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What Is Cocaine Made Of?

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Cocaine is an illegal drug commonly misused in the United States for its stimulating and euphoric effects. These effects are intense but brief, however, and for this reason, users tend to ingest it in a binge-like pattern, particularly by snorting or smoking. Occasional cocaine use may not be problematic, but regular, excessive, and long-term use can lead to dependence and addiction. Chronic cocaine use has been associated with many severe health consequences, including damage to the nose, brain, heart, and lungs and the cardiovascular, respiratory, and central nervous systems.

If you suspect you or a loved one are struggling with a cocaine use disorder, you are urged to seek professional help. Addiction to cocaine, like other illicit and prescription stimulants, is most effectively treated using personalized treatment plans and evidence-based therapies. Guardian Recovery offers comprehensive programs that feature an entire continuum of care to address each individual’s needs during every stage of their recovery. Reach out to us today to find out more.

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How & Where Is Cocaine Produced?

Cocaine (scientific name benzoylmethylecgonine) is a psychoactive alkaloid derived from the leaves of the coca plant, native to northern and western South America. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Columbia remains the world’s leading producer of cocaine (51%), followed by Peru (36%) and Bolivia (13%). (1)

To produce cocaine, coca leaves are harvested, chopped, and mixed with an alkaline (e.g., cement) and a flammable solvent (e.g., gasoline). (2) A chemical reaction separates the cocaine from the leaves and additional liquids. The cocaine base is extracted as a paste and then sold to a distributor.

Next, the base is dissolved with acetone or ether to remove impurities. Hydrochloric acid is added, causing the cocaine to crystallize out of the solution as the cocaine hydrochloride salt (cocaine HCI). Cocaine HCI is then dried or heated and pressed into bricks for distribution.

Additives & Adulterants Used To Cut Cocaine

The purer the cocaine, the more expensive it is, and the more incentive dealers have to add bulk to their product and make it more profitable. Additives can include diluents or relatively innocuous ingredients, such as cornstarch, talc, baking soda, or flour. However, sometimes powerful, inexpensive, but dangerous adulterants are used to enhance the drug’s effects. Common additives and adulterants cut with cocaine include the following:

Topical Local Anesthetics

Benzocaine, lidocaine, novocaine, and procaine are common topical local anesthetics used by health professionals. (3) They are also utilized as cocaine adulterants because they are relatively inexpensive and induce similar numbing effects. They can also be found in powder form, so they are easily mixed and concealed within cocaine. Unfortunately, those who use coke cut with these anesthetics are at risk for a variety of severe health consequences, including acute toxicity, convulsions, seizures, heart problems, and a life-threatening condition known as methemoglobinemia. (4)

Levamisole

Levamisole is a drug used to destroy parasitic worms. It is sometimes used as an adulterant in cocaine because it increases dopamine levels in the brain, enhancing the overall euphoric effects of cocaine use. Unfortunately, when this drug is combined with cocaine, serious medical complications can occur. (5)

Mannitol

Mannitol is a diuretic with anti-caking properties, so in addition to serving as a buffer, it also conserves cocaine’s powdered form, making it appear as if it’s unaltered. However, mannitol can cause health complications for those allergic to it or with a history of heart disease.

Phenacetin

Phenacetin is another cocaine adulterant, which was once commonly used as a painkiller but was removed from the drug market due to reports of adverse effects and complications. Most significantly, it has been proven to be a carcinogen, and exposure can result in a loss of consciousness, hypotension, heart failure, and death. (6)

Boric Acid

When combined with pure cocaine, boric acid serves as a dilutant and also increases the drug’s anesthetic effects. However, boric acid is also toxic and is sometimes used to make ant and rodent pesticides.

Fentanyl

In the last few years, dealers have commonly used fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid, to increase the effects of cocaine. Fentanyl is between 50-100 times stronger than heroin, is inexpensive to produce, and a tiny amount can elicit potent effects. Unfortunately, fentanyl is also extremely deadly, even on its own, and has led to thousands of overdose deaths in the United States. It can be seamlessly combined with cocaine and other powdered drugs, making it virtually undetectable to a recreational user.

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How the Crack Variation Is Produced

Crack cocaine is chemically identical to powder cocaine and has similar, although perhaps more intense, effects. However, it does differ in appearance, form, and method of use (smoking versus snorting). It is commonly misused because it induces an immediate high, and it’s inexpensive and easy to produce—rendering it affordable and accessible. Crack comes in a rock-like form, is white or off-white, and varies in size and shape.

Crack is produced by combining cocaine hydrochloride with water, ammonia, baking soda, acids, or oils. The mixture is then boiled until it hardens into a solid mass and is broken into smaller pieces called “rocks.” The term “crack” refers to the crackling sound cocaine makes during heating. Smoking crack delivers large amounts of the drug to the lungs, producing immediate and intense euphoric effects.

Freebase Cocaine Production

Freebase refers to the base or solid form of cocaine, which can be extracted using ammonia to “free the base” or become free of its hydrochloride salt form. This base is nearly 100% pure, easy to smoke, and induces rapid effects. However, because ether is highly flammable, the process of making freebase is more hazardous than crack cocaine and is, therefore, rarely used today.

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Regardless of its origin or form, if you misuse cocaine regularly, you face a significant risk of developing tolerance and dependence. This can easily occur because the highs it produces are exceptionally brief and need repeated uses in rapid succession to maintain. Developing a tolerance requires using ever-increasing amounts of the drug to achieve the desired effects. As cocaine usage continues to accelerate, the likelihood of chemical dependence increases. With dependence comes the potential for withdrawal symptoms. Once this point is reached, it may be challenging to quit using without receiving medical detox services and professional help.

If you’ve tried to curb your cocaine misuse but found you have been unable to do so, reach out to Guardian Recovery today. You can speak to a skilled Treatment Advisor and receive a free, no-obligation assessment and health insurance benefits check. Contact us to learn more about our program options and how we can customize treatment to suit your individual needs. We can provide you with the tools you need to conquer addiction and foster long-lasting sobriety, health, and wellness.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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