From the Bulletin of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies
MAPS - Volume 9 Number 1 Spring 1999 - pp. 37-38

See also the MDMA Research Page

The Ecstasy Harm Reduction Project

Emanuel Sferios

Visit the Dancesafe website

The mission or goal of the Ecstasy Harm Reduction Project is to reduce the harm to both the individual and society resulting from the use of ecstasy and other dance-related drugs. There are three ways in which we intend to accomplish this goal:

Laboratory Pill Testing

We will be coordinating a nation-wide, laboratory pill-testing project whereby ecstasy users can anonymously send pills to a licensed laboratory for testing using gas chromatography. We will then publish the test results on a website. As ecstasy is most often sold in the form of pressed tablets with a specific logo stamped into them, users can then compare the brands being sold in their area to the brands we have tested on the website. Included with the test results will be a photograph of each pill along with its exact measurement.

Similar lab testing programs are underway in England, Germany, Switzerland, France and Holland. These programs are proving successful in their efforts to help users determine what drugs are contained in which brands of ecstasy so that dangerous substances, as well as drugs with unwanted effects, can be avoided.

We have already contacted a professional laboratory that has agreed to perform these testing services for us. Drug Detection Laboratories, in Sacramento, California, has a DEA license to handle controlled substances, and has agreed to test sent anonymously pills and report the results to this project.

Peer to Peer Education

Along with determining the contents of pills, there are health concerns related to the use of ecstasy and other drugs within the rave/dance scene. We are developing ing a network of volunteer educators who attend Bay Area raves and dance club events, set up harm reduction booths, and educate youth about the health and safety issues relating to each of these drugs. These efforts have been very successful. We have already distributed thousands of pieces of literature and engaged hundreds of users, predominantly youth, in conversations about the health and safety issues of their drug use.

User Testing Kits

We will also be distributing testing kits that enable users to screen for fake pills and potentially dangerous adulterants. These testing kits, developed for this purpose in Holland in 1997, contain a chemical substance called the Marquis Reagent, which changes color in the presence of amphetamine-like molecular compounds. Subtle but distinguishable differences in color-change occur between all of the most common substances sold as ecstasy. These kits are currently being distributed to ecstasy users through various harm reduction programs in England and throughout Europe.

Background, leadership, organizational structure

The Ecstasy Harm Reduction Project was conceived in Summer 1997 after researching similar harm reduction programs in England, Europe and Canada. Since then we have been networking with individuals and organizations within the Bay Area rave and harm reduction communities. We have close relationships with individuals working within the Harm Reduction Coalition in Oakland, the Lindesmith Center in San Francisco, the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic, The Berkeley Free Clinic, and the East Bay Needle Exchange. We also have working relationships with many rave promoters in the Bay Area, more and more of whom have been asking us to attend their events.

Currently we have two coordinators, Emanuel Sferios and Rebecca Rosdahl along with a few volunteers. Emanuel's background is in the Bay Area activist community, having worked with groups such as the Prison Activist Resource Center, Food Not Bombs, and Berkeley Copwatch. He has currently led our networking efforts within the harm reduction community, as well as the user-testing kits and laboratory analysis aspect of our program. Rebecca has been a part of the Bay Area rave community for many years. In 1997 she founded "Just Say Know," which has been producing and distributing harm reduction literature at raves and techno dance events for two years. She has led our networking efforts within the rave scene, establishing relationships with Bay Area rave promoters. Our organization is perhaps properly conceived of as a merging of Rebecca's and Emanuel's efforts, combining peer-to-peer education with drug identification. We think that together these provide the most comprehensive harm reduction for drug users in these communities.


There is a tangible need for harm reduction within the community of ecstasy users in the Bay Area and nationwide, particularly in the form of peer education and direct health and safety services like drug identification. We have confirmed this need among ecstasy users themselves, both through outreach interviews at Bay Area raves, and by monitoring various internet websites, usenet groups and e-mail lists pertaining to ecstasy. Many ecstasy users (whether regular or occasional) are not aware that a variety of other drugs are sold under the name of ecstasy. The primary concern of those who are aware is identifying the contents of particular pills. We are looking for seed funds. Most of this money will go directly to the laboratory testing project.

The Ecstasy Harm Reduction Project has become Dancesafe

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