Home > The Complex Nature of Abused Substances and Getting Help for Addiction > Adulterant Substances
An adulterant is a substance or chemical which is added to a drug to increase the quantity, reduce manufacturing costs and change the potency of the drug. When a drug has an adulterant substances added to it, it is referred to as cutting a drug.
Adulterants can cause severe health reactions in some people because each person metabolizes the drug in different ways. Poly-drug use also increases the risk of negative health issues when adulterants such as PMA are present. Some individuals may have allergic reactions to adulterants which can cause anaphylactic shock or heart attacks.
Cocaine is a drug that more often than not is sold after it has been cut with other substances. This practice usually involves using substances such as lactose, glucose, baking powder, benzocaine or lidocaine. These chemicals are used because they match the appearance of the drug and in some cases mimic the numbing effect that cocaine has. More recently, there has been an increase in the use of other drugs such as caffeine, Ritalin, and even methamphetamine as adulterant substances.
Ecstasy pills are typically a mixture of drugs that may include MDMA. MDA, amphetamines, ephedrine, codeine, ketamine, PCP and acid are some typical chemicals that may be included in an ecstasy tablet. Other chemicals such as baking soda, glucose or ajax have been anecdotally reported as being present in ecstasy.
Heroin has been found in many cases to have been cut with other substances. Typical adulterants used to cut heroin include codeine, morphine, methadone and caffeine. Other drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine have been found present in tested samples of heroin. The use of these other drugs in heroin increases the risk of overdose and other serious health issues. Interestingly, heroin appears to be the least cut of all illicit drugs, and research suggests that adulterants that are found increase the potentency and enhance the amount of drug retained. Paracetamol and caffeine which are common substances that are found in street-heroin reportedly increase the amount of heroin retained during heating process.
One of the most alarmingulterants that has been found in cocaine is levamisole. Levamisole has been reported to be found in over 80 per cent of cocaine seized in the United States. This chemical is an anti-parasitic agent that is used in veterinary medicine and its use has been linked to a condition called Agranulocytosis. This condition occurs when levamisole is used in an extended period of time in high doses. Agranulocytosis is an immune system disorder that is identified by incredibly low white-blood-cell counts, flu-like symptoms including very high fevers. This condition is typically found in chemotherapy patients and those taking certain medications. Agranulocytosis has also been found to cause blackening of skin and dark purple patches on skin which is caused by the lack of white blood cells.
PMA or para-methoxyamphetamine is one harmful chemical that has been found present in ecstasy tablets. PMA appears to be a weak-form of MDMA. Many users have reported mild euphoria and stimulative effects from the drug. Some individuals who have taken a drug that contains PMA have taken second or third doses of the drug before realizing that it contains PMA. This is because the drug takes longer to come on than MDMA. When PMA is present, it can cause users severe vomiting and nausea which are due to the toxicity of the chemical. Convulsions, severe increases in temperature and heart rate, blacking out and intense hallucinations have also been reported. PMA is incredibly unpredictable and variable when combined with MDMA or taken on its own and it has been found to cause users to slip into a coma and death has been reported in some instances.
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