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Dangers Of Cocaine Cutting Agents

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Cutting cocaine increases the profit of those selling the drug. Others cut cocaine with substances that intensify or change the effects of the cocaine. Both can be dangerous for different reasons.

Dangers Of Cocaine Cutting Agents

The process known as cutting cocaine involves adding other substances to cocaine to act as fillers. This allows dealers to sell this mixture as cocaine and make more money.

Cutting cocaine is a common practice of drug dealers, as it allows them to increase their bottom line. Those who purchase this modified cocaine, however, can end up sick or worse.

The main problem with cutting cocaine is not knowing what has been added, and some of the additives are toxic, could cause an allergic or adverse reaction, or result in overdose.

Cocaine Purity

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released date on cocaine purity across the globe, and in the United States, the majority of street cocaine was about 50 percent purity. However, the purity of cocaine entering the United States is typically 74 percent purity.

This means that the purity levels of cocaine drop approximately 25 percent once it arrives in the United States, by way of drug dealers cutting cocaine with different agents.

Cocaine Cutting Agents

Another name for cutting agents is adulterants. There are several different types of adulterants, but they all serve the same purpose, so the dealers can make more money without the buyer realizing they have purchased cocaine with these additives.

The two most commonly found cocaine adulterants are banned for human consumption by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Phenacetin has been found in over 80 percent of cocaine, while Levamisole has been found in more than 65 percent of cocaine.

Visual diluents look like cocaine and once they are added they make it look like there is more cocaine product. Some of these cutting agents include:

  • talc
  • laundry detergent
  • baking soda
  • laxatives
  • chalk
  • meat tenderizer
  • creatine
  • ascorbic acid
  • boric acid
  • quinine
  • plaster of Paris
  • lactose

Some adulterants act similar to cocaine and are added to produce a similar high or numbing sensation. Some of the other stimulants and local anesthetic cutting agents are:

  • amphetamine
  • strychnine
  • methylphenidate
  • caffeine
  • benzocaine
  • lidocaine
  • procaine
  • tetracaine

In certain circumstances, cocaine may be mixed with other illegal drugs in an attempt to increase the effects of both drugs. The most common drugs added to cocaine include:

  • heroin (referred to as a speedball)
  • LSD (acid)
  • hash
  • fentanyl
  • PCP
  • marijuana
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There have been reports of specific medications being added to cocaine, although the reasoning is not well understood. These medications include Phenytoin (anti-convulsant), phenacetin (pain medication), and levamisole (parasitic worm treatment used in veterinary medicine).

The biggest concern regarding these cutting agents is the potential for adverse reactions or side effects of these adulterants. Most people purchasing cocaine are unaware of the cutting agent being used, which can result in serious consequences.

Most Dangerous Cocaine Cutting Agents

Every adulterant that is mixed with cocaine is dangerous, for a variety of reasons. Any substance that is snorted into the nasal passages or inhaled into the lungs can cause respiratory issues.

Talc ingestion and Phenacetin have been linked to cancer. Laundry detergent can cause blockages in the liver, heart and brain. Freebasing can cause burns in the throat and nasal passages from the ether in the mixture.

Levamisole has linked to agranulocytosis, which destroys white blood cells, increasing risk for infection. Several people have gotten extremely sick and fatalities have occurred with cocaine cut with levamisole.

Levamisole and cocaine also seems to be linked to severe skin infections that cause extreme tissue damage and in some cases, skin death has occurred.

Cocaine cut with fentanyl can be fatal, especially if the person is not aware that the cocaine is cut with the highly potent opioid. Because fentanyl is fatal is extremely low doses, people who have a high tolerance for cocaine may ingest too much fentanyl and experience an opioid overdose.

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Summarizing – What Are People Cutting Cocaine With?

Different cutting agents carry different risk factors, and none of them are safe. Continued cocaine use increases the risks and health problems associated with cocaine and toxic cutting agents.

It is nearly impossible for a person to find out what is in street cocaine when they purchase it. Using street drugs is quite similar to playing a game of Russian roulette.

Cocaine use can be dangerous, and those risks increase significantly due to the inability to know what has been added to the cocaine.

An additional problem is that many who have adverse reactions to the adulterants are not likely to seek medical attention for the reaction since they have been abusing cocaine.

Deadly allergic reactions, compromised immune systems, cancer, skin infections, overdose, cardiovascular damage, and blood clots are just a few of the problems associated with cutting agents in cocaine.

A person struggling with cocaine abuse is very likely to experience additional side effects directly related to the cutting agents used in the cocaine. It may be beneficial for them to talk about treatment options with an addiction specialist.

Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings - https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08998280.2018.1503478

Forensic Science International - https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0379073815004053

Journal of Chemical Neuroanatomy - https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0891061817300030

Mayo Clinic Proceedings - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3498128/

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration - https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/DAWN2k11ED/DAWN2k11ED/DAWN2k11ED.pdf

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime - http://www.unodc.org/wdr2016/field/10.3_Price_and_Purity_-_Cocaine.xls

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC
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