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5 Drug Cutting Agents and Contaminants That Can Kill You

cutting agents

Illicit drugs can offer euphoria, psychedelic experiences, and nervous system stimulation, but it comes at a high price. Many of the negative side effects of illicit drug use are fairly well-known. Street drugs can cause tolerance, dependence, addiction, and medical and psychological complications. However, sometimes the most dangerous part of using illicit drugs isn’t the drug itself, but the other substances that could also be in the needle or the bag. Drugs like cocaine and heroin are commonly found to be contaminated with other substances used to enhance its effects or stretch the supply.

There are many names for these other substances like adulterants, cutting agents, and bulking agents. Drug dealers and clandestine drug manufacturers use adulterants to dilute their drug supply and increase their amounts. They sell the weakened drug as the genuine article and increase profits. Sometimes, drugs are cut at multiple points throughout the distribution process. Best case scenario, this can lead to end-users believing that heroin or cocaine is much weaker than it actually is. When they get their hands on something purer, they overdose, thinking an extremely high dose is what they need to achieve the desired effects.

However, some substances are dangerous on their own and can even cause fatal health complications when they are introduced into the body. Here are some of the most dangerous substances used for drug cutting.

5. Common Household Powders

Common household powders can have the same appearance and consistency as heroin or cocaine. When mixed in the powder, it can be difficult to know the difference between high-purity illicit drugs and drugs mixed with cornstarch, flour, or talcum powder. Some experienced users and dealers can detect distinctive smells or color differences, but novice users can easily be fooled. Household powders generally just weaken the effect of the drug and might cause mild effects in the body. When snorted, they might irritate the nostril but effects are typically mild. However, the true danger comes from injecting the melted down powders.

Most of these substances are either water soluble or partially water soluble, so they can mix into heroin even when melted down and put into a syringe. Dealers may believe that including normal household products that don’t have any effects and don’t interact with heroin or cocaine are harmless. However, even these common powders can be dangerous when they are used incorrectly.

When a substance like corn starch is injected into the bloodstream it can clump up and cause a clot in your veins and arteries. This can lead to weakened limbs, collapsed veins, swelling, and burst arteries. If the clot occurs in a major artery leading to the heart it can cause a fatal heart attack or stroke.

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4. Lead

Lead is a soft and malleable metal that was used in a variety of products throughout its history until we realized that it is toxic to humans when ingested. Today, it’s still used in car batteries, pigments, weapon ammo, cable sheathing, exercise weights, and more. However, it has also been found as a contaminant in marijuana, heroin, and methamphetamine. Unlike other adulterants and contaminants, the lead may not be introduced to a drug on purpose. Rather, it can find its way into a drug through poor manufacturing. In some cases, it might be used to increase weight and thus increase it’s perceived value.

Lead poisoning can lead to serious health complications including anemia, nausea, fatigue, muscle weakness, seizures, coma, damage to the central nervous system, and death. If you feel the effects of lead poisoning after using an illicit drug, it’s important to seek medical help immediately.

3. Lidocaine

Lidocaine is a medication used as an anesthetic and numbing agent used in a variety of medical situations. It is also used as an adulterant in cocaine. It’s used to enhance the user’s experience and give the impression of a higher-quality product. Cocaine also has a numbing effect and is sometimes applied to the gums as a way to introduce the drug to the body. When cocaine is contaminated with lidocaine, it has a more potent numbing effect and may lead the user to believe that the cocaine is more powerful.

When mixed with cocaine, lidocaine can cause dangerous side effects in the cardiovascular system and the central nervous system. The risk of fatal overdose can also increase if there is an excessive dose of lidocaine in the mixture. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, tremors, and convulsions.

2. CNS Depressants

Central nervous system depressants are commonly found in heroin and alcohol. Sometimes it’s done intentionally to create a new polydrug which is known as Geronimo when mixed with alcohol. Sometimes benzodiazepines (benzos) and barbiturates are mixed in with “Speedballs” which are cocaine and heroin mixtures. Barbiturates and benzos are prescription medications that are used to treat insomnia and anxiety disorders. They can also cause euphoria, dizziness, and lowered motor functions. Heroin can also be adulterated with a barbiturate called phenobarbital, which allows users to smoke heroin.

However, depressants increase the risk of overdose in both alcohol and heroin. Alcohol itself is a depressant and when mixed with barbiturates or benzos, it can suppress your nervous system to dangerous levels, leading to overdose. This can cause sluggishness, unconsciousness, coma, and death.

1. Synthetic Opioids

Synthetic opioids can come from legal sources and used in medical treatment but it can also be manufactured in illegal laboratories in the U.S. and abroad. Currently, the most prevalent and dangerous synthetic drug is fentanyl. It’s cheaper than heroin, easier to make, and extremely powerful.

Because it’s a cheap and potent alternative, dealers can add it to heroin as an adulterant and increase the heroin’s potency. They can also cut their product with inert substances and add fentanyl to avoid lessening its effects.

However, the problem is that fentanyl is incredibly powerful even in tiny doses. It’s said to be 100 times more powerful than morphine. It’s so powerful that as little as two milligrams can cause a fatal overdose in the average person. That means an amount that weighs about as much as a snowflake can be fatal. Amounts less than a gram are difficult to accurately measure and introduce into another drug. The result is often overdosing, even inexperienced and tolerant heroin users.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there were approximately 20,000 overdose deaths attributed to synthetic opioids in 2016 alone.

Seeking Help for Substance Use Disorders

Unfortunately, despite the clear dangers of illicit drug use, many people who have become addicted or dependent on drugs feel as if they don’t have a choice. Addiction is a complicated disease that affects the brain’s reward center and causes you to compulsively seek your drug of choice. However, it is treatable and, with help, you may be able to achieve a life free from active addiction. Call the addiction specialists at Ocean Breeze Recovery at (844) 657-9704 to learn more about addiction treatment options.


Stephanie T.

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