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Is ecstasy mixed with heroin?

The effect of heroin taken orally by someone unused to it includes drowsiness, well-being, nausea, itchiness, constricted pupils and constipation. However, the effects would be weak for the amount in a normal E pill, and if the pill was half MDMA and half heroin, the effects of the heroin would probably be masked altogether by the stronger effects of the ecstasy.

I have had consistent mail from people including dealers who are sure that they have encountered heroin in ecstasy. But none have sent samples for testing (one said he would for $100!) and most report very different effects. So how did these rumours begin?

The following is an edited version of an article in December 1994 issue of Eternity magazine

You've probably heard stories of E being spiked with addictive and poisonous substances. True, when you buy "Ecstasy" there's no quality control and you may well get cocktails of other drugs, particularly when the dealer has run out of MDMA. You may also get a dud. But not heroin or poison.

Every day the police confiscate suspect drugs which are sent to a forensic laboratory at Aldermaston specially equipped to detect drugs, and they have never come across drugs sold as Ecstasy containing heroin. People taken to hospital with possible drug problems have samples of their blood sent to the National Poisons Unit which has special equipment to detect drugs: heroin has not been found in the blood of patients reported to have taken only Ecstasy. So how did the rumours start? A year ago Time Out magazine ran a double page feature entitled "Bitter Pills", subtitled "Ecstasy has turned to agony for thousands of E users" as dealers spike tablets and capsules with heroin, LSD, rat poison and crushed glass. The story was repeated all over the place, even in a Danish newspaper.

I questioned the source quoted: Stephen Beard of the Newham Drugs Advice Project. He was elusive, and when I finally I got him on the phone would only say that the story came from a dealer who said he made fake Ecstasy by crushing light bulbs. There was no supporting evidence such as lab tests or reports from doctors who had treated users. The National Poisons Unit told me there had been no recent cases of poisoning due to ground glass or rat poison. Yet, in spite of my protests, Newham and Time Out did nothing to correct the story. Likewise, Mixmag's recent feature on Ecstasy omitted to mention the Glasgow tests showing that Ecstasy was not contaminated, even though they had the results. Mixmag also said: "300mg MDMA can kill a small girl" (the lowest lethal dose recorded in animal trials was 20mg/kilo, or 300mg for someone weighing 15kg: a very small girl); and "MDA is like strong LSD mixed with speed" (MDA has no LSD-like effects, it is similar to MDMA but longer lasting and with less warmth). Its as though no-one wants to undermine the established myths. One of these came from a satirical song in the fifties called The Old Dope Peddler: "He gives the kids free samples because he knows full well, that today's young innocent faces will become tomorrow's clientele". Its no more likely than your local wine merchant going to the trouble and expense of injecting bottles with heroin, hoping that you will become an addict to boost his sales. True, some dealers cheat by selling any old white powder as Ecstasy, but cheats are unlikely to sell heroin at a loss or go to the trouble of crushing light bulbs.

Most of the substitutes found in Ecstasy are not harmful, but can produce unexpected effects. However, before you blame the pill, you should realise just how important is the situation and you own expectations. In fact, very few people realise and accept how much the effect of drugs like Ecstasy depends on their own situation, and state of mind at the time. My best E experience was caused by an identical tablet as one that made a friend sick - at a party in an enclosed tunnel.

Remember that E is not simply a happy pill, but lowers your defences and allows you to open up. However, it may be more comfortable to remain defensive and reserved unless you are in a situation where you feel good. E can bring up suppressed feelings which you may not be prepared to face. More on situations to avoid and emotional dangers next month.

©Nicholas Saunders 1994 index
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