Three new substances detected in Australian drug samples

Jan 25, 2024

The drug testing site CanTEST in Canberra, Australia reported that three new recreational drugs have been detected in its samples. The three new substances were initially tested as inconclusive at CanTEST, and were forwarded for further testing for laboratory testing to the Australian National University.

 One of the submitted samples, which the client believed to be a derivative of the stimulant Ritalin, turned out to be a new variant of cathinone, or potentially fatal bath salts.

“Although there are a range of cathinone variants circulating in the community, finding a new one is obviously of concern because we don’t know how it will affect people or what the health consequences are,” said Dr. Malcolm McLeod, CanTEST’s chemistry in his interview with The Guardian.

 Furthermore, the second substance was identified as a new type of benzylpiperazine, a euphoric drug often used as a substitute for MDMA, while the client who brought it in for testing thought it was ketamine.

 Finally, the third sample was identified as propylphenidine, a new phenethylamine stimulant drug, while the client who had requested its testing thought it was a cathinone. The results of the analysis were published as a scientific manuscript in the November issue of the scientific journal Drug Testing and Analysis.

 “These findings demonstrate an understated ability of services like CanTEST to inform and advise individuals about their choices,” said Dr. David Caldicott, the study’s first author and Clinical lead for CanTEST and Pill Testing Australia in a released statement. “It turns out that drug checking services can not only change the behaviours of consumers, but when done rigorously, can also identify totally novel drugs as they emerge, and possibly even before they get a hold on local markets. This is potentially of huge public health importance, not just to Canberra, but to the rest of the world, and has probably not been fully appreciated to date.”

CanTEST was originally created as a pilot project, and allows individuals to anonymously get their drugs tested. Its funding was extended until the end of 2024. The service lets people anonymously get their drugs tested, with staff saying that results often prompt clients to reconsider taking the substances. In 2022, CanTEST detected metonitazene, a dangerous opioid in pills that were falsely sold as oxycodone, prompting the issue of a public health alert.

“Drug checking services are perhaps one of the most likely places where truly novel products are likely to first present and are situated in an environment where appropriate, prudent advice can be provided, even in scenarios where an agent might not yet be identified,” the authors wrote in the published manuscript of their findings. 

In recent weeks, there have been increased calls in Australia for a nationwide pill testing regime after nine people were hospitalised with suspected MDMA overdoses at a Melbourne music festival earlier in January. As a result, they suffered severe hyperthermia from a combination of drug use, hot temperatures, and physical exertion.