New research has found pill-testing services do not result in people taking MDMA if they had not used the drug before.

The research also found that pill testing does not lead to increased use among people who already use MDMA.

A common argument made by opponents of pill testing is that it gives people a ‘green-light’ to take recreational drugs such as MDMA. They fear people who have never taken a drug before will be encouraged to try it, or people who already take the drug will be encouraged to consume more.

The study from Edith Cowan University (ECU), however, concluded that this is false.

The research, published in the Drug and Alcohol Review this week, surveyed 247 people over a three-day period at a music festival in Western Australia. 

212 MDMA users and 35 people who’d never used MDMA were presented with hypothetical pill-testing scenarios. Neither group reported an increased intention to use MDMA in a scenario where drug testing was available.

Drug testing is advocated by proponents as a harm reduction strategy and was made legal in New Zealand in December last year. Drug checking organisations such as Know Your Stuff are not funded by the government, however, and are run entirely by volunteers with day jobs. This means that drug testing services aren’t always readily available, as stations tend to happen on an ad hoc basis.

Data collected by Know Your Stuff at New Zealand festivals over New Years showed that drug testing may reduce consumption of MDMA. Their research found that 75 percent of people would in fact refuse drugs if testing showed they were cathinones - sometimes colloquially known as bath salts - instead of MDMA.

If drug testing isn’t changing people’s intention to take drugs, what are the factors that are influencing them?

Lead researcher from the ECU study Dr Stephen Bright says, “Our study showed the biggest influence on a person’s intention to use a pill testing service at a festival was how it was viewed among their friendship group.”