Ask Dr. Shulgin Online

ARCHIVE:  September 12, 2002

Ecstasy (MDMA) testing

Dear Dr. Shulgin:

Is there a comprehensive list on the web or elsewhere of different ecstasy tabs with pictures of the tabs and descriptions of their ingredients?

-- Anita

Dear Anita:

I am surprised that about one of every ten letters I receive concerns the identity, or content, or authenticity of some Ecstasy pill. "Are you familiar with pills called Orbital (or Pink Superman, or 1-2, or Shank, and on and on) or whether the small red ones with interlocking circles on it are really MDMA (or DXM, or PMA, or MDA, or GHB, and on and on)." I have never been given a "club drug" at a rave, and I have never analyzed any suspect Ecstasy pills. So I am completely in the dark in answering any of these questions.

ut you ask about the existence of a comprehensive list, somewhere, that can provide descriptions and contents of these pills. There is, and it is a quality presentation. It was started by a neat group of people who were known as DanceSafe:  Their contribution to the harm reduction aspects of the rave scene was to perform on-site color test screening of scrapings of unknown pills and provide the results immediately to the person who was interested. As with all presumptive (or field) tests, no firm confirmation could be made from a positive response, but a negative response can exclude a given drug from being there. They sent many of these unknowns to a professional laboratory for more exacting analyses, and the findings were posted on their Web site.

This remarkable collection has been organized on a new site that has been structured by the Erowid group (, and is now found at the Web site It not only provides a photograph of the pill or tablet, but some or all of the following: the name that was used by the source, the date of the analysis, the identities of the drug (or drugs) present, where it was from, its geometry and weight, and its responses to some of the more common color tests. There is no quantitative analysis, so there is no data as to how much of anything is there. And it is very much up to date. I logged on just before I wrote this and there had been an analysis posted on that very day. Most of the recent analyses have been done by the state-of-the-art procedure known as gas chromatography mass spectroscopy (GCMS) by an analytical group called Drug Detection Laboratories and they have a fine reputation. These are expensive analyses, but there are people out there who firmly believe that this information is essential for public health and safety, and they have been generous in their support of these analyses.

I personally believe that all factual information about drugs must be publicly available and widely distributed, and I give these efforts my complete support.

-- Dr. Shulgin

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