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Vice Blog


When I was in Boston a few days ago there were guys handing out fliers at the bus station that said "BAD COCAINE ALERT!" warning people to seek medical attention if their coke/crack was making them sick. By now you have probably heard that almost 1/3rd of the cocaine circulating the US, Canada, and maybe the world is contaminated with a (potentially) poisonous veterinary deworming agent called levamisole. It has already killed several people and made many more people sick. Levamisole causes a condition called agranulocytosis which means that it kills white blood cells which are a necessary part of your body's immune system and prevent small things like a sore in the mouth from escalating into deadly infection. In addition to temporarily AIDS-ifying your immune system, levamisole may also make cocaine more cardiotoxic and increase risk of seizures, meaning that it has three potential ways of killing you.


Cutting coke for profit is one thing, but killing customers is the very definition of bad business (or at least killing them quickly) so why would this seemingly random and toxic drug be appearing as a cut, when they could use, say, inositol or procaine? For the most part people don't know, but I have been doing some research and here are a few possible explanations:


What do we know about Colombia? It's hot, humid, sticky, and the air is filled with more living organisms than almost any other place on earth. How do they transport cocaine? Often in submarines--the cocaine is packed into the moist, dark hull of a potentially leaky submarine where it is towed underwater for days at a time, providing the ideal breading ground for microorganisms. Cocaine covered with mold could easily be both toxic and hard to resell. Certain mycotoxins like aflatoxin would be extremely difficult to remove in any efficient way, effectively ruining the cocaine. But there is an easy preventative measure that could be taken--lacing the cocaine with an antifungal agent like levamisole! The problem is I'm not exactly sure how effective levamisole is as a fungicide. It would certainly curb the growth of worms but that's not really relevant. I know that it has been found to inhibit the growth of fungus on hamster testicles and in the lungs of several dolphin species but I have no idea how effective it is outside of a living organism. Something tells me that there are much better options for preventing mold, since fungi will not have acetylcholine receptors which are the target of levamisole's action. If you know more about the (tentative) antifungal properties of levamisole please chime in.



One fact about levamisole that is often overlooked is that it is psychoactive. As a deworming agent it kills worms by stimulating their acetylcholine receptor causing muscle contraction and paralysis after which the worms can be harmlessly shat out. The acetylcholine receptor is also responsible for the euphoric/reinforcing effects of nicotine. Levamisole is hardly as rewarding as cocaine but it has been demonstrated to produce euphoric effects in dogs--I've never tried it so I'll just wager that it probably causes a weak stimulant effects in humans as well. To take this a step further, levamisole might not just improve the cocaine high, it might also make the drug more addictive by reinforcing use through an additional system of neurotransmitters. So there you have it, cocaine where the high is marginally improved but much, much more toxic.


Under pressure from the government(s) levamisole has been added to all imported cocaine to frighten cocaine users, in hopes of eradicating cocaine addiction. Why not just prevent the importation of cocaine all together? Well, then the CIA would lose all its profits from controlling the trafficking--or something. This one I'm not too keen on but I'll throw it in for posterity.


Why is all the cocaine being contaminated with levamisole? Why not! Maybe some drug baron in South America found himself in possession of a metric ton of levamisole that he was using to deworm his racehorses and decided it would make a suitable cut. End of story. Oleamide was found in all analyzed samples of the Spice smoking blends, does it have euphoric recreational effects? No. Why would they add a chemical that costs money for no reason? Who knows, maybe to confound chemical analysis, maybe to disguise the real active chemicals, maybe for the hell of it. Why load false ecstasy tablets with the SSRI Dapoxetine when you could just fill them with chalk and it would have the same effect for less money? Why not! I'll admit this is a rhetorical cop-out, but people do lots of unexplainable dangerous things.

A final note, since nobody knows how long cocaine will continue to carry this toxic adulterant you can do one of two things until it stops turning up--if it stops turning up. The first, which I advise, is to stop doing cocaine with any regularity. Switch to methylphenidate, it's cheaper, less cardiotoxic, and produces a sustainable euphoria. If you needed more reasons to stop this is a good one. Cocaine is already a shitty, toxic drug which pales in comparison to amphetamine. The second is to remove the levamisole but I have no concise explanation of how to do that (as of yet). Yes I'm aware this could be perceived as contradicting the last thing I wrote about cocaine making you smarter but that was just hypothetical, this is real!