Psychedelic Safety Net: Testing Your Magic Goodies

Psychedelic Safety Net: Testing Your Magic Goodies

I was a nerdy teenager with a peculiar obsession–the TV docuseries “Drugs Inc.” I’d sit there, eyes glued to the screen, absorbing the dangers of adulterated MDMA and deadly fentanyl and learning all about psychedelic safety or the lack thereof, and thrilled with the idea that cannabis was arguably safer than alcohol! 

I found that a shady character in my high school had a stash of white-on-white tabs. But I had seen “Drugs Inc.”, and read horror stories on forums like Shroomery and Bluelight. They said some tabs called “LSD” were actually a nasty surprise called NBOME.

So, what did I do? I ordered an Ehrlich’s reagent, like any sensible, anxious, teenager. My parents were out of town, so my buddies and I huddled around the kitchen table, testing the LSD. And boy, when that tab turned purple, showing it was probably Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, we were thrilled! We popped the tabs, and 12 hours later, we lay there in awe, utterly spent but deeply moved. That was the beginning of our love affair with the real stuff, LSD.

RELATED: The Best Psychedelic Test Kits

Now, why am I telling you all this? Well, ’cause not everyone is as cautious as I was and didn’t pay attention to psychedelic safety the way I did. There’s a whole universe of substances out there, and not all of them come with an honest label.

Medicine providers are like any other class of businessperson. They’re generally good people who care about their customers. Yet some are less than healthy. They’re greedy, or lazy, or addicted to their own supply. So they stomp on MDMA to make it go further, they disguise cheap substances as expensive ones, or they add downers to psychedelics to sedate and chill out trippers–usually as a way to make more money. 

So, whether you’re buying from questionable sources, surfing the darknet, or, heaven forbid, picking up a baggie from the sidewalk, make sure you know what you’re getting into. 

Test before you ingest! 

Sight, Taste, and Smell: A Starting Point

When you’re trying to suss out whether your entheogens are bona fide, your senses are your primary detectives. Different substances come with unique appearances, flavors, and odors. Trust your body. Feel your intuition. Trash anything suspicious. 

LSDTypically on a small piece of blotter paper, or sometimes in liquid or gel form.Should be almost tasteless. A bitter, metallic or numbing sensation is a red flag.Odorless.
MushroomsGolden caps with bluish or purplish hues on the stem. Dried or fresh.Earthy, not particularly pleasant.Musty, earthy.
MDMAUsually a white crystalline powder, pressed into pills, or crystalline rocks that are white or brownish.Very bitter, chemical taste.Slight licorice or root beer-like scent.
DMTUsually a white to yellowish, orangish or reddish powder, or crystalline material.Very bitter, unpleasant.Strong and unique, often compared to new shoes or burnt plastic.

Our senses can be fooled, and harmful substances might mimic your desired psychedelic without the same level of psychedelic safety. This method alone just doesn’t cut it. 

RELATED: Is Ketamine Therapy For Depression Safe?

Reagent Testing: DIY Detective Work for Psychedelic Safety

Taking it up a notch, you can test your drugs at home. Think of these kits as your own chemistry lab, helping you ID MDMA, cocaine, LSD and ketamine. DanceSafe, a nonprofit, sells excellent drug testing kits

It’s easy: 

  1. Put a pinhead-sized bit of your substance on a white plate or bowl.
  2. Add a drop of the testing solution–called the reagent–to the sample. Most drugs need to be tested with more than one reagent. 
  3. Watch for the color change. 
  4. Whip out the color chart and compare.

Mostly, as DanceSafe says, “you’re looking for red flags, not green lights.” The test shows impurities, adulterants (like meth in MDMA), and analogs (drugs that feel very similar, like n-bombs for LSD). 

DanceSafe’s reagent color chart: 

Reagent tests aren’t foolproof. They can’t tell you about the purity, potency, or identify mixtures of substances. As you may have noticed, many of the substances will turn the same color when exposed to reagents. Using multiple reagents can help rule out the presence of adulterants–but it is limited.  

RELATED: I’m Mentally and Physically Healthy. Should I Take Psychedelics?

Sending Samples for Professional Testing

And now, for the crème de la crème of testing: Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry. This is when you go all out and send your samples to the professionals, sending your hallucinogens on a little trip of their own, to a high-tech lab like Energy Control or DrugsData. If anyone can assess psychedelic safety, it’s them.

Here’s how: 

  1. Gather a small sample of your substance.
  2. Package it up (discreetly and safely, folks!)
  3. Mail it to your chosen lab.

These testing labs are awesome. They’re anonymous and confidential. They can tell you almost exactly what’s in your substance.

A DrugsData report showing that a pill sold as MDMA was actually just caffeine and meth.

Depending on the lab and how fast you want your results, it could set you back anywhere from $50 to $200. It also takes at least a week or two. However, it’s the most accurate testing method available.

Common Adulterants and Imposters

An easy way for medicine providers to make more money is to substitute cheaper drugs for more expensive ones. It’s essential to know the most common doppelgängers that could be hiding in your stash.


Also called ecstasy or molly, MDMA has a few crafty look-alikes. Meth and methylone are often used as adulterants or replacements due to their stimulating effects. Cathinones, too. 


Typically, DMT is quite distinctive and challenging to adulterate due to its unique physical properties and effects. But unscrupulous sellers have been known to pass off synthetic cannabinoids or research chemicals as DMT.


The most notorious imposter for LSD is a class of substances called NBOMe. These substances (like 25I-NBOMe or 25C-NBOMe) are synthetic psychedelics that can cause severe physical side effects, including dangerously high blood pressure, seizures, and in some cases, even fatalities. If it’s bitter, it’s a spitter!

A test strip from DanceSafe for fentanyl

The Fentanyl Threat to Psychedelic Safety

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, a downer that has been sneaking into all sorts of substances, from street heroin to counterfeit prescription pills, and–for reasons that don’t always make sense–even stimulating substances like cocaine and MDMA. 

Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. A tiny amount can lead to a fatal overdose. 

Fentanyl test strips to the rescue!

Fentanyl test strips are lifesavers. They are easy to use and reliable. DanceSafe sells them. Here’s how you conduct the DanceSafe tests:

  1. Dilute your drugs in water. 
  2. Dip the strip into the liquid.
  3. Read the result. 

Pay attention to the instructions, as not all testing kits work the same. 

Psychedelic Safety First

It might seem like a buzzkill to get all scientific about your magical goodies, but remember, safety is the key to a fun time. You wouldn’t skydive without checking your parachute. 

A solid testing strategy might save your life. Or at least your night (or day, we don’t judge).  

Graham Pilger

Graham Pilger

View all posts by Graham Pilger

Graham Pilger is a passionate expert in the field of psychedelic medicine, business, and research, with over 4 years of experience. His diverse background spans from collaborating with laboratories to develop plant-based medicines and psychedelic compounds, to participating in psychiatric research projects. In addition to his professional expertise, Graham is an avid home mycologist who has cultivated an extensive understanding of various mushroom-growing techniques. His hands-on experience ranges from beginner methods to advanced cultivation practices.

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