‘Exotic’ drug use a worrying trend

Can a cactus really be used to produce a psychedelic drug? Credit Christopher Cassidy https://unsplash.com/photos/6G1XjZ2zUcU

Regular readers of our blogs will notice that we mainly focus on drugs, such as alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines and ecstasy. These are the drugs that are more widely used by Australians and – in most cases – are detected in roadside and workplace drug testing.

However, there is a growing trend of Australians using new and sometimes mysterious drugs that are less widely known. For example, a new recreational drug was detected recently by the nation’s first pill testing site in Canberra. It’s been called CanKet – short for Canberra ketamine, due to its similarities to ketamine.

We’ll look at a few of these newer drugs in this blog.


Ketamine has been around for a while and although it’s not widely used, its popularity did rise significantly during COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020-21.

According to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF), ketamine is a dissociative drug, because it creates a sense of detachment from reality. It can change the way you see and hear. It’s typically used as a party drug at places like festivals and clubs.

Ketamine was originally developed for medical use in the 1960s as an anaesthetic. It’s still used as an anaesthetic today by medical practitioners and vets. It’s also used to treat depression.

Just because it’s used medically doesn’t mean it’s a safe drug, however. Like other drugs that are used medicinally, the danger of ketamine used recreationally is that users have no idea of the way it’s made or its strength.

Ketamine that is manufactured for recreational use is also often mixed with other substances. In fact, of 14 samples recently presented to the Canberra pill testing facility as ketamine, only six contained ketamine. The CanKet mentioned above was one of the substances presented to the facility purporting to be ketamine.

These unknown factors – how it was made, strength and what it contains – increase the risk of overdose and other unwanted effects.


Mescaline is one of several psychedelic drugs that have appeared in Australia in recent years. Like other psychedelic drugs, it can affect all the senses, particularly a person’s thinking, sense of time and emotions.

According to the ADF, mescaline is naturally occurring and comes from cactuses originating in Mexico, Peru and Ecuador. It can be found in powder form, tablets, capsules and liquids.

With effects such as hallucinations, or seeing and hearing things that either don’t exist or are distorted, clearly mescaline may be natural but it’s not safe. There is evidence to suggest that the prior mood of the person taking mescaline and the setting can have a significant impact on the drug’s effects.

Nitrous oxide

A different form of drug is nitrous oxide, a colourless and tasteless gas that is used recreationally to get high. Incidentally, it’s used in other ways, for example as a medical anaesthetic, in baking to whip cream, and in some car engines to increase power.

According to the ADF, for recreational use, users inhale the gas using cartridges or bulbs. Sometimes the cartridges are first emptied into a balloon.

Nitrous oxide use has been gradually increasing. Back in 2001, only 0.4% of Australians had used the drug in the previous year; in 2019 it was 1.7%.

Effects can include dissociation of the mind from the body, changes in thoughts, feelings and perceptions, and visual and auditory hallucinations.

If these effects aren’t dangerous enough, users can harm themselves when using the drug. For example, users have experienced frostbite to the nose, lips and throat because the gas can be extremely cold, the pressure of the gas can harm lung tissue, and gas cartridges have been known to explode.


Can a cactus really be used to produce a psychedelic drug? Credit Christopher Cassidy https://unsplash.com/photos/6G1XjZ2zUcU

By Michael

Michael is the founder of Integrity Sampling and is responsible for overseeing all national operations. He is based at Integrity Sampling's head office in Melbourne and is also responsible for the co-ordination of drug and alcohol testing within Victoria, assisting in the implementation of drug and alcohol (fit for work) policies and the presentation of drug and alcohol education and awareness programs. You can connect with Michael Wheeldon on LinkedIn

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