The Values and Philosophy Behind QTests

by Emanuel Sferios

Both and miraculix were founded on the principles of harm reduction, cognitive liberty, and scientific integrity. We recognize the tremendous responsibility we hold in selling a product to the general public that has such significant potential consequences for individual health and safety. Ingesting too large a dose of any drug (overdosing) can have serious repercussions. That means the accuracy of any claimed quantitative drug checking kit is a moral and ethical imperative. Below I explain why we chose to take on this responsibility, why we stand by our products, and how we keep ourselves honest and maintain our integrity.

Harm Reduction and the Need for Drug Checking

Prohibition has created a public health crisis. Many psychoactive drugs with a high public demand have been declared illegal by governments around the world, resulting in unregulated markets with no enforceable quality control standards. The devastating results of this can be seen in the five-fold increase in US drug-related fatalities since 2015, with over 120,000 deaths now happening each year, most involving fentanyl. This has led many cities and counties across the US and Canada to establish walk-in drug checking programs where consumers can bring their drugs in for qualitative analysis prior to ingesting them.

Missing from these programs, however, is any sort of quantitative analysis. Standard reagents as well as immunoassay test strips can tell you what drugs you have. But they cannot tell you how potent they are. This is the gap we are trying to fill. As the Swiss Physician and philosopher of the German Renaissance, Paracelsus, said almost 700 years ago, “the dose makes the poison.” Quantitative drug checking kits can assist consumers and drug checkers in preventing overdoses.

This was the motivation of Dr. Felix Blei when he began his multi-year endeavor to develop QTests for specific drugs. And this was my motivation when I agreed to take on their US marketing and distribution. (While currently we only have QTests for four substances, we will be releasing ones for other drugs in the near future.)

Respecting Individual Choice

We do not judge any person’s choice to consume any psychoactive substance they choose. Archeological evidence shows that humans have altered their consciousness with drugs for tens of thousands of years. Despite the fact that all drug use entails risk, and problematic drug use is real and often devastating, the fact remains that millions many people continue to use mind-altering substances (including illegal ones that entail a further risk of imprisonment). There is no other explanation for this than that these people receive benefits from their use. From relaxation to stimulation to personal and spiritual insight, there are many reasons why someone might choose to use any particular drug.

We believe individuals have the right to alter their consciousness so long as in doing so they are not harming others. We believe this is a human right. As such, individuals also have a right to determine the amount or potency of the drugs they want to consume. QTests offer people that opportunity. Without judgment.

Scientific Integrity

We stand by the accuracy of our products. Each QTest has gone through rigorous laboratory development and assessment. And because they require the tester to interpret the results using an enclosed color chart, we have also conducted studies using volunteers to assess the potential margin of error. While most people were able to accurately select the proper color bar representing the true potency of the drug sample, some people were off by one bar (either above or below). This represents a potential margin of error of approximately 10% compared to high pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC).

To reduce this interpretative margin of error, we are exploring the use of hand held spectrometers that can determine potency with 100% accuracy, eliminating the need for human evaluation. These, however, would entail an extra cost to the consumer, so color chart evaluation will likely remain an option.

Keeping Ourselves in Check

Both and miraculix are businesses with worker-owners as well as employees who need to make money to survive while providing the products and services we offer. Our goal is to offer drug checking technology to the public at the lowest possible price. At the same time, we recognize that single-use kits priced at $25 are prohibitively expensive for many people. This price reflects the various costs that go into the research, development and manufacturing of the kits, as well as the packing, storing, shipping, customer service, and the legal/administration costs of running two businesses. We are continuing to look for ways to lower the the price of the kits, but currently these are the only sustainable prices.

We also recognize the inherent temptation and seductive allure of money that so often undermines even those with the best of intentions. This phenomenon can be seen throughout both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, where making money often takes precedent over truth and mission. The drug checking industry is no exception. While we won’t name names, one only has to look at the many test kit sellers out there claiming to have “purity tests,” or who produce color charts claiming their reagents can detect far more drugs than they are actually capable.

When I first met Felix and the crew at miraculix, I was skeptical of their claims to have quantitative reagent test kits that actually work. But after testing them myself, as well as getting to know them through many phone calls and zoom sessions, I was impressed by their ethics and integrity. They shared my decades-long concern over the lack of regulations in the drug checking industry, and the lies and deceptions of many for-profit test kit sellers (intentional or not). We all still speak regularly about ethics and values, and how to keep each other in check and maintain our integrity.

We therefore make a solemn promise to you—drug consumers as well as those who serve and care about them—we will never lie or exaggerate about the capabilities of our products. We will price them as low as we can and never get rich off them. We will provide prompt and truthful education and customer service to whomever needs it. (Email or call me anytime at 530-368-7593.)

We will continue to advocate for an end to prohibition, for the human rights of people who use drugs, and for the legal regulation of drugs that will one day, hopefully, eliminate the very need for drug checking kits, even though this might put us out of business.

Thank you and stay safe.

Emanuel Sferios
Owner and Operator,
Store Manager, Grassroots Harm Reduction