug called n-ethylpentylone, testing by KnowYourStuffNZ has revealed.

Testing at festivals has shown that around one quarter of the drugs that people believe to be MDMA (ecstasy) are not as expected. The most most common substitutions for MDMA come from the cathinone family of stimulants (“bath salts”) and the most common cathinone seen this year is n-ethylpentylone. KnowYourStuffNZ have seen this drug at every event we have attended this summer.

N-ethylpentylone is a new substance, also known as ephylone and βk-EPDB. It was first seen in the USA in 2016. KnowYourStuffNZ testing found small amounts  in New Zealand in early 2017, and it arrived at UK festivals for their 2017 summer. Testing at events this summer is showing it to be much more available now, often found as white or coloured powder that looks exactly the same as samples confirmed to be MDMA.

This stimulant produces some of the same effects as MDMA, but users have described the experience as “seedy”, “cracky”, and much less pleasant. Physical effects can include raised pulse and blood pressure, high body temperature, convulsions, acidosis, and rapid muscle breakdown. Psychological effects include agitation, paranoia, compulsion to redose, difficulty sleeping for up to 36 hours, and temporary psychosis. As this drug is so new, little can be said about the health risks of long-term use. We also do not know much about risks of mixing this with other substances but like other cathinones it should not be taken with alcohol.

A particular risk is that n-ethylpentylone is significantly more potent than MDMA so it is very easy to take too much. A common dose for MDMA is around 100 milligrams, whereas a dose for n-ethylpentylone can be as little as 30 milligrams. If people believe they have MDMA and take 100 milligrams of n-ethylpentylone, then they are going to be in a very risky situation.

This drug has already caused deaths overseas. KnowYourStuffNZ recommends that you do not take this drug and that you test any substance before you take it.

[EDIT: Two weeks after KnowYourStuffNZ published this alert on n-ethylpentylone, thirteen people were hospitalised in Christchurch after ingesting a mystery substance. Five weeks after we published this alert, NZ Police confirmed that the substance was n-ethylpentylone. This shows that KnowYourStuffNZ is already acting as New Zealand’s drug early warning system. However, we are constrained by the legal grey area that we operate in. Clarifying the law and allowing us to operate openly will save lives.]

KnowYourStuffNZ is a not-for-profit social enterprise funded entirely by donations from the community. If you value our work, please donate.