What are reagents?
Reagents are chemicals that turn certain colors when they come into contact with certain drugs. Reagents cannot detect every drug, nor can they tell you how pure or potent your drugs are. Even if you get the expected color reactions for the drug you want, there could still be one or more other drugs present. This is because:
- Not all drugs change color with reagents.
- Darker colors may overshadow lighter colors.
- A very tiny quantity of a drug may not produce a visible color change.
Despite these limitations, reagent testing is useful for determining whether your sample definitely does not contain the drug you want.
- Detect the presence of certain drugs
- Give you information about whether a drug is suspicious
- Inform your decision about whether or not to consume a drug (“informed consent”)
- Tell you how potent your drugs are
- Tell you if your drugs are pure
- Confirm exactly what is in your drugs
How to use reagents
1. Place a tiny amount of your drug onto a white, ceramic plate.
- Make it about the size of a pinhead. We will refer to this as the “sample” of your drug.
- For pressed pills, use a sharp knife to scrape the powder off the side.
- For blotter paper, cut off a tiny piece of the corner.
- For liquid drugs, place one drop onto the plate.
2. Carefully place one drop of reagent onto the sample.
- Do not let the bottle touch the sample or you will contaminate the entire bottle of reagent.
- If you are using a 2-bottle reagent such as Simon’s, Folin, or Morris, place one drop from bottle A and then one drop from bottle B onto the same sample.
3. Observe the color change and compare with the enclosed color chart.
- Most reagents will change color within twenty seconds.
- Ehrlich’s reagent can take up to 5 minutes.
- For all reagents except Ehrlich’s and Morris, the reaction is only valid for the first 40 seconds or so.
- Morris reagent is the only reagent that needs to be stirred. Use a toothpick or the sharp point of a knife.
- The final color will appear after stirring for a full 30 seconds.
- Most drugs need to be tested with more than one reagent.
- When using multiple reagents:
- 1. Put the cap back on the first reagent.
- 2. Repeat the process using a new sample for each reagent.
5. Clean up.
- Use baking soda to neutralize the chemicals, then wash the plate with soap and water.
How to read reactions
Be aware: There are over 25,000 drugs on the market, and there are many factors that can influence a reagent reaction.
When you’re reading the color chart, it’s very important to remember that you’re looking for red flags, not green lights. You should see whether the color reactions you’re getting are “as expected” for a given drug.
If any reactions are unusual, the reaction is “not as expected.” It’s impossible to know which of the six factors listed below have caused an unexpected reaction without sending the sample to a lab like DrugsData.
Things that can cause an unexpected reaction:
- Leftover precursors (ingredients used to make a drug)
- Impurities from the manufacturing process
- Adulterants (active drugs cut in, like meth in MDMA pills)
- Bulking agents (inactive drugs cut in, like supplements)
- Mixtures (multiple things in the sample)
- Analogs (drugs that are very chemically similar to a more popular substance, and might react almost exactly the same despite having different dosages or effects)
Example: MDA has recently been turning green/black with Simon’s reagent instead of not reacting. Cocaine used to not react at all with Marquis reagent, but in recent years it almost always turns a pale peach or pink color. We suspect that this is due to a change in how both drugs are being made.
Example: When testing an MDMA pill, an “expected” reaction would be Marquis turning black, Simon’s turning blue, and Froedhe turning black. If Marquis turns orange instead of black, this is an immediate sign that there’s definitely no MDMA in your sample.
Example: When testing an Adderall pill from the internet, an “expected” reaction would be Marquis turning orange, Simon’s not reacting, and Liebermann turning orange. If Marquis turns orange, Simon’s doesn’t react, but Liebermann turns black, you know that something is wrong, but you don’t know what.
It might be tempting to try to make guesses about why you got an unexpected reaction, but you are always missing information without a full lab analysis. Even DrugsData can’t tell you whether there are inert bulking ingredients in your drug. It is sometimes possible to make educated guesses, but we usually find that those guesses are disproven by actual lab analysis.
THE COLOR CHART
Below are reactions for some of the most commonly used drugs. There are many online resources where people have collected additional reagent reactions for other drugs, but we haven’t verified them.
- A dark gray/green reaction on Simon’s reagent is now an expected reaction for MDA.
- A light pink or peach reaction on Marquis reagent is now an expected reaction for cocaine. (Use the “how to test cocaine” insert on the pamphlet for more detailed information.)
Storage & handling
Keep reagents out of heat and sunlight to make them last as long as possible. Storing in a freezer is ideal, but a fridge works too.
If stored in a refrigerator or freezer, most reagents have a shelf life of at least a year. (Make sure to thaw them out to room temperature before use.) Try to dispose of unused reagents at a hazardous waste facility.
- Mandelin reagent starts out light orange in color and turns cloudy yellow after 3-4 weeks. This is okay. Make sure to shake the bottle before each use.
- Marquis and Mecke reagents begin as clear liquids and gradually darken over time. This is okay. They are only expired when the liquid in the bottle becomes so dark that you can no longer see the color reaction.