The “coke” that dealers sell tends to contain about 50 percent pure cocaine. That means many samples contain less than half the substance they’re sold as – and some contain none at all. That’s because there’s a huge incentive for dealers to dilute their product and sell for a larger profit. And while some of the cutting agents thinning out cocaine supplies seem harmless, others may be even more dangerous than the substance they’re disguised as.
Adulterants vs. substitutes
Cocaine cutting agents are either adulterants – ingredients that look like cocaine – or substitutes, which mimic or intensify the psychoactive effects of cocaine. Specifically, dealers look for substitutes that are local numbing agents or stimulants.
Common adulterants tend to be less toxic, but still may be harmful, especially in large doses. They include:
- – Table sugar and artificial sweeteners like mannitol, inositol, and saccharin
- – Over the counter painkillers like aspirin and paracetamol
- – Phenacetine, a painkiller that was banned in the United States in 1983 after studies linked it with cancer and kidney damage
- – Laxatives
- – Boric acid
- – Laundry detergent, which can build up and cause blockages in the heart, liver, and brain.
- – Common substitutes range from relatively benign to alarmingly toxic. They include:
- – Levamisole, an anti-parasitic medication for dogs that acts as a stimulant and can cause serious damage to the immune system
- – Local anesthetics like procaine, benzocaine, tetracaine, and lidocaine
- – Stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall which are used to treat Attention Deficit Disorder
- – Other stimulants like ephedrine, amphetamine, and methylamphetamine
- – Ketamine, a hallucinogenic horse tranquilizer.
Aside from the health risks that some of these substances present on their own, the fact that many of them intensify cocaine’s effects adds an extra layer of danger. Some cause cocaine to cross the blood-brain barrier faster, making it more likely for even casual users to overdose.