Ecstasy pills can be stronger than ever these days, whilst others can be cut with dangerous substances like PMMA, with both resulting in tragic and needless deaths in clubs and festivals.

While sad, each death also shines an intensely negative light on our scene, threatening the very fabric of our industry and passion.

By allowing the testing of drugs at UK festivals like The Secret Garden Party through The Loop, a charity that conducts forensic testing of drugs at UK festivals and nightclubs, organisers and local police have taken a small first step in combatting drug-related deaths this year.

Because of actions like these, we can more realistically hope to one day see the introduction of drugs testing at all clubs and festivals across the UK. But until that day comes, we must take steps to help keep harm to a minimum.

To help, The Loop's Fiona Measham and Chris Brady have put together a list of easy things we can all do to make partying and clubbing safer for everyone.

Fiona will be also be speaking about drug safety at Take Note next month. But first, read on, and help protect our future. 

Stick together

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Whether you’re drinking, using drugs or staying sober, the best way of keeping safe on a night out is to stick with your mates and look after each other. Your phone is no use in someone else’s pocket if you get separated, so keep it with you. If a friend wants to leave early, put them in a taxi and take a note of the car registration number. If your friends experience any alcohol or drug-related problems, bring these to the attention of on-site staff – you won’t be penalised for seeking help. And if you do get separated from your friends, have a pre-arranged meeting point where everyone agrees to meet up at certain points during the evening or event.

Be more than a friendly face in the crowd

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The dance music world has always been known for its friendliness and sense of community — it’s why so many of us have loved it for so many years. In the same way that you look out for your mates, it’s important to look out for others. If you see someone who looks like they’re separated from their friends and struggling with the effects of drink or drugs, be a friendly face, offer water and make sure they’re okay. And if you’re concerned about their condition, bring it to the attention of on-site services such as security, paramedics or bar staff (many of whom will be trained in first aid). Clubbers have died because they lost their mates and sat down in a quiet corner, and by the time staff found them it was too late.

Pills are stronger than ever — be aware of dosage

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Over the last five years or so, the purity of ecstasy, cocaine and other drugs has significantly increased from what was an all-time low. We have become particularly concerned about the high and very variable strength of ecstasy pills and MDMA crystal. Forensic drug testing carried out by The Loop in 2016 found pills varying in strength by a factor of 10 even on one day at one festival, ranging from 20mg MDMA to over 250mg of MDMA.

57 people died from ecstasy-related overdoses in the UK in 2015 alone, so the Loop recommends the following:

For all drugs: Start Low, Go Slow

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Whether drinking alcohol or taking other drugs, start with a small amount and wait an hour or so to feel the effects and gauge the strength before taking more. It is also a good idea to take only the drugs that you plan to take that night with you, both from a medical and policing perspective – you won’t be tempted to take more drugs when you are intoxicated and your judgement is impaired, and you won’t be caught with the extra drugs in your possession later on. Remember: you can always take more but you can’t take less.

For MDMA crystal and powder: #CrushDabWait

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If using MDMA crystal, the same rules of dosing apply. One way to reduce the risks of taking too much MDMA is to follow The Loop's #CrushDabWait approach:
1. Crush your MDMA into a fine powder;
2. Dab the end of your finger into the powder, this should give you an average dose of about 100mg MDMA (a standard dose for an adult of average height, build and tolerance);
3. Wait 1-2 hours to feel the effects and gauge the strength before considering redosing.

For ecstasy pills: Start with a Quarter & Regularly Sip Water:

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Given that many ecstasy pills are currently 5-10 times stronger than they were a decade or so ago, start with (preferably) a quarter or a half pill and wait at least an hour to feel the effects and be able to gauge the strength before considering redosing. Given the irregular shapes and hard coating of current pills, you may want to break your pill with a pill cutting device (cheap and easily available from chemists) before going out.

Remember high doses of MDMA can kill.

Chill out and drink water (but not too much)

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Two of the most significant risks of dancing for prolonged periods in hot environments while using stimulant drugs are heatstroke and dehydration. If you’re dancing in a hot club, it’s important that you do not become dehydrated. Drink plenty of water — but not too much. Try to stick to about a pint of water an hour, sipped throughout the hour. Also take regular breaks from dancing and make sure that you rest throughout the event.

Don’t mix and match

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Mixing drugs, also known as polydrug use, increases associated risks. For example, mixing cocaine with other stimulants such as amphetamines or ecstasy will put more strain on your heart. It’s important that you understand the added risks involved in polydrug use before mixing drugs. Also, avoid alcohol if using stimulant drugs. Alcohol was rarely a significant part of the early acid house and rave scene for a reason.

Don’t forget to go home!

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It’s important to give your body time to recover. Remember to eat plenty, get some sleep and avoid alcohol. Also, avoid taking stimulants like ecstasy on consecutive days, and consider having regular weekends away from clubbing. You’ll enjoy your experiences all the more when they’re special occasions.

Take drugs only where you know you'll feel comfortable and safe

One of the factors influencing the sort of drugs experience that you have is the environment in which it is taken. Consider the environment you will be in before choosing to use drugs. For instance, while using ketamine or LSD at home with friends can be an enjoyable and pleasurable experience for some, using the same drugs in a crowded environment could be a distressing experience. Also consider how vulnerable your drug of choice might make you in a strange or crowded environment and remember to look after your mates.

Keep learning — you can never know enough about safe drug usage

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There are a number of online resources and outreach organisations such as The Loop and Chill Welfare who are there to offer credible and non judgemental drugs advice. Take some time to educate yourself on the risks associated with your drugs of choice and keep up to date on changing trends and drug alerts through social media.

If you can test, do test

The Loop's drug testing tent at Secret Garden Party (Photo: Steve Rolles), image via Vice

In 2016, The Loop carried out the first “front of house” forensic drug testing service in the UK at two summer music festivals, known as Multi Agency Safety Testing (MAST). People were able to bring their substances of concern to our testing tent, have the samples tested by trained chemists and the results fed back to them directly from trained and experienced drugs workers. The Loop’s testing service will be expanding to a range of dance events and more festivals in 2017. If this free and confidential MAST service is available at venues or festivals you attend, please use it.

Get lucky, stay safe

13 — lucky for some! If you think you might get lucky on a night out, take suitable precautions. Think about popping a condom in your pocket before you go out. Look after your sexual health as you would your general health.

A lifetime’s love of music

Last but not least, don’t forget your aural health, most clubbers do! Prolonged exposure to amplified music can cause temporary or permanent damage to your hearing. A study found that 62 percent of regular British clubbers had symptoms of hearing loss. So if you hear ringing in your ears after a night out that means you are probably already damaging them, and you could risk permanent tinnitus. Think about standing a bit further away from the speakers, taking breaks from the main dance arena and wearing ear plugs. Ear plugs have developed massively in recent years, in terms of technology, effectiveness and funky but discrete designs to suit all tastes and requirements. If you look after your hearing you can carry on listening to music your whole life.

The Loop's director Fiona Measham will be presenting Safe In Sound at Take Note London on November 19th. More info here, and check out a round up video of last year's Take Note here.