What Ingredients Are in Cocaine?

Erythroxylum coca: Foliage
Sten Porse/Wikimedia Commons

The cocaine powder typically sold by drug dealers is usually a mixture of cocaine hydrochloride and filler ingredients that share the appearance of cocaine, some of which have psychoactive or numbing effects, and some of which are simply white powders.

Psychoactive Ingredients

Cocaine itself is the most potent known naturally occurring stimulant, containing a chemical substance called a benzoylmethylecgonine.

It is found in the leaves of the Erythroxylum coca plant, which grows in Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, and the island of Java in Indonesia. This stimulant is the main psychoactive ingredient in cocaine, which produces the cocaine high.

People chew coca leaves to produce a sense of elevated energy and well-being, and reduce appetite, but this practice doesn't seem to cause cocaine withdrawal or addiction. Powder and freebase cocaine and crack have been artificially concentrated to produce a more rapid onset of effects, making it more addictive. The cocaine leaves are made into cocaine paste—a white, gray, or dull-brown powder. This intermediate form of cocaine contains 40 percent to 80 percent cocaine sulfate and is used in South America and some parts of the United States, where it is known by the names pasta or bazooka.

Powder cocaine is further refined to produce cocaine hydrochloride crystal, the key ingredient in powder cocaine and crack cocaine.

Street cocaine is unlikely to contain cocaine as the only psychoactive ingredient; cheaper stimulants, particularly caffeine, were found in 76 percent of samples of seized cocaine in one study. Amphetamines, methylphenidate, ergotamine, and aminophylline are also typically mixed with cocaine. Cocaine users are often surprised to find these other stimulants being reported on drug tests, as they believed they had only taken cocaine.

A study of the purity of drugs purchased through illicit online sources showed that nearly 40 percent of cocaine contained levamisole, a medication not available in the United States, which is used to treat parasitic infections.

Anaesthetic Ingredients

Cocaine has a naturally numbing effect on the nose, throat, and gums, so local anesthetics are often mixed with cocaine to give experienced users the impression that the cocaine they have purchased is of a high quality. These local anesthetics include procaine (Novocain), lidocaine, tetracaine, and benzocaine. In a study of seized drugs, lidocaine was found in more than 66 percent of cocaine samples seized.

Although anesthetics themselves are pure and legally used for medical and dental purposes, they are not without risks. These drugs include clinical contraindications and they may have significant side effects. These side effects may be unsafe and distressing to experience while under the influence of cocaine, especially because of the cocaine effects of anxiety and paranoia.

Filler Ingredients

Various inert white powders are used as fillers, including talc, flour, cornstarch, and various sugars.

Poisonous Ingredients

Although it is relatively rare for poisonous ingredients to be mixed into cocaine, the dangers are severe, so you should seek medical help immediately if you or someone you know has taken cocaine and is experiencing adverse effects.

Cocaine containing poison is known as a death hit.

Strychnine is a toxic ingredient, sometimes mixed with cocaine, that is used in rat poison and can kill humans. Psychological symptoms of strychnine poisoning are similar to the negative effects people sometimes experience from cocaine, including anxiety, restlessness, agitation, and an increased startle response, and physical symptoms include muscle pain and spasms, a rigidity of the arms and legs, and arching of the neck and back. Jaw tension is also a symptom shared with stimulants such as meth and ecstasy, so they may be easily missed. Call 911 if these symptoms arise after you or someone you know has used cocaine.

Arsenic, too, sometimes gets cut into cocaine. Arsenic causes death if consumed in large amounts, and health problems including abnormal heart rhythm, damage to the blood vessels; reduced blood cell production; corns and warts on the hands, feet and torso; and cancer. Symptoms of arsenic exposure include vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and pins and needles in the hands and feet. 

Other Ingredients

Several other ingredients have been found in some cocaine samples:

  • Quinine is sometimes added to cocaine for its bitter flavor
  • Thiamin, also known as vitamin B1
  • Tyramine, a food substance that can induce migraines, which is dangerous for people taking monoamine oxidase inhibitors
  • Sodium carbonate, also known as washing soda
  • Magnesium silicate, also known as asbestos
  • Magnesium sulfate, also known as Epsom salts
  • Salicylamide, a non-prescription pain reliever
  • Fourteen elements were identified in a study of seized drugs, and a wide variation was observed in the concentrations of elemental calcium, magnesium, sodium, phosphorus, aluminum, iron, manganese, and zinc.

Freebase and crack cocaine, which are types of cocaine that have been further refined so that they can be smoked, are prepared using alkalis, such as ammonia or sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), or solvents, such as ether.

Sources:

Caudevilla F, Ventura M, Fornís I, et al. Results of an international drug testing service for cryptomarket users. International Journal of Drug Policy. 2016; 3538-41.  

CDC Case Definition: Arsenic (Inorganic). https://emergency.cdc.gov/agent/arsenic/casedef.asp

Magalhães EJ, Nascentes CC, Pereira LA, et al. Evaluation of the composition of street cocaine seized in two regions of Brazil. Science & Justice. 2013; 53(4), 425-432.2013. 

What Is Cocaine. National Institute on Drug Abuse. NIH. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/cocaine/what-cocaine

 

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