Harm Reduction

Use drugs? What’s in the bag?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The only way to ensure you aren’t harmed from drugs is to avoid using them. If you choose to use drugs anyway, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of harm. If you don’t use drugs, these tips can help you support others that might.

When you buy legal drugs like alcohol, caffeine, or cigarettes, you know what you’re getting because they’re regulated: there will be a label that lists the ingredients.

But how do you know what’s *actually* in a bag of ket, MDMA or coke? How can you tell if it’s been cut with something dodgy? Or how strong it is and what affect it will have on you?


Get informed

Knowledge is power. Try to get as informed as possible about the drug you’re taking before you take it. There are online resources, like FRANK, that cover topics like how long each substance takes to work, what it feels like, common risks, and what can happen if you mix illegal drugs with prescribed drugs like anti-depressants.

Manchester Drug Analysis and Knowledge Exchange (MANDRAKE), based at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), chemically analyse drugs at events and nightclubs in Manchester. They share alerts on their Instagram and Twitter when super strength drugs are in circulation or when substances are being mis-sold or have contaminants in them.


Access free drug testing

People have become ill at Parklife, Reading, Leeds and other events after being sold what they were told by dealers was MDMA, ketamine or cocaine – but was actually a completely different substance:

A baggy doesn’t come with a list of ingredients. There’s no way of knowing what you’re taking without getting it tested.

You can collect free drug testing kits from the Advice Centre on the first floor of the Students’ Union if you’re in Manchester.

If you’re going to a music festival this summer, check out for The Loop, who offer free drug testing and non-judgemental advice at several festivals.


Crush, dab and wait

The strength of drugs can vary significantly, even if you use the same dealer. Pills that look the same, even from the same batch, may have different contents. In 2021, the ‘worlds strongest pill’ was found in a nightclub in Manchester, with 577mg of MDMA – nearly six times an average dose and more than enough to cause a fatal overdose.

The only way to avoid harming yourself from drugs is to avoid taking them. Given the rising levels of purity and the associated risk, if you choose to use drugs despite the risks, you should follow the advice of drugs charity The Loop and crush, dab and wait:

  • Crush: always start with a small, crushed measure to prevent overdosing.
  • Dab: take a small bump of powder (or another measure, like a quarter of a pill)
  • Wait: wait until you can feel the effects before considering taking more – this may take up to 90 minutes or more. Set a timer on your phone to keep track.

Know when to seek help

If you feel unwell, seek help.

  • In halls, call Security or ResLife.
  • At events, go to a bar and ask for medical help. Look for someone with a radio and ask them to call for medics.
  • Elsewhere, call 999.

FRANK have a useful guide on what to do in an emergency.


Is the comedown worth it?

Anxiety and depression are, sadly, not uncommon within our Manchester student community. A comedown can really exacerbate these feelings, depleting your brain of serotonin and dopamine. And repeated use of drugs like ketamine, MDMA and cocaine will have an even bigger impact. Could changing the way you use drugs improve your mental health?

There’s free, non-judgemental help if you’d like to explore reducing your drug usage, or if you want to stop entirely. Speak to the SU Advice Centre or the University’s Counselling and Mental Health Service for more information.


Be mindful of others

Not everyone takes drugs. If you choose to use, be considerate of friends, housemates, or neighbours who might not want to see you taking drugs or high. And be mindful that if you are on a course with professional accreditation, many professional bodies have conduct requirements around drugs and alcohol.

Complete a quiz on these tips to WIN £200 OF TICKETMASTER VOUCHERS! To enter the competition, read through all our harm reduction tips and complete a short quiz here.

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