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The Importance of Measured Doses
by Fire Erowid & Spoon
Nov 2003
Citation:   Erowid, F & Spoon. "The Importance of Measured Doses". Erowid Extracts. November 2003;5:18-19
In theory, most people seem to understand the concept that psychoactives can be dangerous or extremely unpleasant if taken at the wrong dosage. But in practice, many people don't take the necessary precautions to reduce the chances of such an "overdose".

Principles of Measured Doses
  1. Use an accurate scale every time individual doses are prepared, especially for substances active at less than 50 mg.
  2. Demand that individual doses purchased from others be labelled with their exact weight.
  3. Never measure in a hurry. Individual doses can be measured ahead of time to remove the possibility of being rushed.
  4. Never measure when high or overtired. When judgement is altered, it's easy to get more than you bargained for.
While high-quality accurate scales can be expensive, some groups choose to purchase a single scale to be shared. Ten people contributing $40 each can purchase a good scale.

Many people who acquire powdered psychoactives believe that they can "eyeball" doses accurately enough that a scale isn't required. Eyeballing methods take a variety of forms. One example is the "graph paper method", where a known quantity is spread as evenly as possible on graph paper to determine its volume (size). Doses are measured based on how many graph paper squares they cover. The problem with this inaccurate method--and with most eyeballing methods--is that the volume of a measured mass (weight) of material can vary dramatically depending on how dense the material is.

"I Took One"
While bored at a party, my ears perked up a bit at the sound of a nearby conversation about psychoactive drugs. Wandering closer, I overheard a girl talking about an unpleasant experience she had recently had with a research chemical. I asked the first question that came to mind in such a situation:

"How much did you take?"

Her answer was, "One."

"One what?" I asked. "Do you know how many milligrams?"

To which she replied "Milligrams? I took one."

She didn't seem to understand that a unit of weight could be applied to the quantity of a drug, or that just because a substance came in pill or capsule form didn't mean she had no control over her dose.

-- An Erowid Volunteer

A solid crystal of mescaline exactly 1 cm by 1 cm will weigh significantly more than an equal-sized pile of fluffy powdered mescaline. Likewise, two exactly equal-sized piles of mescaline can include parts with very different densities. Powders can go from "fluffy", with low density, large crystals, to "cakey", to dense crystals more like table salt. While the difference between powder and a solid crystal would be apparent to the careful eye, the difference between two slightly different densities of powder might not be. Obviously, these problems are even worse when comparing two different substances.

Another issue arises when eyeballing methods depend on starting with a known quantity of material. One common process is to take a known quantity of powder, say one gram of MDMA, and divide it into ten equal piles, theoretically resulting in ten 100 mg doses. But if the original "one gram" measurement can't be verified, any dividing process is merely guesswork. While it might seem unlikely that someone selling MDMA will accidentally provide too much material, it's not at all unheard of. We have received many reports from individuals who have ordered a research chemical online only to discover, when the material arrives, that the company sent nearly twice what was ordered.

Substances that have very low dosages, such as 5-MeO-DMT or 5-MeO-AMT, are especially dangerous to eyeball. Basing a "5 mg dose" on the fluffy crystal from last spring could easily lead to a 10 mg overdose of a new denser powder.

Measurement Techniques
There are several techniques people use for measuring, labelling, and storing individual doses.
  1. Measuring a series of equal-weight doses. Each dose goes into its own capsule and the capsules are kept together, with a label indicating the contents and quantity. The obvious problem with this method is that if a single capsule gets separated from the rest, there is no way to identify its contents.
  2. Measuring a series of doses that are different weights. Each dose goes into its own capsule, which is labelled in indelible ink as to its contents and quantity (some do this in code). The variety of doses lets a person choose how much they would like to ingest. The main problem with this method is that the ink can eventually wear off of a capsule.
  3. Using liquid measuring techniques. A known quantity of material is dissolved into a known volume of liquid (usually alcohol or water). Doing a simple calculation can then identify how much material is in each volume of liquid. A small volume of liquid is much easier to accurately measure than a tiny mass of a powder.1
The concern that measuring out individual doses and clearly labelling them could reduce privacy or increase vulnerability to law enforcement is an important one. However, leaving things unlabeled and unmeasured bears its own set of perils. Erring on the side of caution with measuring and labelling may reduce anxiety-causing guesswork ("did I take the dose I intended to take?") and possibly dangerous mistakes.

References #
  1. Zam. "Liquid Measurement Technique."