Marquis reagent is used as a simple spot-test to presumptively identify alkaloids as well as other compounds. It is composed of a mixture of formaldehyde and concentrated sulfuric acid, which is dripped onto the substance being tested. The United States Department of Justice method for producing the reagent is the addition of 100 mL of concentrated (95–98%) sulfuric acid to 5 mL of 40% formaldehyde.:12 Different compounds produce different color reactions. Methanol may be added to slow down the reaction process to allow better observation of the colour change. This is done by slowing down the polymerisation process.
It was first discovered in 1896 and described by the Russian (Estonian) pharmacologist, Eduard Marquis (1871–1944) (Russian: Эдуард Маркус) in his magister dissertation in 1896; and named after him. and was tested for the first time at the University of Dorpat.
It is the primary presumptive test used in Ecstasy testing kits. It can also be used to test for such substances as opiates (e.g. codeine, heroin), and phenethylamines (e.g. 2C-B, mescaline).
The test is performed by scraping off a small amount of the substance and adding a drop of the reagent (which is initially clear and colorless). The results are analyzed by viewing the color of the resulting mixture, and by the time taken for the change in color to become apparent