In August, face-to-face drug-checking service CanTEST was launched in Canberra. Since being established, its helped almost 200 people test their recreational drugs, with advice being given based on the results. While some people simply go forward with their recreational choices, most choose to discard their drugs if the service finds they are laced with harmful or unexpected substances. But in a shocking discovery, a new recreational drug called CanKet has been discovered by scientists at the pill-testing site.
CanKet is, according to scientists, similar to ketamine but has a number of unknown side effects. According to chemistry lead at the site, Associate Professor Malcolm McCleod, someone brought in a small plastic bag of crystals and powder, and while it was originally thought that the drug was ketamine, the side effects discovered were markedly different.
Ketamine, the powerful anaesthetic, is typically snorted or injected to provide a high. Side effects that are commonly associated with the drug include nausea, vomiting, hallucination, high blood pressure and confusion. As McLeod explained, “We have a couple of techniques on site to test for ketamine and we can be really sure of the results. It was clear this wasn’t ketamine, but rather a ketamine-like substance.”
After sharing their findings with ACT health and the UN Office of Drug Control and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, the consensus was that no organisation had ever seen the drug before, making it something of a breakthrough discovery. Since then, CanTEST has identified about half a dozen other samples of CanKet through their service.
As The Guardian reports, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission has said that unknown illicit substances – otherwise known as ‘new psychoactive substances’ – are becoming a global issue, warranting greater caution.
As a spokesperson explained to the publication, “NPS in Australia re a niche drug market that is not growing. That said, some of the substances are potentially lethal, including in small doses, and often users lack knowledge of the precise content of the substance, which is always dangerous. The substances are often imported following purchases over the internet.”
Currently, it’s understood that more research needs to be done to better understand CanKet, as well as its side effects and where it came from. As McLeod said, “My suspicion is that this is produced overseas in a jurisdiction where the laws around the production of chemicals like this are not prohibited yet. I think it’s important that we keep the community safe and this shows the value of pill-testing services in doing that. We have been able to find a new substance and provide information to people in a timely matter, whereas government agencies and drug laws can take a while to catch up.”
McLeod added: “Services like this can only help to reduce the potential harms of drug use, and shows pill testing services can play a valuable role in monitoring the drug market.”