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First-of-its-kind report provides deep dive into harm reduction, drug testing at Shambhala, Bass Coast

Interior Health, ANKORS, and British Columbia Centre on Substance Use have jointly released a report about music festival drug checking in 2022. The report is the first of its kind from these groups, and it studies the two largest festivals in BC: Shambhala and Bass Coast.

This report comes after Interior Health visited Shambhala’s Harm Reduction tent in 2022 for the second time. Back in 2019, Interior Health staff worked alongside ANKORS staff at the drug checking tent. The messages of the report are two-fold: harm reduction works when utilized effectively, and there is an increase in drug testing if the substance is obtained at the event.

It’s important to note that while the report details the results of several substances often found at festivals, there are substances excluded. Namely: alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, and magic mushrooms. The aforementioned substances are not tested at the Harm Reduction booths. The report mainly focuses on MDMA, MDA, Ketamine, Cocaine, LSD, and 2C-B.

The report found that in instances where they were testing what was expected to be MDMA, it was actually MDA in 1 out of 16 cases. On the flip side, when MDA was the expected substance, it turned out that it was actually MDMA in 1 out of 5 cases. This further reinforces DanceSafe’s “testing before ingesting” mantra. While the two substances have names that are quite similar, the effects they have are different. Furthermore, MDA is known to be much less predictable in its effects on the person using it.

The effects of MDA (also known by its street names “Sally,” “Sass,” or “Sassafras”) last longer than MDMA, on average six to eight hours. Furthermore, it also produces more visual hallucinations than MDMA, due in part to the higher levels of dopamine that are released when taking it. The high from MDMA (“Molly” or “Ecstasy”) lasts about three to five hours. Both drugs are hallucinogenic stimulants and they belong to the amphetamine class of drugs.

Interior Health drug checking infographic common drugs

Studies of 3,868 samples between Bass Coast and Shambhala show testing is more likely for drugs purchased on-site

There are a total of 24,900 attendees between Bass Coast Festival and Shambhala Music Festival, the latter of which had 18,000 attendees in 2022. There were 3,868 samples analyzed at both events with an average of 1.7 drugs tested per service use. Substances acquired “off-site” (not at the event) have a testing rate of 61.4%. In contrast, 85.8% of substances purchased at the festival were tested before using. That’s a testing difference of 24.4%!

You may ask: why are testing rates higher for drugs obtained on-site vs drugs purchased off-site? Its mentioned in the report that some substances are “gifted” to people at these events. Furthermore, sometimes people find baggies on the ground – or unlabelled drugs in their tickle trunk. While drug testing services are available in many BC cities – oftentimes the testing services are in larger communities and while available, the hours are limited. Furthermore, harm reduction staff are able to educate attendees and hand out DanceSafe’s informative pamphlets.

Extensive harm reduction services offered on-site at both Shambhala and Bass Coast

Both festivals in this study provide Harm Reduction services on-site. Bass Coast Music Festival has a section of their website dedicated to a Harm Reduction Education Series which includes information on topics ranging from substance checking to consent. Drug checking services are located next to the Harm Reduction Space on each day of the festival. Contrary to the report, the harm reduction team at Bass Coast does test cannabis and mushrooms. If you suspect that someone may be overdosing, alert a staff member with a radio and help will come as soon as possible.

The world class harm reduction services available at Shambhala Music Festival may be more well-known, but it’s always worth reiterating all they have to offer. ANKORS offers on-site services most of the days of the festival. Additionally, if you see anyone at the festival in need of assistance, you can call the Shambhala Safety Team’s SOS number. The Public Safety team can assist with incidents anywhere on-site, whether it be fire, security, medical, or harm reduction.

Other takeaways from the report

A few more facts of note:
– Substances that make up less than 5% of a sample can’t be accurately detected with FTIR Spectroscopy.
– For reasons that relate to the fact above, drug testing services use testing strips for substances like Fentanyl. However, this does not mean that all substances are detected.
– ANKORS tests LSD using Ehrlich reagent. This testing method can tell that there is a likelihood of the sample containing LSD – but it doesn’t flag any other substances that may be on the LSD blotter.

Read the report in full here on Interior Health’s drug checking website. Speaking of the Interior Health website – they have a breadth of knowledge on harm reduction topics. Additionally, reports of dangerous substances circulating the market are put in alerts there. As they say: knowledge is power!

Have you utilized drug testing services at festivals? Any surprising results? Let us know on our socials and in the comments below.


Important things happen in Pacific Northwest nightlife, and DMNW will send you alerts!

Written By

Hi, I'm Amanda Robinson, a Staff Writer at Dance Music NorthWest. As a lover of dance music, I'm passionate about covering the latest news and events in the industry and sharing my insights with readers. As I've always lived in the Pacific Northwest, I've been fortunate enough to explore the beautiful province of British Columbia and its vibrant culture. When I'm not writing about music, I enjoy hiking in the mountains, trying out new recipes with ingredients from local farmers' markets, and spending time with my family and friends. I also have a passion for sustainability, harm reduction and environmental conservation, and try to incorporate these values into my everyday life. Thanks for taking the time to learn a little bit about me! If you're interested in reading my work or connecting with me, you can read the articles below or find me on the social media platforms linked below.

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Important things happen in Pacific Northwest nightlife, and DMNW will send you alerts!