Cocaine, a stimulant, is an illegal substance, which means its purity isn’t regulated by any formal agency. There are no chemists that buy and test the drug to ensure that it isn’t contaminated with an unusual ingredient, and there is no organization that can shut down producers if their cocaine is routinely contaminated.
That means every person who buys cocaine is buying an unknown substance. It could contain cocaine, it could contain cocaine mixed with something else, or it could contain a different substance altogether.
Cocaine is typically sold in white powder form, and it is extremely expensive for dealers to obtain. It is sold by weight, so it’s common for dealers to add heavy substances to the drug, such as talcum, which forces buyers to pay a little more for the hits they purchase.
But not all cocaine is mixed with inert substances. Often, dealers cut their supply with active ingredients, and when they do so, dangers arise.
Fentanyl is a powerful painkiller that boosts a feeling of happiness and enhances a sense of relaxation. According to a report from the Miami Herald, it’s a common ingredient in street cocaine in Florida. In testing performed in 2017, more than 180 cocaine samples tested positive for fentanyl.
Fentanyl can slow breathing and heart rates, and at high doses, it can cause a coma-like state that leads to death. People who take cocaine laced with fentanyl may take in too much of this powerful painkiller, and they may overdose and lose their lives.
Cocaine and methamphetamine are related chemically. Both of these substances have the ability to speed up heart rate, boost pleasure chemicals in the brain, and increase focus and attention. Someone who takes one of these substances is likely to feel very alert, very happy, and very awake. Putting these two substances together can amplify the effect.
Researchers have long known that dealers combine cocaine and amphetamine. In an article published in BMJ in 2004, researchers report that users are “primed” to use cocaine after experimenting with amphetamines, and most users prefer the power of cocaine. Even so, amphetamines stay active within the body for longer periods of time, when compared to cocaine, so blending the two could make the cocaine high seem to last longer.
At high doses, cocaine and amphetamines can spark unusual activity within the brain, leading to seizures. Each seizure raises the temperature of the body, and repeated seizures can lead to extensive tissue damage and death. Combining these two substances is considered extremely dangerous.
Levamisole is a veterinary drug used to treat worms in animals. The California Poison Control System reports that it has been added to cocaine within the state, mainly because it is:
People who take in cocaine contaminated with levamisole may have an extended high, and they may feel as though their dealers gave them a wonderful product. But the drug tends to change the way blood moves through the body, and it can lead to cuts and lesions that won’t heal.
Lidocaine, and other medications that end with “caine,” are mild anesthetics. They’re used in medications that treat sunburns and minor scrapes, and they’re easy to purchase online. When they are applied, they cause a mild form of numbing. People who place cocaine on their gums or cheeks to determine purity would have no idea if the cocaine or the lidocaine was causing the reaction.
Since lidocaine does make such a good cutting agent, according to an interview in the BBC, there is a great deal of black-market demand for the substance. Producers who create powerful lidocaine can sell it for a great deal of money, allowing dealers to add three times as much to their cocaine without alerting their buyers.
Both cocaine and lidocaine cause numbing reactions due to their interaction with small blood vessels. On contact, vessels shrink down. They can shrink down to nothing, causing local cell death. Combining cocaine and lidocaine can lead to tissue damage and death throughout the body.
People who take drugs on a regular basis may feel as though they’re able to spot contaminants easily. But if these users hope to simply “eyeball” a sample and see the unusual ingredients, they may be disappointed.
For example, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in Miami reports that only a minuscule amount of fentanyl is added to contaminated cocaine batches.
Typically, a dose will contain two or three milligrams of fentanyl, and that tiny amount is just a fraction of the size of a penny. There’s no way that a person could see that tiny dose with the naked eye.”
Testing kits could help. A testing kit allows users to place a small amount of drugs in a vial, and with the addition of a drop of chemical, the user could see what other substances might be included in each dose.
According to Vice, drug tests are very easy to buy, and they’re also inexpensive. This author tested dozens of samples at a music festival, without any prior training, and was able to convince some users to avoid the doses they had purchased. The author also points out that some American music festivals encourage testing of all drugs.
In an article in The Washington Post, authors indicate that drug testing is controversial. Most organizations would like to see users avoid drug use. Rather than testing for purity, some people would like to see drug users stop using altogether. But testing could help some people avoid an overdose and stay alive until they’re ready for treatment.
Anyone who abuses cocaine must assume that the product is contaminated with something, and that person must also assume that the contaminants are harmful. People who abuse this drug simply must find a way to stop the abuse, so they can move forward with their lives in a happy, healthy way.
(December 2017) Feds Issue Alert Over Deadly Contaminated Cocaine in Florida. Miami Herald. from https://www.miamiherald.com/news/state/florida/article190025424.html
(June 2004) Cocaine and Amphetamine Combined. BMJ. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC420295/
(December 2014) Levamisole-Contaminated Cocaine. California Poison Control System. from https://calpoison.org/news/levamisole-contaminated-cocaine
(September 2010) How Cutting Drugs Became Big Business. BBC. from https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-11177126
(September 2015) I Walked Around a Music Festival Asking to Test People's Drugs. Vice. from https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/exq57z/drug-testing-at-bestival-649
(July. 2017) Real-Time Testing of Drugs at Music Festivals Shows ‘Molly’ Often Isn’t ‘Molly.’ The Washington Post. from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2017/07/11/real-time-testing-of-drugs-at-music-festivals-shows-molly-often-isnt-molly/?utm_term=.ea5c66bc6288