Methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant that’s primarily used as a recreational drug in the United States. Although it has been used for medical purposes like weight loss, it’s more common among illicit drug users. While the opioid epidemic has drawn most of the focus in the addiction and overdose epidemic over the past several years, meth has continued to be a problem all over the country. In some areas, meth is more of an issue than illicit opioids like heroin. Meth is powerfully addictive and can result in drug dependence and substance use disorders after a few uses. It provides a potent but short-lived euphoria that leaves behind an uncomfortable comedown period. The nature of the high encourages binge use to stave off symptoms like panic, paranoia, anxiety, irritability, physical discomfort, and insomnia.
Illicit drugs like methamphetamine may often be adulterated or cut, with a variety of active and inactive substances. Some meth is made in illegal, remote labs in the United States, but the majority of it is shipped into the country illegally. As it passes through the black market supply chain, it may be adulterated several times. However, because meth is so addictive, users often don’t look at the drug they’re getting with much scrutiny. Even if they did, the differences between pure meth and meth that’s cut with other substances might be difficult to determine.
But what is meth cut with, and why do people adulterate the drug? Learn more about methamphetamine purity and the potentially dangerous cutting agents you might encounter.
Why Do People Cut Meth?
Meth may be cut or adulterated for a variety of reasons. Meth isn’t cut with other substances as much as other drugs, like cocaine and heroin. However, because illegal meth is unregulated, it can be mixed with other substances before it reaches the person that buys it to use it. Other drugs, like cocaine, may be cut to stretch the profits of an expensive product. Meth is relatively cheap to make, and it can be made with commonly found chemicals. Still, it’s possible for dealers to want to cut meth with inert substances to increase profits.
A more common cause of impure meth is meth that is poorly made. Meth production was once more dispersed. The drug was made in small amounts in small, unprofessional clandestine labs. However, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, today’s meth is mostly produced in larger labs in Mexico and then smuggled across the border into the U.S. Meth produced in large labs by Mexican transnational criminal organizations may be higher in purity, but smaller labs may produce meth with more contaminants. Common contaminants that are found in meth are metals from pots that meth is cooked in. The use of lead containers may leave lead contaminants in methamphetamine products. Other contaminants may be added from the packaging, shipping, and smuggling processes.
Besides accidental contamination from manufacturing and shipping, there are several reasons manufacturers and dealers might intentionally add other substances. These reasons may include:
- Bulking. Substances may be added to meth to increase the overall quantity of the product. It’s easiest to add inert powdered substances to powder meth. These substances are relatively cheap and are difficult to distinguish from genuine meth. Bulking agents are also typically legal and easy to get. Manufacturers and dealers may add bulking agents to increase profits or to lower the potency of a powerful product.
- Enhancing the effects. Some active chemicals are added to meth to enhance the experience of taking the drug. Drugs with the same effect may be added to increase the stimulating effects of meth. Sometimes meth is added to cocaine.
- Counteracting side effects. Stimulants may be mixed with depressants or opioids to help smooth out some of the uncomfortable side effects of the drug. For instance, meth can cause anxiety, tremors, insomnia, and other uncomfortable stimulating effects. It’s thought that depressants that slow down the nervous system may counteract some of those effects.
Common Meth Cutting Agents
Meth may be cut with a variety of products, depending on the reason the manufacturer or dealer had for addicting adulterants. Bulking agents tend to be cheap and readily available products, like caffeine and sugars. In some cases, inert substances like chalk, baby powder, or starch are added to powdered drugs. However, dealers may avoid substances that have distinct smells or tastes that may be detected by buyers. Inert or weak cutting agents may cause the product to weaken, so substances that are designed to mimic the effects of meth may be added. Other stimulants may be added to increase the effects of the drug. Caffeine and amphetamines may be added to meth.
Opioids and depressants may be mixed with meth to create a unique drug experience. Heroin with cocaine is a popular but dangerous drug mixture called a speedball. Opioids and meth may be a variation on the speedball. Stimulants and depressants may be mixed so that they counteract one another’s negative side effects. Users may hope that stimulants help you avoid the drowsiness caused by opioids and depressants, while opioids counteract the anxiety and tremors caused by stimulants.
Powerful synthetic opioids like fentanyl and similar chemicals have been found in other substances with increasing regularity. Heroin is often mixed with fentanyl to increase its potency and perceived quality. Fentanyl is extremely potent, around 100 times more powerful than morphine. Even a small amount is enough to vastly increase the potency of a drug. Fentanyl has even been found to be mixed into cocaine and meth.
In 2021, the DEA issued a warning about a sharp increase in the prevalence of counterfeit prescription pills that were found to contain meth and fentanyl. Fake prescription pills are made by black market drug manufacturers, some of which are indistinguishable from genuine pills. Counterfeit Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin, Xanax, and Adderall are common. Recent pills have been found to have doses of meth and fentanyl that can be fatal.
How Pure is Meth?
Meth once had a variety of adulterants and contaminants that lowered the purity. Meth that’s made in small backyard labs is more likely to come out with impurities. According to the DEA, Meth that comes from Mexican cartels is often made in super labs that produce high-purity meth, which can be extremely powerful. Forbes reported on DEA data about the purity of illicit drugs throughout the United States. Other drugs were much less pure. Heroin may be found with 20 to 60% purity, and cocaine may be found at 40 to 70% purity. The lowest purity meth was found in Wyoming at 74.3%, and the highest purity was found in Arizona at 97.5%.
High-purity drugs are often found closer to the Southwest border of the United States. However, there is no guarantee that the meth you come across is high or low purity. The nature of the illicit drug market is that it produces unregulated and unpredictable products.
What Does Meth Look Like?
Meth can be found in several forms, including powder, crystal, rocks, and tablets. It can also be melted down and injected into the vein as a liquid. Meth is typically clear or white and may have a chemical smell. However, you may encounter meth with other colors, which usually means it has some impurities. Despite the depiction on the popular TV show, Breaking Bad, pure meth isn’t blue; it’s colorless and may appear white. Blue meth has been found on the street, but the blue tinge may come from additives or dyes. Yellow and pink meth has also been circulated, but a 2011 study found that people injecting colored meth were more likely to experience abscesses, which likely means that colored meth indicated adulteration or contamination.
Why is Cut Meth Dangerous?
Cutting meth can be dangerous in multiple ways. The most obvious is because it could contain harmful contaminants. For instance, meth that contains lead can be toxic to humans. Meth is made with several chemicals that can be extremely toxic. If the meth you take is poorly made, you may consume or inject these chemicals into your body. Even inactive substances can be dangerous in the body. For instance, some powders that are used as bulking agents can cause blood clots when injected into your veins. Clots can lead to serious issues like heart attacks and strokes.
Cutting meth can also be dangerous because it makes taking illicit drugs unpredictable. Meth is a powerful stimulant; taking a high dose can cause a dangerous or deadly overdose. People that get used to meth with low purity can accidentally take a very heavy dose when they come across pure meth. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, methamphetamine overdose continues to rise as methamphetamine purity remains high.