New Recreational Drug ‘CanKet’ Discovered in Canberra

New Recreational Drug ‘CanKet’ Discovered in Canberra

The scientists at Australia’s first fixed pill-testing site CanTEST discovered a new recreational drug dubbed ‘CanKet’ similar to ketamine but with unknown side effects. Ketamine is a powerful anesthetic typically snorted or injected to provide a high, with common side effects including nausea, vomiting, hallucination, high blood pressure, and confusion.

The dissociative was first detected in mid-August, after an individual brought a small bag of white crystals and powder to a team of researchers at Australia’s first government-backed pill and drug testing service, CanTEST, in the capital Canberra.

The client had originally thought the substance was ketamine but said the effects “were very different to what they expected.” They asked the staff at the clinic to take a closer look. These initial tests quickly ruled out the possibility of ketamine—and subsequent lab tests revealed that the white powder was, in fact, a structurally similar substance that had been synthesized, somewhere, from scratch.

It was, researchers who concluded, a mysterious new synthetic drug, which they have now dubbed CanKet.   

Associate Prof Malcolm McCleod said “We have a couple of techniques on site to test for ketamine and we can be really sure of the results. It was clear this wasn’t ketamine, but rather a ketamine-like substance. That’s why we have called it ‘CanKet,’ as in Canberra ketamine.”

According to him, this is the first detection of a new drug by a drug-checking service anywhere in the world as the researchers found nothing in the scientific literature about CanKet aside from one article from a Chinese forensic lab.

He added, “Nothing is known about the clinical effects on the consumer, and being something new, we urge caution. You can make quite small changes to a drug and see quite dramatic changes to its effects. However, really small changes can have quite large effects, which is why we’re concerned. We could have a scenario where a relatively new substance like this causes real harm.”

While the potential dangers are as yet unknown, experts have already flagged concerns about the risks of such a mysterious, unstudied drug being so readily available to consumers—especially those who assume they’re getting ketamine, a relatively safe substance in the narcotics taxonomy.

Many experts agree that the best way to mitigate such dangers is to have more drug testing services like CanTEST and to make them more readily available to people who are going to take illicit substances.

The Australian National University and CanTEST teams shared their findings with ACT Health, as well as the UN Office of Drug Control and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, which had also never seen the drug before.

MacLeod said more research needs to be done to understand CanKet, its effects, and where it came from. He added that services like CanTEST Services can only help to reduce the potential harms of drug use, and shows pill testing services can play a valuable role in monitoring the drug market.

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