In May 2019, I launched a community service called Get Your Drugs Tested at 880 East Hastings. Funded entirely by our unlicensed cannabis dispensary, we've now tested over 10,000 street drug samples, free of charge, as a way of helping to keep the drug-using community safe.
We have two machines called "FTIR Spectrometers" which allow us to quickly analyze most kinds of chemical substances. We can't do herbs like whole cannabis, but we can analyze all kinds of street drugs, anything from heroin to cocaine, xanax to viagra, LSD to DMT. We also use fentanyl test strips when needed to be extra sure.
B.C. health authorities also provide free drug analysis, but the NDP doesn't properly fund it so it's not readily available. For instance, aside from our service, drug checking is only available in Vancouver for just a few hours at a time, a few days a week, at some injection sites.
As a result, our more accessible privately-run drug-checking service is doing two-thirds of all tests in B.C.! And unlike the government's drug-checking, we post all our test results right away in an online database which anyone can search by city or by substance.
With over 10,000 results in our database, we have become the world's largest resource for drug analysis results. We provide our data to the B.C. Centre on Substance Use for their research and bulletins, but our main priority is to help drug users make informed decisions.
Data and results
Here's roughly how many samples we've received by city:
500 Rest of B.C.
90 Rest of Quebec
Of the 10,000 samples we have tested, here's what the users thought they were bringing in.
Fentanyl has almost entirely replaced heroin on the street over the past several years. We found that about half of samples brought in by people who had purchased "heroin" were mostly or entirely fentanyl.
Fentanyl was found in just under 1 percent of cocaine and MDMA samples. That's actually a high rate of contamination—imagine if 1 percent of cannabis or alcohol samples had fentanyl! Users of these two drugs usually do not have any tolerance to opiates so fentanyl contamination can be even more deadly in these cases.
In 250 LSD samples we've had one positive test result for fentanyl.
Although fentanyl is usually identified as the biggest driver of overdoses, benzodiazepines have become increasingly common in street "down" and can cause overdoses even more difficult to recover from.
Etizolam is a powerful drug in the benzodiazepine family which we found in about 300 samples. We found many instances of people thinking they had purchased fentanyl but it was actually etizolam, or etizolam and fentanyl together.
We've also found many samples where the user thought they had bought Xanax, but it was actually etizolam.
About four percent of the cocaine samples we analyzed contained levamisole, a dewormer which can have serious side effects. Levamisole is sometimes used to cut cocaine because it has a stimulating effect, a similar appearance to cocaine, and doesn't show up on most street purity tests.
About 18 percent of cocaine samples had been cut with phenacetin, a chemical close to acetaminophen with analgesic properties. Phenacetin used to be sold as a fever-reducer but was taken off the market in 1983 due to carcinogenic and kidney-damaging properties.
The vast majority of MDMA samples we tested were pure MDMA. However, about one percent contained fentanyl.
In a few cases MDMA was mixed with other drugs and being sold as "2C-B".
A common cutting agent for MDMA is Dimethyl Sulfone, a relatively safe and neutral buffer substance.
MDMA and MDA are also sometimes sold as each other.
Caffeine and Erythritol
Surprisingly, the most commonly found substance in all our tests is caffeine! Caffeine powder is a very common cutting agent, usually mixed with cocaine, MDMA and opiates like heroin and fentanyl.
Our results show that a majority of what is sold on the street as "Down" is a mix of caffeine, fentanyl and sometimes other substances like erythritol, a low-calorie sweetener.
Caffeine was present in 2,100 of all samples, erythritol was present in about 550.
Viagra and Cialis
Sildenafil and tadalafil sometimes show up in odd places. More commonly known by their trade names of Viagra and Cialis, we've occasionally found these drugs in samples that had been sold as MDMA, Ketamine, Fentanyl and Xanax.
When people bring in samples of what they believe is Viagra or Cialis, it's usually what they expected, but also often cut with something neutral and not 100 percent pure.
There's all kinds of other interesting results to be found in our database of test results. It's fascinating to go through and see what's out there.
Spread the word
One of our biggest challenges is simply making people aware of our service, both in Vancouver and across Canada. We've run national poster campaigns, promoted on social media and sought out media coverage whenever possible. Please spread the word, share our Twitter and Facebook profiles.