Menu Close

The Risk of Adulterants in Cocaine

Providing Trusted, Evidence-Based
Treatment for Three Decades and Counting

If you or a loved one is experiencing addiction, we’re here to help.

Adulterants in street drugs are more common than not. Almost every drug sold on the black market has been cut with another substance. This practice increases the bulk of the product, which in turn increases the profit for each dealer. However, these substances are not harmless. They can cause a number of problems for consumers, including:

  • Issues of toxicity caused by the adulterant
  • Overdose due to ever-changing levels of purity
  • Toxicity issues caused by the combination of one adulterant with other adulterants, the drug itself, or with medications the person is taking

In many cases, the adulterant can be just as damaging to the user as the drug itself in both acute and chronic doses. Unfortunately, the buyer can never know what exactly is in the cocaine they buy on the street or in what amounts. It’s like playing Russian roulette with every dose.


There is no one uniform adulterant used to cut cocaine. In most cases, drug traffickers who pass the product from manufacturer to end user will cut the product with whatever is cheapest and most convenient to their purpose (e.g., creating bulk or increasing potency).

One study found that samples of cocaine combined with heroin had high levels of 11 adulterants at a rate of five percent, which may contribute to renal issues experienced by patients. Phenytoin is one such adulterant, found among cocaine samples seized on the street for decades. This drug is notorious for augmenting the effects of cocaine, making it more potent than it would be otherwise and thus increasing the risk of medical emergency and/or overdose.

Different Countries, Different Toxins

Depending upon where the cocaine was seized, different adulterants are found. For example, a cocaine bust in Italy yielded “unusual adulterants” not generally found in US samples.

Levamisole was found in a patient who had developed a medical emergency after cocaine use in Australia, according to a report published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Additionally, more and more adulterants were found in the Netherlands over an eight-year period, according to a report published in the journal Addiction, including higher amounts of phenacetin, hydroxyzine, and diltiazem.

In the United States, too, different adulterants are found in cocaine samples in different parts of the country. In fact, the variance in adulterants can contribute to the higher risk for overdose during or after travel.

Health Risks

Cocaine is a stimulant drug. It increases heart rate, body temperature, and blood pressure on its own. When it’s cut with other stimulant substances – even non-toxic chemicals like caffeine – these additional substances can further contribute to the issue of cardiac arrest, stroke, and other common medical problems that can result in death during overdose. When the user combines cocaine use with other drugs – legal substances like alcohol or prescription medications and illegal substances like heroin – the risk of overdose is even higher.

Because buyers can never be certain what is in the drugs they purchase on the street, there is no way to protect oneself against the risks of certain adulterants. The only way to avoid risks associated with cocaine is to stop use of the drug altogether.

Learn more about cocaine rehab and the addiction treatment options that we provide here at Michael’s House when you contact us at the phone number listed above. Our admissions coordinators are available now to help you or your loved one start on the road to recovery.