Why you should care
If you’re going to take drugs at festivals, here are some ways to reduce your risk.
For the last three years, attending music festivals has been a big part of Jasmine’s (not her real name) summer. She carries her essentials in a sparkly backpack: lip balm, water bottle, eco-friendly glitter and a plastic baggie filled with pills. She takes magnesium glycinate to reduce clenching, Acetyl-L-carnitine for neuroprotection and vitamin C for its antioxidant properties.
Jasmine doesn’t take these garden variety supplements, which can be found in any Walgreens, to get high. She’s what you call a beginner biohacker — she likes to roll safe. Studies show that specific vitamins can negate the side effects of drugs. So by pairing supplements with her MDMA (also known as ecstasy or molly), she’s hoping to enjoy the high and not deal with the brain fog or lack of sleep. “It’s the smart way to have fun,” she says. She was inspired by Ravebox ($14.95), an all-in-one party supplement kit that serves up boosts to the immune system and energy levels in single dose servings. She wants a healthy high — and a safe one.
Taking substances to induce euphoria has been around since the Jurassic age when dinosaurs chowed on hallucinogenic fungus. But as humanity evolved, scientists recognized the downsides: addiction, abuse and mental health problems. Enter the criminalization of drugs, and we all know how well that’s worked. A 2018 report in the Harm Reduction Journal found that nearly 60 percent of festival attendees ages 18-30 had taken ecstasy in the last year. But thanks to a new raft of responsible drug companies, people can now get high smarter.
It’s basically a pH test for drugs — drop liquid on a sliver and watch what color the liquid turns.
Safe drug use starts with knowing exactly what you’re taking — most recreational drugs are mixed with other substances, and while they’re often benign (for example, sugar) they can also be dangerous — and you don’t want to accidentally ingest heroin!
You need to be informed, says Adam Auctor, 33, the CEO of Bunk Police, a company that sells products aimed at keeping drug users informed and harm-free. Since 2011, he’s sold “reagent kits” — small bottles of medical-grade chemicals that can detect whether you’ve bought LSD or bleach. His most popular products are the $20 Marquis reagent (which primarily tests for MDMA and amphetamines) and the Mandelin reagent (tests for ketamine and cocaine). Reagent kits are legal federally but can fall under paraphernalia laws in some states. (To see what’s legal in your state, there’s a state-by-state guide published by the Drug Policy Alliance.) Bunk Police also ships to 100 countries.
“I used to have to explain what these kits were, but now everyone at festivals knows,” he says, noting that with fentanyl overdoses making national news (fentanyl can be cut with heroin, and it’s 50 times stronger) people are more aware of the dangers. That’s how he got into this business; at his first festival, he saw people exhibiting unusual reactions to their drugs — behaviors that did not match the product they’d supposedly taken. In 2011, there was no quick and easy way to check what you’d purchased. These days, a reagent kit can tell you in minutes. It’s basically a pH test for drugs — drop liquid on a sliver and watch what color the liquid turns.
Reagent testing “isn’t a perfect technology,” explains Mitchell Gomez, the executive director of the nonprofit DanceSafe.org, which also sells testing kits and strips. “But it’s undeniably better than NOT reagent testing, and will continue to be a first line of defense against drug misrepresentation.”
When it comes to staying healthy with your festival high, Gomez is less sold on supplement usage. While it’s unlikely they’ll cause actual harm, he says that the peer-review data on their efficacy “is relatively thin.” Reagent kits also don’t test for purity — they’ll detect unsavory drugs, but they won’t tell you if your molly is at 40 percent purity or 90 percent (American molly purity is generally found to be 30 to 60 percent).
Gomez’s advice? Without a lab test to confirm, “follow the old advice of ‘start low, go slow.’” He adds, “You can always take more later. You can never take LESS later.”
After some recent festival deaths, Australia is taking note of drug dangers. Policymakers are pushing for the future use of sanctioned drug testing at music events — something 87 percent of attendees surveyed said they’d likely try.
Jasmine started testing her drugs in 2017 and says she’d never again take drugs she hasn’t checked. “We’re not ’70s hippies,” she says. “It’s crazy to me that our parents’ generation did this stuff without any checks. That was so irresponsible of them.”