Get insight on the process of cocaine production with this overview exploring every aspect from the coca plant to crack cocaine production.
Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulative drug that is manufactured from the leaves of the coca plant. It is classified as a central nervous system stimulant, but pharmacologically it is considered an anesthetic. Cocaine is a drug that increases alertness, feelings of well-being, euphoria, energy and feelings of competence and sexuality. Anxiety, paranoia and restlessness are some of the side effects of the drug. It is the most abused major stimulant in America and the second most popular illicit drug used in the USA behind marijuana.
Cocaine is a naturally occurring alkaloid found in certain varieties of the Erythorxylum genus, or coca plant. Of the 200 species, only 2 contain significant levels of cocaine. The plant can grow in widely varied climates and soil conditions, though the highest cocaine content is found in plants that are grown in higher, cooler climates. Cocaine is harvested from the leaves of the plant which are continuously stripped from the plant. Once stripped, the leaves are typically dried until brittle or transported immediately to an illicit laboratory. If the leaves get wet and begin to rot, they will be unusable.
Cocaine is synthesized from the leaves of the coca plant to form a paste. This paste is further synthesized and cut with adulterant substances to make it into street-level cocaine that can be injected, snorted or smoked. To make the paste, there is a process of extracting the cocaine that includes the use of toxic chemicals. There are two main ways that the cocaine paste is made: solvent extraction and acid extraction.
Solvent Extraction of Cocaine Paste
The first stage is to finely chop the leaves and dust them with lime or carbonate salt along with a small amount of water. Some manufacturers will use a leaf mulcher to complete this process, others will do it by hand. Next kerosine or diesel fuel is then added to the coca leaf and lime/salt mixture and vigorously stirred for up to three days. This removes the cocaine from the leaf into the liquid. Occasionally this is done using a washing machine or cement mixer. Poorer manufacturers will do this by hand.
Once the cocaine has been extracted, the liquid is heated to remove any wax from the coca leaves, then filtered to separate it from the vegetable matter. There will typically be a large amount of liquid that is then mixed with sulfuric acid and mixed again. The acid converts the cocaine free base to cocaine sulfate. The mixture is allowed to sit to allow the separation of the cocaine sulfate which is then mixed with lime or caustic soda. The addition of these chemicals neutralizes the sulfuric acid and the filtered chemical is a gummy, yellow solid. This paste is dried, packaged and shipped to a further laboratory for further extraction and handling.
Acid Extraction of Cocaine Paste
The leaves of the coca plant are placed in a pit with diluted sulfuric acid. The leaf and acid mixture is vigorously macerated by workers who will typically stomp the mixture for up to 2 hours. The acid in the pit will convert the cocaine in the leaves to cocaine sulfate, which is removed and then heated to remove the waxy residue. It is then filtered to remove the remaining plant matter. The liquid then has lime or carbonate added to it, and is stirred vigorously, resulting in a curdled coca paste. The curdled mixture is mixed with kerosine and then re-filtered to isolate the paste and further processed with more sulfuric acid.
Paste to Cocaine Powder
Once the coca paste has been extracted and produce, it needs further processing to change it into the product that is ingestable. This is primarily a purification process. The coca paste is dissolved in a small amount of dilute sulfuric acid and potassium permanganate is added. This chemical is a powerful oxidizing agent that reacts with the impurities in the coca paste and changes the color of the coca paste from a yellow-brown color to a colorless or faint white color. The resulting colorless, acidic solution is filtered and treated with ammonia to neutralize the sulfuric acid.
The cocaine product is further dried to convert it into cocaine hydrochloride. Cocaine hydrochloride is the street product that is a white, crystalline powder with a bitter taste and numbing effect.. Cocaine loses its potency in other forms and it is also less soluble. Cocaine must be water soluble so that it can be injected, otherwise the drug can be in clumps when injected which can lead to cardiac arrest. As cocaine hydrochloride, which is a salt, the drug can be both injected and snorted and is absorbed into the blood-stream easily.
Typically, cocaine hydrochloride is cut with other products before it is sold on the street. Adulterant substances are used to increase the volume of the drug and increase profits for dealers. The substances that cocaine are cut with can include non-toxic items such as talc, bicarbonate soda or glucose to harmful chemicals such as amphetamines and levamisole.
Converting Cocaine to Crack Cocaine
Crack cocaine is the most potent form of cocaine. Crack cocaine produces a very intense high that is often associated with repeated use of the drug and intense energy, hyperactivity, aggression and paranoia.
Crack cocaine is made by converting cocaine hydrochloride into a solid form of freebase cocaine. This is done by cooking cocaine hydrochloride with sodium bicarbonate or ammonia. The result of the cooked cocaine is a jagged chunk of crack cocaine. In this form the drug is typically smoked by heating it in a glass pipe and inhaling the vapor.