Cocaine can be cut with anything from caffeine and sugar to dangerous or even deadly substances like fentanyl, to increase profitability or addictiveness.
Cocaine is a stimulant drug that’s highly addictive. In the United States, cocaine is a Schedule II drug, considered to have a high potential for abuse and addiction. There are two main types of cocaine. One is a water-soluble hydrochloride salt. The other is a water-insoluble cocaine base, which is freebase.
When cocaine producers mix cocaine with other substances, it’s called cutting. Cutting cocaine can benefit the dealers by making the substance more profitable or potent, but it can also put the people using cocaine at high risk of overdose and other dangers.
What Is Cocaine?
Cocaine produces a sense of euphoria and an intense high. That intense euphoric response is one reason cocaine is considered very addictive. Powdered cocaine can be snorted, or dissolved in water and injected into the veins. Freebase cocaine, or crack, is smoked. Cocaine stimulates the central nervous system. Effects of the drug include:
- A euphoric rush or high
- Loss of appetite
- Increased blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing
- Risk of heart-related effects like sudden cardiac arrests or stroke
How Is Cocaine Made?
The drug comes from coca leaves, and then there’s a manufacturing process where the raw product goes through chemical transformations. The base form of cocaine is made when the drugs are processed with baking soda or ammonia and then water. It’s then heated, removing the hydrochloride, which makes it smokable.
Why Do People Cut Cocaine?
Illicit drugs aren’t regulated, and as a result, they’re often diluted with different materials. This is a process known as cutting them. Cocaine and other illegal drugs are often cut to bulk up the product and increase profitability. Cutting cocaine might also be done to increase its psychoactive effects.
Cutting can occur at any point in the distribution chain, but studies show that drugs that are part of international trafficking are often cut before they leave their country of origin. When cocaine is cut with other substances, it might mimic the physical effects of the drug itself. That convinces the person who takes the cocaine that they got a purer product and increases the dealer’s profit margins. Cutting agents can cover the fact that the purity of cocaine is declining.
What Do People Cut Cocaine With?
Common cocaine cutting agents can vary from somewhat harmless to deadly. The effects of common cocaine cutting agents depend on what they are and why they’re added. Cutting powders in cocaine ideally look like the drug itself. The chemicals used to cut cocaine hydrochloride are usually white powders so they blend in with the actual drug.
Cocaine Cutting Agents
The most common powders included in cocaine as cutting agents include:
- Lidocaine (this is an anesthetic, so it has a numbing effect on the mucous membranes, and it may convince someone the cocaine is higher quality)
- Hydroxyzine (an antihistamine with anti-anxiety effects)
- Phenacetine pain reliever)
- Benzocaine (a local anesthetic)
- Levamisole (a drug used to treat parasitic infections in animals)
According to currently available data, levamisole is the most frequently identified in screening. In one study, levamisole was found in more than 79% of cocaine samples.
Cocaine Laced with Fentanyl
An especially dangerous addition to cocaine is fentanyl. Fentanyl is a powerful opioid — it’s estimated to be 50 times stronger than heroin. There’s a growing number of drug seizures involving cocaine contaminated with fentanyl and substances related to fentanyl.
Sometimes, cutting cocaine with fentanyl is done for the same reasons other cutting agents are added — to increase customer satisfaction and profitability. In other cases, a drug dealer may not realize they’re mixing the two. The dealer could be using the same equipment to cut different drugs, such as heroin.
When someone’s exposed to fentanyl unknowingly, it can lead to overdose and death. According to one DEA bulletin from Florida, occasional cocaine users are at high risk of overdose because of the potential for the drug to be cut with opioids.
Find a Rehab For Cocaine Addiction in South Jersey
The risks of cocaine don’t just stem from the ingredients it’s cut with. Cocaine addiction can be dangerous and deadly. Treatment options are available for cocaine addiction, however. The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper is less than 20 minutes from Philadelphia in South Jersey, and we offer patients a range of evidence-based, personalized addiction treatment plans and amenities. Available treatment plans depend on your needs, ranging from medical detox and inpatient stays to flexible outpatient programs.
NIH National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What Is Cocaine?” May 2016. Accessed August 17, 2022.
NIH National Institute on Drug Abuse. “How Is Cocaine Used?” May 2016. Accessed August 17, 2022.
U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration. “Controlled Substance Schedules.” August 2022. Accessed August 17, 2022.
Nestler, Eric J MD, PhD. “The Neurobiology of Cocaine Addiction.” Addiction Science & Clinical Practice, December 2005. Accessed August 17, 2022.
Drug Enforcement Administration. “Cocaine.” April 2020. Accessed August 17, 2022.
Winterman, Denise. “How cutting drugs became big business.” BBC News, September 7, 2010. Accessed August 17, 2022.
Solomon, Nadia and Hayes, Jonathan MD. “Levamisole: A High-Performance Cutting Agent.” Academic Forensic Pathology, September 1, 2017. Accessed August 17, 2922.
Drug Enforcement Administration. “Levamisole (Ergamisol).” September 2019. Accessed August 17, 2022.
Lewish, Caroline. “Overdoses Involving Cocaine and Fentanyl Are On the Rise.” NPR, July 7, 2021. Accessed August 17, 2022.
DEA Bulletin. “Deadly Contaminated Cocaine Widespread in Florida.” February 2018. Accessed August 17, 2022.
Fiorentin, Tais Regina, Fogarty, Melissa F., Limberger Renata Pereira, and Kogan, Barry Kerr. “Determination of cutting agents in s[…]GC-TMS, and LC-MS/MS.” Forensic Science International December 2018. Accessed August 17, 2022.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Risk of serious and potentially fatal bl[…]on local anesthetics.” May 23, 2018. Accessed August 17, 2022.
Fredric Rieders Family Foundation. “Phenacetin: A Toxic Adulterant Found in Illicit Street Drugs.” April 2021. Accessed August 17, 2022.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Hydroxyzine.” MedlinePlus, February 15, 2017. Accessed August 17, 2022.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.