Cocaine is a common recreational drug in the United States. The powerful stimulant is used for its ability to make users feel excited, exhilarated, powerful, and confident. However, it’s also extremely addictive. It produces a short-lived powerful high, followed by an uncomfortable comedown that may include symptoms like anxiety, paranoia, general discomfort, and insomnia. The nature of cocaine causes people to chase the initial high and to stave off uncomfortable side effects, which can lead to cocaine binges.
As a recreational drug, cocaine is fairly expensive. Severe cocaine addictions can cost a person hundreds of dollars per day. Cocaine dealers stand to make large profits on cocaine, but it can be expensive for them to buy as well. In order to stretch profits, they may adulterate the drug with other substances that are cheap and easy to find. If the drug passes through several buyers and dealers before it gets to the user, it may have been adulterated several times. In some cases, dangerous substances may be included in cocaine that can pose serious health risks to the user.
But how pure is cocaine, and is it possible to tell the difference between pure and adulterated cocaine before you take it?
Learn more about cocaine purity and what might be in cocaine that you buy.
What Does Cocaine Look Like?
Cocaine can be found in many different forms, depending on where it is in the production chain of the popular, illicit recreational drug. However, even these individual forms, from plant to powder, can be difficult to distinguish from other items. Here’s a brief description of what each of the major forms of cocaine looks like.
- The plant. Cocaine is extracted from the leaves of a coca plant, which is any of four plants in the family Erythroxylaceae. The plants generally have long, flat, smooth leaves. They are said to resemble blackthorn bushes. They produce small, pale yellow flowers and small red berries. The leaves can be chewed for stimulating effects and mouth numbness.
- Raw cocaine. When cocaine is extracted from the plant, it forms crystalline rocks and flakes that are white and translucent. Cocaine rocks are not completely see-through. Even high-purity crystals are said to have shiny silvery flakes that prevent the rock from being transparent.
- Powder cocaine. Raw cocaine is crushed and refined to make it easier to snort or melt down and inject. In powder form, it is fine, white powder. It can be difficult to distinguish from other white powders by the site alone. However, other powders like baby powder, corn starch, and baking soda may have distinctive smells.
- Crack cocaine. Crack and powder cocaine are the same drugs in different forms. Crack is what is called a free base form of cocaine. Powder cocaine is converted into crack using an extra chemical process. The result is cocaine, a solid chunk, or small chips. Crack is easier to burn than crystalline cocaine or cocaine powder, which makes it popular among people that want to smoke it.
What Does Cocaine Smell Like?
Cocaine is said to have a sweet floral smell; however, it can also take on smells that come from the way the drug is processed. Chemicals like gasoline, kerosene, ammonia and sulfuric acid are used to make cocaine and may leave a chemical smell behind. Crack is processed further and may have its own unique smell. Some report that crack smells like burnt plastic or rubber when it’s smoked.
How Pure Is Cocaine?
Cocaine dealers have a vested interest in stretching the profits of their cocaine supply. In an unregulated, illicit market, there is very little to stop dealers from altering or adulterating a drug as long as it sells. But how much does cocaine actually get adulterated in the U.S.? How common is pure cocaine? Researchers have conducted studies into the average purity of cocaine to find that adulterated cocaine is common. Forbes published an article in 2018 that examined the purity of various illicit drugs across the United States based on data from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). They found that cocaine was found in its highest purity in Utah, but it was only 66.5% pure. They also found cocaine of as little as 46% purity.
They also found that geographical locations near locations where cocaine enters the U.S. tend to have higher purity cocaine. That may be because the drug passed through other dealers that adulterated on its way from entry points to other areas around the country. Still, no matter where you live, there is no guarantee that you will be able to get high-purity cocaine. As an illicit drug, cocaine is largely unpredictable.
Why is Impure Cocaine Dangerous?
The purity of cocaine may concern people looking for a stimulating high, but there are other reasons to be concerned about cocaine purity beyond the quality of the drug. Impure cocaine can be dangerous for three reasons.
The first is that adulterated cocaine can cause people to get used to a weaker product. If you buy cocaine, you may have no idea how pure it is. To you, it’s just cocaine, and you get used to taking a dose that allows you to achieve an effective high. However, if the cocaine you’re used to is only at 50% purity, you may be in danger the next time you encounter more potent cocaine. If you take your normal dose of 70% pure cocaine, you may be taking a dose that’s way too high for you, causing an overdose. Adulterating cocaine makes it unpredictable. Without testing it, you will have no idea if the dose you’re taking is both safe and effective until it’s already in your system.
Another potential danger of adulterated cocaine is dangerous additives. Cocaine may be cut with harmless materials, but it can also be cut with other active chemicals. Part of the reason that dealers may put other active ingredients into cocaine is to cut it without making the experience it provides weaker. It’s often cut with other substances that can produce similar effects to cocaine, like caffeine and amphetamines.
Weaker stimulants may produce effects that remove some doubt that your cocaine isn’t pure. Cocaine can also cause numbness in the area it’s introduced, so local anesthetic drugs may be used. However, more dangerous chemicals have also been used. Levamisole is a medication that was used to treat parasitic worms in humans and in animals. But its approval for use in humans in the United States has been removed because it can be highly toxic. Levamisole has been used to cut cocaine, leading to toxic effects.
Another dangerous aspect of cocaine adulteration is the complications that come with consuming inert substances. Several inactive substances may be used to adulterate cocaine, including talcum powder, baking soda, chalk, plaster of Paris, and lactose. Because these inactive substances don’t have direct effects on your body like active substances, dealers and drug users may believe they are harmless. However, some powdered drug cutting agents can be dangerous when taken in certain ways. For instance, powders that can coagulate and thicken like flour or corn starch may form blood clots when injected into a vein. Clots can lead to serious medical complications like heart attack and stroke.
Cocaine and Fentanyl
Fentanyl is one of the most dangerous adulterants in illicit drugs. The synthetic opioid treats severe pain symptoms. But illegally made fentanyl is almost always sourced from secret laboratories and trafficked into the United States. Fentanyl’s potency makes it an attractive drug to criminal organizations. Thousands of effective doses can be packaged and shipped in smaller, harder-to-detect packages than other illicit drugs. Fentanyl’s power also means very small amounts can create a potent effect when people take the drug or mix it with other substances.
Fentanyl may be mixed into other substances to mask that they have been weakened by adulteration. As an opioid, fentanyl is often mixed into heroin and other opioids. Many heroin users encounter fentanyl without ever realizing they are taking the potent opioid. However, fentanyl is also mixed into other non-opioid substances, including depressants and stimulants. Cocaine has been found to contain effective doses of fentanyl.
Stimulants and opioids are often mixed intentionally. A speedball is an infamous example of this mix, which contains cocaine and heroin. Mixing these drugs can be dangerous. Opioids have depressant-like qualities, and they can counteract some of the effects and side effects of cocaine. These counteracting chemical forces can make you feel like you can take higher doses since you aren’t feeling the effects of either drug as powerfully. However, taking more can lead to a dangerous overdose.
When fentanyl is mixed with cocaine, it can create a similar effect. However, fentanyl is extremely dangerous, even on its own. Relatively small doses can cause lethal overdoses. Doses as small as 2 mg to 3 mg can be deadly in the average adult.
Other Dangerous Mixes With Cocaine
Cocaine may be mixed with toxic chemicals or powerful opioids like fentanyl, but it may be dangerous to mix with other substances as well.
- Stimulants. Other stimulants like methamphetamine, amphetamines, and even heavy doses of caffeine can be dangerous when mixed with cocaine. Stimulants often have powerful effects on the heart, blood pressure, and pulse. Combining stimulants causes similar effects to taking a very high dose, leading to hypertension, heart attack, or stroke.
- Depressants. Depressants include prescription drugs like benzodiazepines and barbiturates, along with alcohol. Alcohol is commonly mixed with other recreational drugs by accident or intentionally. However, other depressants, like Xanax, are commonly used as recreational substances. Mixing them with cocaine can cause similar effects to mixing stimulants and opioids. The substances may counteract one another, leading you to take higher doses, which can lead to an overdose.
Methods For Testing Cocaine Purity
There are several ways to test the purity of cocaine. However, it’s important to note that tests that are used to find exactly what substances are in your cocaine require lab equipment that the average person doesn’t have access to. However, there may be some ways to find out if you have adulterated cocaine. Most tests you can do at home will only tell you what you already know: that your cocaine is most likely mixed with other substances. Plus, some tests require you to destroy a portion of the cocaine that you have. Still, you may be able to find out if your cocaine is heavily adulterated or somewhat pure.
- Foil test. The foil or burn test involves burning a sample in tin foil. Cocaine (but not crack) is difficult to burn, so impurities burn off first. If the drug leaves behind a reddish-brown or dark stain in the burnt residue, it is impure. This doesn’t work for all adulterants.
- Melting point test. Pure cocaine melts at 185 degrees. If you can melt a sample and monitor the temperature, melting before or after reaching 185 degrees will tell you there are adulterants.
- Test kits. There are some test kits that you can buy to help you determine if your cocaine has common adulterants like lidocaine.
Spotting Purity on Sight
You may assume that it’s possible to develop a knack for spotting pure cocaine. Perhaps it gleams white, has a certain texture, or smells a certain way. It’s possible that some people can tell if there are poorly masked adulterants in cocaine. For instance, baby powder has a distinct smell that isn’t naturally in cocaine, which may tip off some people. However, many dealers find what works and what doesn’t when it comes to convincing adulterants. Without a way to test cocaine, there’s really no way to tell if your cocaine is pure or a convincing adulterated supply just by looking at it. Unfortunately, many people don’t know there are adulterants in their cocaine until they use them.