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What’s the difference between pills and caps? Do caps have more MDMA?

“Some of my friends use MDMA and keep telling me that caps are much better than pills. They say that caps are better quality and contain more MDMA. Pills could contain anything and are a waste of money. Is that true?”

Ecstasy is an illegal drug and is the commonly used street term for the chemical MDMA. Ecstasy is sold as a pill or tablet, capsule (or ‘cap’), powder and in crystal form. The strength of MDMA can vary enormously, no matter what the form and it is important to remember that drugs sold and consumed as ecstasy could contain any combination of a number of substances that may or may not be related to the substance users are after.

Pills and tablets were once the most common form of ecstasy used in Australia. That has changed dramatically in recent years, with the use of pills decreasing and capsules becoming increasingly popular with users. This change is probably due to the decline in the purity of tablets that occurred in the early 2000s, coupled with uncertainty around the actual drugs being taken and a perceived rise in purity of capsules. People increasingly differentiate between lower quality ‘ecstasy’ tablets (often referred to as ‘pills’ or ‘pingers’) and high quality ‘MDMA’ capsules, which are often referred to as a ‘pure form’ of the drug. But it doesn’t seem to be quite that simple …

There have been times when MDMA capsules have been found to contain low-strength MDMA, a completely different substance or no active compound whatsoever. Similarly, testing of some pills and tablets have identified the presence of extremely high-strength MDMA. A recent Health Alert issued by the NSW Health Department warned of both pills and capsules that had been seized and tested and found to contain 2-3 times the ‘common dose’ making them potentially far more dangerous. Both forms had similar MDMA content.

There is evidence that ecstasy, no matter what form it is sold, is getting stronger, i.e., there is a greater amount of MDMA present. This does not mean that the pill or capsule is ‘safe’. It is important to remember that MDMA is not a ‘safe’ drug and can cause harm, including death, particularly in very high doses.

As much as some ecstasy users would like to believe it to be true, there is no evidence to suggest that the form of the drug (i.e., pill or capsule) guarantees its contents in relation to strength and purity. Even if it did, this does not mean that it would be ‘safe’ to use. Even when you know the contents of a pill, powder or liquid, there is no way of knowing how that drug will affect you at that time.

First published: June 2021

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