Canberra pill-testing service discovers new unknown drug similar to ketamine – The Guardian

‘As far as we’re aware, this is the first detection of a new drug by a drug-checking service anywhere in the world,’ says professor

A new recreational drug dubbed CanKet, similar to ketamine but with unknown side effects, has been found by scientists at Australia’s first fixed pill-testing site.
CanTEST, a face-to-face drug-checking service, was launched in Canberra in August. Since then, almost 200 people have brought their recreational drugs in for analysis and advice based on the results. Some people choose to discard their drugs if the service finds they are laced with harmful or unexpected substances.
The chemistry lead at CanTEST, Associate Prof Malcolm McCleod, said someone brought in a small plastic bag of crystals and powder, and while they thought the drug was ketamine, the side effects were different.
Ketamine is a powerful anaesthetic typically snorted or injected to provide a high, with common side effects including nausea, vomiting, hallucination, high blood pressure, and confusion.
“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,” McLeod, from the Australian National University, said.
“That’s why we have called it ‘CanKet,’ as in Canberra ketamine.”
“This is new for Australia. As far as we’re aware, this is the first detection of a new drug by a drug-checking service anywhere in the world.”
He said researchers found nothing in the scientific literature about CanKet aside from one article from a Chinese forensic lab.
“It’s so new we just don’t have information we can provide to people about this drug,” McLeod said.
“Nothing is known about the clinical effects on the consumer, and being something new, we urge caution. You can make quite small changes to a drug and see quite dramatic changes to its effects.”
The Australian National University and CanTEST teams shared their findings with ACT Health, as well as the UN Office of Drug Control and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, which had also never seen the drug before.
CanTEST researchers have identified about half a dozen other samples of the drug through their service since the first sample was found in August.
Guardian Australia has contacted ACT Health for comment.
A spokesperson from the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission said that unknown illicit substances, known collectively as ‘new psychoactive substances’ (NPS), are a global issue.
“NPS in Australia are a niche drug market that is not growing,” she said.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.”
MacLeod said more research needs to be done to understand CanKet, its effects and where it came from.
“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,” he said.
“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.
“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.”

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