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How Ultraviolet Lights Spot Illicit Substances

When most people think of uses for fluorescent light bulbs and tubes, typically it is to serve as an efficient source of light for large offices and warehouses, but they serve other functions as well.

Probably one of the most fascinating examples of the use of ultraviolet fluorescent bulbs as a way to quickly scan for illicit drug residue, most commonly used in nightclubs and major events as a safety and security precaution.

There are certain substances, most notably amphetamine, cocaine and MDMA (otherwise known as Ecstasy), that noticeably glow under blacklight conditions, even when only found in small, trace amounts.

This makes detecting substances that are commonly smuggled into event locations far easier, as traces can be found on clothing and fingertips, as well as being used by forensic investigators when exercising a search warrant on suspicion of drug possession.

Powder residue often remains on surfaces, tools, clothes and hands, and can even be easily passed from place to place, allowing security staff and investigators to know at least to some degree that Class A or B substances have been used ahead of other forms of drug testing.

Exactly how brightly they will show under UV light will depend on the level of purity, with cocaine showing with at least 87 per cent purity, and amphetamine showing with 78 per cent purity.

MDMA, on the other hand, will typically either shine brightly under UV light if it is genuine, or will not show at all if it is a commonly used substitute.

Whilst there has been some debate about exactly what drugs can be detected using UV light and whether its purity requirements make it effective against street drugs that are often cut with other substances, it has acted as a deterrent against the use of drugs in various night time establishments.

UV lights are often used in other ways to stop drug use, for example by making it more difficult to use injectable drugs in a particular venue.

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