Cut The Shit

How Pure Are Street Drugs?

By Ann Higgins


Here are all the drugs we bought.

 

I bought cocaine, heroin, crack, weed, and ecstasy and had them forensically analyzed by a chemist at MIT because I thought they would all turn out to be poison. Guess what? Drug dealers don’t cut drugs with cement and ground glass. They barely even cut drugs at all, because they don’t need to. Relax, I’ll explain later.

The samples were analyzed by a PhD chemist at MIT (we can’t say his name or he’ll get fired) using acid/base extraction, proton nuclear magnetic resonance, and thin-layer chromatography. Acid-base extraction is the method used to isolate the chemicals. Once they’re isolated, the nuclear magnetic resonance machine is what you use to analyze and identify stuff. Basically, the kind of NMR done here tells you about the hydrogen atoms in the molecules in the drugs. So it’s like, the spectrum of heroin has 20 lines in it, all at different positions and heights, and you basically look for that particular set of lines. If you see another set of lines, you go, “Oops, there’s something else besides heroin in here.” Finally, thin-layer chromatography is a quick method that tells you how many components there are in a mixture. MIT guy says it’s “like that experiment you did when you were a kid (if you were a geek) where you put ink on a paper towel and, when the water diffused up the paper towel, all the colors separated.” It tells you how many components are in a mixture but not what they are. That’s what the NMR is for. Still confused? Show this to a smart guy and have him explain it more.

COCAINE
The cocaine was the first sample to come back from the lab. It was 98 percent pure. When everyone was done high-fiving, we started to wonder what was going on. According to the movies and NYPD Blue, you can only get cocaine like that from pharmacies. Street cocaine is basically poison, right? It’s all strychnine and gasoline and nail polish remover or something.

I was not going to go buy 50 more samples of coke, because that would be a waste of money and drugs, but there’s this guy named Peter Cohen who did his thesis on just that. Actually, his work is even better than that, because he not only analyzed 50 samples of cocaine, he also interviewed the 50 cokeheads who had bought the samples. So he got the perception and the reality, see. He asked the cokeheads whether they thought their coke was pure, and 80 percent of them said no. Of those, 75 percent thought their stuff was adulterated with speed. They also commonly figured their drugs were diluted with ground glass, Drano, laxatives, and dirt. Cohen took samples from these cokeheads to the lab. The average purity was 65.1 percent. Second of all, the coke samples Cohen had were cut with speed, Daro, vitamin C, caffeine, sugar, nicotinamide, lidocaine, mannitol, and sodium bicarbonate. Daro is an anti-headache powder. Nicotinamide is vitamin B. Lidocaine is a topical anaesthetic. Mannitol is the sugar they put in diabetic candy. Sodium bicarbonate is baking soda. These are all innocuous things that bulk the drug out— most evidence of dangerous cutting agents is anecdotal. There’s no glass in your coke, you fucking psycho.

I guess that doesn’t mean that drugs are never cut with poison. The Drug Prevention Network of the Americas reports on a gang in Dublin that cuts coke with Phenacetin, a carcinogen that causes cancerous tumors in urinary tracts and nasal passages. Of male rats. There are a hundred million stories like that, and they get picked up eagerly by anti-drug sites, druggies, and editors who want sensational copy because that is the world we live in.

Findings: Most coke is way over 60 percent pure, and our coke is especially good. Thank you, Rico.

HEROIN
Our sample was 60 percent heroin, 20 percent acetaminophen, 10 percent caffeine, and 10 percent unidentifiable chemicals. Even though that sounds like a lot of additives, it’s about right. New York heroin is 63.3 percent pure on average. Oh, forget the whole idea about heroin being cut with Drano. Heroin is most often cut with acetaminophen, caffeine, malitol, diazepam, methaqualone, or phenobarbital. Diazepam is a sedative hypnotic. Methaqualone is Quaaludes. Phenobarbital is a sedative used to stop seizures and treat insomnia. See, they just cut it with stuff that makes you sleepy but doesn’t cost as much or cause as much hassle to get as dope. That’s all. If you want some better shit, move to that shithole London. Ross Coomber of the University of Greenwich, London, analyzed 228 samples of heroin and found that 44 percent of them weren’t cut with anything at all. The rest were cut with the same stuff as above. Coomber did another study where he gathered information from 17 heroin dealers at varying points in the chain of distribution. He asked them if they adulterated (that is the word for adding other drugs to) or diluted (that is the word for adding inert substances to) the drugs they sold. Eleven said that they never adulterated/diluted at all, four adulterated/diluted only sometimes, and only one (dealing four to five ounces a month) said he always diluted the heroin (with glucose, by around 10 to 20 percent). Asshole.

Findings: Heroin is a little more cut than coke, but ours is average. And dealers don’t want to poison their customers. It’s bad business, and if you’re dead you can’t buy any more smack from them. The most important finding to us in this section was this great new dealer who got us a bundle of smack, delivered to our door in 20 minutes in the middle of the workday. Too bad we’re in recovery.

CRACK
Our crack, purchased from some human garbage in Bushwick, was about 95 percent pure, and the impurities were likely by-products of the synthesis, not contaminants. That means they weren’t added after the crack became crack. Rather, they were a part of how the crack came to be. Crack is actually one of the purest drugs you can buy, usually about 85 to 95 percent, because it gets washed with solvent before or after heating. Just because of the way it’s made (by “freebasing” it—or removing the active chemicals from cocaine from their base), you can get high-purity crack from only moderately pure coke.

Findings: Crack is a good bet. If you think your coke guy is stomping on your shit at all, cook it up and you’ll take out all the dirt.

WEED
So according to an article published in the New York Times in April 2004, “Law enforcement officials said they are also seeing more examples of marijuana laced with other drugs, like cocaine, a narcotic; LSD, a hallucinogen; and PCP, a hallucinogen also known as angel dust.” Our sample didn’t have coke or heroin or PCP or anything in it. It was just normal. Sucks.

Now read that New York Times quote again. “Law enforcement officials”? I like cops and I trust them to protect me from getting raped. Journalists are liars though. Why would police give quotes about drugs and not give their names? Is this a top-secret thing that the “law enforcement officials” are afraid to go on record about? Seriously, there are a million alarmist accounts of PCP-dipped weed being sold as regular weed (just google it), but not one systematic analysis to back up the claim. Just look at the slang terms for weed laced with other drugs and the whole thing starts to seem like a priest dreamed it up: “Boat, Loveboat, Chips, Donk, Lovelies, Love Leaf, Woolies, Zoom, Boat, Caviar, Champagne, Cocoa Puff, Gremmies.” What? Reporters are pussies that barely know what drugs are so if they talk about the pervasiveness of embalming-fluid-dipped pot you’re not going to ever find any evidence of them actually finding some. Hence quotes like, “Finding embalming fluid to buy on the street is not easy because most street drug dealers make more money selling individual joints soaked with embalming fluid for about $10 to $20. However, if found on the street to purchase, a two-ounce sample of embalming fluid costs about $50.” Oh really?

Findings: PCP-soaked marijuana that is sold as PCP-soaked marijuana doesn’t actually have PCP in it most of the time. There is no evidence at all I can find that marijuana sold as marijuana is soaked in PCP. However, if you want to deck your weed out, sprinkle some coke on it. It’s called a snowcap and it gets you laced.

ECSTASY
Our sample was pure MDMA. Once again, that’s because we have good dealers. We all know that E is often cut with dope, because we’ve all seen those little brown freckles in pills that we’ve taken. That’s heroin, stupid. So while E can be dirty, it is not as dirty as a 1993 Time Out magazine article, “Bitter Pills,” made it out to be. In that article, it was reported that E dealers spike tablets and capsules with heroin, LSD, rat poison, and crushed glass. That story was repeated all over. Stephen Beard of the Newham Drugs Advice Project was the source for all this, and he said he got his info from a single dealer. This single supposed dealer said he made fake ecstasy by crushing light bulbs. The word for that is “hearsay.” There was no supporting evidence such as lab tests or reports from doctors who had treated users. Oh, but again, it does happen that there is poison. In London, in 2000, there was an unmarked, half-scored, yellow-flecked tablet that was 8 mg of strychnine. The lethal dose of strychnine is 10 mg.

The verdict: It’s not hard to get good shit. Drug dealers figure, I can sit here trying to figure out how to dilute this shit or I can get it on the street and paid for as soon as possible. If my shit is too pure—great. All that means is I’ll have a reputation as Bobby PurePants and more people will want to buy from me.

ANN HIGGINS
Additional reporting by Gideon Yago

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