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  • How Cocaine Is Made | From Plant To Brick

    How Cocaine Is Made | Cocaine Plant

    Cocaine hydrochloride (cocaine) is an illicit drug derived from the leaves of the coca plants of South America. The leaves are processed with various harmful chemicals into a white powder, known as cocaine. 

    Cocaine powder is packaged in kilogram bricks before it is trafficked throughout the world. Cocaine powder can be further processed into crack cocaine, a cheaper but more potent alternative that can be smoked. 

    How Cocaine Is Made

    Cocaine production begins with coca plants native to South America, which is where the majority of cocaine is produced. Coca leaves are processed into coca paste, cocaine base, and finally, cocaine hydrochloride. 

    Some of the harmful chemicals used in the production of cocaine include:

    • kerosene
    • sulfuric acid
    • ammonia
    • diethyl ether
    • acetone

    Coca Leaves

    Growers crush and stir raw coca leaves with water, lime, and kerosene and extract the coca leaf. The kerosene mixture that remains after extracting the leaf contains coca alkaloids and wax from the coca leaves. 

    The wax is separated by heating and cooling the kerosene mixture. Then, sulfuric acid is added to the mixture to extract cocaine, which produces a liquid solution of cocaine sulfate.

    Coca Paste

    Lime or ammonia is added next, which causes cocaine paste to form. Sulfuric acid is added again, which dissolves the cocaine paste. 

    Next, potassium permanganate is added to filter out cinnamoylcocaine and other impurities. Potassium permanganate also oxidizes the cocaine paste, which gives cocaine its white appearance. 

    Cocaine Base 

    Lime or ammonia is reintroduced to the solution, which processes the coca paste into free base. The cocaine free base is then filtered, rinsed, and dried. 

    Cocaine Hydrochloride

    Finally, the cocaine base is dissolved in diethyl ether and then filtered. Concentrated hydrochloric acid and acetone or another solvent is added, which creates cocaine hydrochloride. Cocaine hydrochloride is filtered and dried before being distributed. 

    Cocaine Distribution

    Illegal drug distribution begins in South America, specifically Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. Colombian traffickers likely transport cocaine into Mexico, which is then smuggled into the United States. 

    Cocaine is sold in multiple kilogram bricks to wholesale distributors, who sell the product to upper-level distributors. Upper-level distributors control the smuggling and financing of cocaine. 

    Cutting Agents & Purity

    Before cocaine is sold to smaller dealers, the following adulterants may be added:

    • levamisole
    • tetramisole 
    • phenacetin
    • lidocaine
    • caffeine 
    • diltiazem 
    • hydroxyzine
    • benzocaine

    According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, these adulterants can reduce the purity of cocaine from 80-90 percent to about 30 percent. 

    Cocaine sold on the street is rarely pure cocaine and street dealers often mix even more additives, in an attempt to increase their profits. These may include talcum powder, cornstarch, or flour, which are difficult to distinguish when mixed with cocaine. 

    Sometimes amphetamines or fentanyl (opioid) is added, which increases the risk of overdose and addiction.

    How Is Crack Cocaine Produced?

    Crack cocaine was popularized in the 1980s in the United States as a cheaper alternative to powder cocaine. Because it can be smoked, crack cocaine is a much more potent and highly addictive form of cocaine.

    Crack produces its effects within seconds but it wears off much faster than powder cocaine. 

    Crack is produced by dissolving cocaine powder in water and baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) or ammonia. The mixture is boiled until it forms a hard substance that can be broken into rocks of varying shapes and sizes. 

    Cocaine Addiction Treatment

    Long-term cocaine use can lead to tolerance, dependence, and addiction. Cocaine addiction is characterized by compulsive use despite negative consequences. Addiction often affects many areas of life and requires comprehensive treatment. 

    Licensed healthcare professionals will create an individualized treatment plan that targets your needs. You may be able to address the causes of addiction, triggers, cravings, and any underlying mental health issues. 

    Treatment options that may help you achieve long-term recovery include:

    • inpatient/residential program, which provides you with a highly structured and supportive environment
    • outpatient program, which provides scheduled sessions that you attend at the treatment center 
    • behavioral therapy, which helps you identify negative behavior patterns and teaches you healthy coping skills
    • support groups, which may involve 12-step groups like Narcotics Anonymous 

    If you would like more information about cocaine addiction treatment programs, please contact Ark Behavioral Health to speak with a specialist. 

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2023 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    National Institute On Drug Abuse - Cocaine DrugFacts
    National Institutes Of Health - Patterns of Drug Distribution: Implications and Issues
    United Nations Office On Drugs And Crime - Cocaine
    United Nations Office On Drugs And Crime - Recommended Methods For The Identification And Analysis Of Cocaine In Seized Materials

    Medically Reviewed by
    Lauren Weinand, M.D.
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