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Pill Report: Superman ecstasy tablet containing PMMA [Alert]

Find out about the fatal effects of PMMA at the end of the article.

The Superman logo tablet has a long history of use for ecstasy which is surprising considering that there have been a number of batches containing extremely dangerous adulterants. You would think that its reputation would stop anybody wanting to buy it ever again but it’s 2019 and there is another deadly Superman ecstasy pill on the market.

The 2019 pills are orange and have a slightly thinner “S”. This is not surprising because the way that pills look does not tell us anything inside them. This orange superman tablet was detected multiple times at the Boomtown 2019 music festival. It is very likely to be sold on the wider market. The only way to know the contents of a pill is to test them.

Photo Credit: The Loop / Sam De Neijs

How to test ecstasy tablets

Testing any recreational drug to get an idea of the contents is easy and can be done at home. All you need is a tiny scraping of a tablet or a crystal the size of a grain of sand.

Adding one drop of a reagent test liquid to this will give a colour change, and that colour change tells us what might be (or importantly, might not be) present.

PMMA reacts very differently to MDMA, so these pills would be very easy to tell apart from a pill with MDMA in it.

Type of home MDMA testTest result for PMA and PMMA
Marquis ReagentNo colour change
Froehde ReagentPale blue
Mandelin ReagentBrown
Liebermann ReagentPurple-brown
Mecke ReagentGreen

It is necessary to use more than one test on each sample to reduce the chance of confusion. For example, if you only used the liebermann reagent then paracetamol and PMMA have the same purple-brown colour change. If you use the mecke reagent as well then the difference is immediately obvious because mecke would not change colour for paracetamol.

What is PMMA?

PMMA is a terrible drug for a few reasons

  • High doses totally disable serotonin regulation causing the brain and body to fatally overheat
  • The effects take a long time to fully kick in, so people take extra before the first dose has taken effect
  • The desirable effects are similar to weak MDMA, a feeling of warmth and energy
  • The overheating effects become dangerous before the desirable effects become like a full dose of MDMA

You will notice that all of these factors are things that make people think they have a real MDMA-containing ecstasy pill based on the effects, so they take more, but become fatal after a short time.

The last time we wrote about superman pills was in 2016, when they also contained PMMA. Prior to that, a batch of superman pills containing PMMA killed four people in the UK in 2014 after the government refused to issue a warning, despite knowing the dangers of PMMA from batches in previous years.

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Pill Report: Red Bull ecstasy pill containing N-ethylpentylone [Alert]

The DrugsData lab run by Erowid has tested this Red Bull tablet from Texas which has the bull logo on one side and “Red Buli” written on the back. There is a breakline and the pill is coloured red. The lab reports the pill does NOT contain MDMA but instead an unknown amount of a drug called “N-ethyl-pentylone“.

Notice the “Bull” actually says “Buli” with the letter i instead of letter l

The tablet appears to be very well-made. This pill has fine details visible, a slight sheen on the surface and no crumbling. This is quite unusual for a pill with no MDMA, which tend to be much lower quality.

Testing Pills

This sample was tested by DrugsData.org who will run a full lab test on ecstasy tablets for $40 US Dollars per whole tablet (100 USD for partial tablets). You can also test pills and other drugs at home using reagent tests. These use a small piece of the pill to give a fast result to alert you if there is no MDMA in a pill. Reagent tests cost around £20 for a pack which lasts for 30 samples.

The picture below shows a test result for N-ethylpentylone. MDMA gives a result of purple/purple/blue, you can see this is VERY different to the sample results from the photo.

N-ethylpentylone has VERY different test results to MDMA

Effects of N-ethylpentylone

N-Ethylpentylone is a fairly unpleasant drug because it initially has similar effects to MDMA – stimulation, energy and sociability. Some people do get extremely anxious depending on the dosage, but most have fairly normal effects. These enjoyable effects only last about 2 hours though, so people think they are coming down a bit early.

The big problems start when they don’t want the party to stop so they take some more. Drugs in this class are known to be very more-ish, making people want to keep chasing a high even if they know that the effects aren’t what they should be.

As a rule of thumb, each time someone takes another dose of N-ethylpentylone they will be unable to sleep for an additional 6 hours. If they are partying for 8 hours and they have to take more every 2 hours that’s an extra 24 hours after the party that they cannot sleep.

With a stimulant on board messing with dopamine and no sleep for 2 nights in a row the brain starts to literally go crazy and most people experience horrible anxiety with physical symptoms. More vulnerable people experience panic attacks, paranoia and in cases where people cannot sleep for more than 2 nights, temporary psychosis can emerge.

What to do if you can’t sleep after taking ecstasy

It’s a truly horrible experience for those who go through it but the good news is that as soon as someone sleeps the effects start to reduce massively. Doctors should prescribe a benzodiazepine (like valium), not an antipsychotic. This is because antipsychotics can have severe interactions leading to fatal heart problems when combined with N-ethylpentylone.[1][2]

Advice for people who cannot sleep after taking substances sold as MDMA

Remember, it’s the drug, not you. As soon as you have slept you will start to feel normal. We wrote the advice sheet above in partnership with The Loop in 2018.

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Which reagent tests should be used for DXM?

DXM is a dissociative drug (in the same family as ketamine) which also has activity in the serotonin system. It is most popular in the US as it is readily found in some cough medicines but is also found as a white powder in other places.

Cough syrup cannot be tested with reagents because it contains a number of other chemicals such as water, sugars and colourings. Fortunately it is a legal product and also tends to have an ingredients list to warn about dangerous additives like chlorpheniramine and paracetamol (AKA acetaminophen in the US).

DXM reacts with reagent tests as follows. Slow reactions can be a bit confusing so we would recommend a minimum of two reagents but ideally three or more.
As an aside, reagent tests do not give “purity” readings but they do detect substitution and often adulteration, too.

MarquisLiebermannFroehdeMandelinMecke
Gray > Black (slow)Purple > BlackBright YellowGreen > Pale Blue (Fast)Yellow

The plus side of a slow reaction is that if a fast reaction to a different colour happens while you are waiting, you know that there is something else present.

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Which reagent test kit is suitable for testing DMT?

The MDMA & Psychedelics Multipack is the best option for testing DMT. It contains the ehrlich reagent which is a “binary test” for the presence of compounds in the DMT family (technical term: indole-containing substances). If it stays clear then there is no DMT present in the sample.

If the ehrlich reagent goes purple then you can corroborate with other tests as follows:

Reagent TestReaction with pure DMT
EhrlichPurple
MarquisOrange > Brown
MeckeYellow > V. Dark Green
FroehdeNo change

If the froehde reagent changes colour then you know that other compounds are present.

One of the challenges with drugs from plant origins is that plants contain many compounds and these are extracted by the same process. This makes it very hard to tell if any “other chemical” is from the plant or if it has been added by the person making or selling the compound. We recommend that the Best Practice is to discard any drug which has any reaction not compatible with the pure form of the expected substance.

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Pill Report: Philipp Plein (qp Skull) ecstasy pill [Alert]

The notorious hexagonal Philipp Plein pill, aka PP Skull or QP Skull has been around since July 2017 where it was first detected in Austria by Checkit! and was a gold pill with 225mg of MDMA. It’s 2019 now and that is no longer reality, as a recent detection in Austria has found the Philipp Plein skull tablets containing 4-FMA, a completely different drug.

Although the colour of this batch is pink, the colour comes from a dye and doesn’t indicate what’s in the tablet. Many different colours of this pill have been produced, and it was one of the most common pills in europe in 2018.

Image credit: https://Checkit.wien April 2019 Alerts

It’s easy to tell if a tablet contains 4-FMA instead of MDMA because the marquis and froehde reagent give no colour change, compared to the (extremely strong) purple/black colour they give with MDMA. The test takes about 60 seconds for each reagent and allows people to test for many different drugs in their own home.

As is so often the case with ecstasy tablets, the first batch isn’t in circulation for long, as the first producer runs out and other producers figure out how to copy the design so that they can make their own tablets for less money, allowing them to make more profit.

In many cases over the last few years, this re-pressing of tablets has just meant putting less MDMA into the tablets but this is an unregulated market and that means some of the most unscrupulous sellers may choose to put a different drug altogether, which means that people may grossly misjudge the risks that they are being exposed to.

4-FMA is a much longer-lasting stimulant but is often described as having extremely disappointing effects because it does not produce the empathy and energy that MDMA produces, even at high doses. What it does do though, is prevent sleep for 8+ hours, which is longer than the 4-6 hours of MDMA and could cause problems for people who need to sleep for their health after a weekend of partying which might be very taxing on the body.

The two tablets analysed contain 45 and 55mg of 4-FMA respectively, which is a fairly low dose of 4-FMA since it is more often taken around 100mg. It does take a long time to kick in, often around an hour, so if someone does take this tablet then they should be careful not to take more because they think “it’s not working”, especially since a second tablet could push the dose to be excessive for their personal body characteristics.

Reagent Tests UK makes tests for common drugs to help reduce the risks associated with taking them. Even though drug use is never safe, we can neuter some of the worst risks by testing and using other harm reduction techniques. You can get a test for MDMA here.

One of the other most important techniques is education about the substance being taken. Understanding the risks can have a huge impact on the ability to control them. Even pure MDMA has plenty of risks, but there are lots of resources online which go into depth about these. Some good resources for drugs information can be found here:

Thank you also to www.ecstasydata.org for preparing the photos. EcstasyData offer lab testing of tablets and powders which are sent in the post.

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UPS ecstasy pills with high doses of dangerous “alpha-PVP” hospitalise three people

White UPS ecstasy pills containing alpha-PVP from Manchester, UK

The pills are described as “badly made”. Read the history below for more information about why this might be. It is also possible that they are well made but have been exposed to moisture, which causes them to be crumble. Although this batch is known to be dangerous, it does not mean that batches which do not look like this will be less dangerous. You can determine if a pill contains a different drug instead of MDMA using Reagent Tests. It takes about 2 minutes and does not need special equipment. Each of the kits can be used for up to 40 tests.

Alpha-PVP is a long-lasting cathinone. It initially has pleasurable effects which lead people to think it is MDMA but these wear off quickly, causing people to take more. As more is taken, the anxious side effects build up. Each dose increases the time which a person will be unable to sleep for by about 6 hours. This is a severe problem as dosing through a whole party can prevent sleep for several days.

During this time the person will develop symptoms of severe sleep deprivation such as horrible anxiety, paranoia and eventually temporary psychosis. If you are suffering these effects then it is important to get sleep. See a doctor and show them this Reagent Tests UK blog, or this information from The Loop.

These pills contain 7-8x the normal dose of alpha-PVP which will massively increase the risks. As a stimulant, doses like this could cause a risk of heart complications as well as the other side effects. Carry on reading the blog post for more information about UPS pills and alpha PVP.

The history of UPS ecstasy tablets

UPS ecstasy tablets have been popular for a long time. They were among the first very high strength tablets to emerge in the 2010s and quickly obtained a reputation as being well made tablets with a large amount of MDMA in them. MDMA is the active ingredient that is supposed to be in all ecstasy tablets and people who use ecstasy pills will be seeking out those which contain only MDMA.

The market for MDMA tablets is, of course, completely unregulated and uncontrolled and there is nothing to stop sellers from being dishonest. Counterfeit tablets quickly begin to appear after a tablet gains a good reputation as less scrupulous manufacturers try to use the popularity to sell their own pills which might be weaker, may contain no MDMA or may even contain a completely different and potentially much more dangerous drug.

Compounding this issue is the ease with which pressing equipment for pills can be obtained. Ten minutes searching online easily reveals sellers of “tablet dies”, the moulds use to press tablet material into a tablet, for around £50.

So it doesn’t take much time or money for a pill to be cloned, and once it’s cloned the colour, shape and logo of an ecstasy tablet from someone else’s pill report tell us nothing about what’s in it. It’s impossible to tell from visual appearance if the pill is from a different batch, maybe even from a different manufacturer.

UPS pills are no different. The first test result on Ecstasydata.org is from May 2015. Within 8 months there is a clone which contains a mixture of drugs including caffeine and methamphetamine (“crystal meth”). Fast forward to 2019 and the original batch of UPS pills are long gone. Even half sensible manufacturers will not make UPS pills because they know that the reputation has been ruined by pill reports of bad UPS pills. The only manufacturers remaining are the most amateur available, looking to make some quick cash as easily as possible.

Hospitalisation

In the third week of January 2019 three teenage boys were taken to hospital in Manchester, UK with severe symptoms, one of which was put into an induced coma due to the risk. They had all taken “UPS” ecstasy tablets, thinking that they would contain MDMA. After police were able to submit the tablets for testing, they turned out to contain a completely different drug called “alpha-PVP”.

The lab was not able to determine the exact amount in the tablets but it is thought to be 7-8x a typical dose, which is a huge amount. Even drinking 7-8 cups of coffee in one go would cause problems, especially for a teenager.

What is Alpha PVP?

Alpha PVP is a stimulant from the cathinone family. While this family includes mephedrone, it is a very distant relative of mephedrone itself and has much higher risks attached. Alpha-PVP has been called “flakka” and “gravel” by media in the US but there is no evidence to suggest that people using the drug call it this.

Stimulants activate the body’s reward system to create a sense of wellbeing and make people talkative, and alter how the body manages alertness and rest, causing people to feel energetic and prevent sleep. They also significantly increase blood pressure, heart rate and cause sweating. In high doses, side effects become much more pronounced and the body finds it harder to excrete the drug out through its normal mechanisms. This is especially true with cathinones like alpha-PVP. Although the pleasurable effects last for about 2 hours, the drug lingers in fatty tissue for much longer. The more doses that are taken, the longer that the drug has a chance to build up and therefore the longer it is released back into the blood for, after people want the effects to stop.

People are tricked by the initial pleasurable effects of alpha-PVP into thinking they have just got “weak MDMA”. Not wanting the party to stop (and unknowingly compelled by the action of the drug on their reward system) they take some more. This cycle continues until the party is over, by which time the drug has been building up in the body for hours.

This becomes a huge problem as the drug prevents sleep, a vital recovery process for the body. Even without drugs, sleep deprivation can cause severe paranoia and temporary psychosis, but with a stimulant drug on board this happens MUCH faster. Coupled with the horrible comedown that cathinones cause, this can lead to intensely distressing and even very dangerous behaviour.

You can see the original warning issued by the Manchester Early Warning System here: https://www.reagent-tests.uk/wp/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/UPS-ecstasy-pill-alpha-pvp-drug-warning-2019-1.pdf

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How to detect pentylone and N-ethylpentylone sold as MDMA/ecstasy pills

N-ethyl-pentylone (aka BK-EBDP or Ephylone) has caused problems before where it has been sold as MDMA due to the identical visual appearance but this year has seen an increase in the number of cases detected and more alerts have been issued.

The Loop has now detected two batches of pills in the UK containing these closely related drugs, as well as a number of different batches of crystals.

The mis-selling of pentylone and its analogues is particularly insidious because the effects are initially quite similar to MDMA itself, but the empathogenic effects are not so pronounced and the euphoria fades more quickly. This leads people to redose, but redosing seems to disproportionately extend the time to clear the body and this makes sleep very difficult or impossible for up to 72 hours without further medication. This stimulated sleep deprivation is horrible at best, and multiple cases of temporary psychosis have been recorded.

N-ethylpentylone can be detected at home using reagent tests, it is very easy to tell apart from MDMA because instead of going black it goes yellow/green, orange and yellow with the reagents in the MDMA testing multipack. Occasionally, MDMA is mixed with another drug so it is recommended to visually separate different looking crystals in the batch and test them separately. You can see the test results at the end of this post, they are:

Type of reagent test Test result for pentylone
Marquis Reagent Yellow
Froehde Reagent Yellow>Green
Mecke Reagent Orange

Effects of pentylone and N-ethylpentylone:

  • Long time to feel effects
  • Not enjoyable after 2 hours
  • Unable to sleep for 1-3 days
  • Heart races for 1-2 days
  • Higher chance of vomiting than MDMA

If you think that you have taken MDMA then The Loop has written a guide on what to do which you can see here. This very useful information tells you what to do if you can’t sleep after taking MDMA.

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Is it actually possible to have an ecstasy tablet which contains MDMA, cocaine and ketamine?

North & West Devon police have issued a warning about “Darth Vader” tablets today, saying that “it is a dangerous mix of MDMA, ketamine and cocaine”. This is very surprising as ecstasydata has never recorded a single incident of pills with this combination of drugs over the last 15 years. After being asked, N&W Devon police reveal that the pills have not been lab tested.

Credit: N&W Devon Police

In the absence of any real knowledge, can we critically analyse the speculation about the contents?

MDMA is commonly distributed in tablets for a variety of reasons, namely the increased ease of dosing and ability for “brand recognition” to supposedly make it easier to identify fake pills with more dangerous contents. Unfortunately, with pill production equipment readily purchasable on Amazon, this is not an effective strategy. So the suggestion that there could be MDMA in these tablets is certainly plausible.

Cocaine however, is almost never seen in pills, and for very good reason. Cocaine contains two “ester” bonds in the molecule, which are very vulnerable to being broken down by water and acids. Since the stomach is a strongly acidic environment, when cocaine is eaten it starts being broken down immediately, and then gets passed to the liver which destroys more. This means the dose of cocaine required when taking it orally is much higher. In order to include a meaningful amount of cocaine in an ecstasy tablet would therefore massively increase the price of the tablet. As well as this, cocaine is a strong local anaesthetic (causes numbness) so any would-be user who put the pill into their mouth would immediately realise something unusual was afoot when their tongue started to go numb.

Ketamine is another drug which is almost never taken orally because it too is fragile, and easily dismantled by the liver. Since all blood from the stomach passes through the liver before going to the brain, this means that a lot is destroyed before it can affect the body. Coupled with the fact that absorption from the gut is much slower than the nose, this means a very high dose is needed to reach the same concentration in the brain. The outcome of this is that adding a meaningful amount of ketamine to a tablet would massively increase the size of the tablet.

Trying to add a meaningful amount of all three of these drugs to a tablet would likely result in an enormous tablet which was incredibly expensive and immediately identifiable as abnormal, even by black market standards.

So, is it possible? Yes. But is it likely that a pill containing this combination of drugs has been detected for the second time in 12 years? No. I would argue that any authority claiming to have discovered something very unusual should apply extra scrutiny to that discovery before announcing it to the public, and possibly consult with experts beforehand, at the very least to apply a sense-check.

With all this said, it is refreshing to see a police force sharing as much information as they can (good photos and suspected contents) in the interest of public health – I suspect that the damaging cuts to public services over the last 8 years have impacted the ability of the police to access experts at short notice within their budgets. Perhaps by waiting a few days for a test result confirmation could have meant more people falling victim to these tablets. Really what we should be calling for is the central government to provide funding for testing facilities that are more easily accessible.

Until then, home users can use simple reagent tests to alert themselves to cases where a different drug has been sold in place of the one they were expecting.

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Ferarri tablets containing N-ethyl-pentylone detected in Spain

N-ethyl-pentylone (aka BK-EBDP or Ephylone) has caused problems before where it has been sold as MDMA due to the identical visual appearance but it’s rare in ecstasy pills.

It seems like a small pill producer has been duped by a bulk seller and bought a batch to make into pills which are currently being sold in the Balearic Islands and possibly elsewhere. The alert has been released by Energy Control who received the sample on 5th April 2018.

The tablets are white or yellow in the shape of a sheild with the Ferrari logo. The press quality appears quite poor and the images suggest the pills are not as hard as others on the market. It is likely that the manufacturer was trying to replicate other pills with this logo which have been sold at various times for the last six years.

The mis-selling of pentylone and its analogues is particularly insidious because the effects are initially quite similar to MDMA itself, but the empathogenic effects are not so pronounced and the euphoria fades more quickly. This leads people to redose, but redosing seems to disproportionately extend the time to clear the body and this makes sleep very difficult or impossible for up to 36 hours without further medication. This stimulated sleep deprivation is horrible at best, and in some cases can even lead to temporary psychosis.

N-ethyl-pentylone can be detected at home using reagent tests, it is very easy to tell apart from MDMA because instead of going black it goes yellow/green, orange and yellow with the reagents in the MDMA testing multipack.

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Tesla ecstasy pill with dangerous amount of 4-FA inside

Tesla MDMA tablets with no MDMA in them at all have been detected by Energy Control in Spain. They were bought on a Darknet Market. The tablets contain a different drug called 4-FA instead, and although the risks of 4-FA are similar to those of MDMA, the dosage in the pills (190mg) is very large compared to a normal dosage of 4-FA (120mg). Although this doesn’t seem like a huge increase, 4-FA has a lower safety margin in some people where it causes headaches and in some cases, has been linked to bleeding inside the brain. Reagent tests can alert you when a pill contains something instead of MDMA.

The pills in question are the orange tesla ecstasy tablets which are in the shape of a shield and have the Tesla logo on the front and a break-line on the back. There is at least one other orange tesla pill with exactly the same design, as well as a number of other tablets with almost identical designs, with some in different colours. Although they may be easy to tell apart if you have them side by side, trying to do it from photos is hard, and if a friend tells someone “the orange tesla pills I took contained MDMA” then of course, there is no chance of telling if you have the same ones.

4-FA is an abbreviation for 4-fluoroamphetamine, it is a stimulant drug derived from amphetamine by the simple addition of a fluorine atom. The effects are similar to MDMA and it is even preferred by some people due to the lighter effects. It causes an increase in energy and sociability as well as feelings of increased wellbeing. The sociable and euphoric effects are most prominent for the first 6 hours, but light stimulation can persist for 8 hours and some users may find it hard to sleep even when they feel like the effects have worn off. Like all drugs, 4-FA can cause negative side effects, and although the overheating issues are much less prominent than MDMA, they are still a key concern. Similar to other stimulants, 4-FA can cause significant anxiety and even panic attacks, especially during the onset and at high doses. Concerningly, a small number of people report severe headaches and it is thought that these people could be vulnerable to causing bleeding in the brain at high doses.

As with any pill, even if you think you know what’s in it you should always start with a small piece as a test dose, since even pure MDMA has significant risks and many pills contain very large doses.

Although we can’t tell if a pill contains 4-FA instead of MDMA by looking at it, they can be distinguished very easily using reagent tests. Reagent tests use a chemical mixture that react with drug molecules to create different types of dye molecule. The particular reagent used and the drug determine the colour of the dye, and so we can use the colour of the dye to see if the pill contains what we expect. If we get a colour we don’t expect then we know that the drug is not what we expect and therefore the risk is much higher than normal.

So we can see that by using the marquis reagent first, we can immediately raise the alarm if there is not a purple/black reaction. Using a second reagent helps give us confidence about the first result – three reagents is the recommended minimum. If the two compounds were mixed together (very thoroughly) then we would see a result as if we had mixed two powder paints – this is why it’s necessary to throw away a sample if the result is unusual. In many cases, substances are not mixed perfectly, so it’s even possible to see specks of one colour mixed in with the second colour. This is very useful if you have crystals that you can separate with tweezers.

You can get a variety of different reagent tests in our shop. Both the MDMA and cocaine testing kits will be able to tell you if an ecstasy tablet has had the MDMA replaced with something else.