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COVID-19 Pandemic And Brexit Caused Increase In Fake Ecstasy, UK Study Finds
Christian Eede , June 9th, 2022 16:11

The Loop found that almost half of tested pills believed to contain MDMA contained none of the drug last year

A combination of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brexit and police crackdowns on drug supply chains is causing an "unprecedented shift" in the UK drug market, drug safety charity The Loop has warned.

The organisation frequently tests drugs seized or handed over in amnesty bins at festivals in England, and found that almost half of the tested substances and pills sold as MDMA in 2021 did not actually contain any of the drug. In the first peer-reviewed study of the change in drug trends, scientists warned that pills and substances sold as MDMA in fact contained ingredients such as cathinones and caffeine.

Some users of these drugs reported negative effects such as anxiety, psychosis and prolonged insomnia. The Loop has warned that this new trend poses a significant threat to people consuming recreational drugs as they may choose to redose more frequently than usual when the drugs do not achieve the desired effect.

In the study, which has been published in the journal Drug Science, Policy and Law, its authors write: "This study highlights a period of unprecedented turbulence in the UK drug market. We suggest the shortage may be linked to Brexit-related disruptions to legal and illicit supply chains, combined with the stalling of MDMA production."

The research was carried out at three English music festivals last summer, with those involved testing hundreds of pills that buyers had believed were MDMA in a mobile laboratory. 45 percent of tested substances sold as MDMA contained none of the drug, with cathinones and caffeine each being identified as the primary component in a fifth of the samples. This is a significant shift from The Loop's research at festivals in 2019, when the group found that only 7 percent of tested pills did not contain any MDMA.

The study puts forward the theory that COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 led to MDMA suppliers halting production of the drug. When nightclubs reopened, and festivals got back up and running again, in the summer of last year, the study's authors believe that MDMA manufacturers, particularly those bathed in the Netherlands, were slow to increase supply to meet the renewed demand for party drugs such as ecstasy, leading many within the drug trade to seek alternative substances and sell them off as MDMA.

With the impact of Brexit and police crackdowns likely still being felt across drug supply chains, The Loop has warned that the trend may continue into this year's summer festival season in the UK, and that fake MDMA will continue to flood the drug market.

Read the study in full here.