Why Does The Purity Or Ingredients Change The Effects It Has On The Human Body?
The effects drugs cause to your body are also effected by the strength and ingredients contained within the drugs or alcohol you consume. The interactions between the chemicals, the chemicals and your body and the strength of those chemicals and chemical processes then determine how strong the drugs will be, what side effects they could/will cause and also determine your overall risk of overdose or harm.
These various interactions are then compounded when alcohol is also consumed. The best example to explain this process is explained below with alcohol and cocaine.
Mixing Cocaine & Alcohol
Using cocaine with alcohol creates new compounds. This new concoction is called cocaethylene.
This product is stronger than either cocaine or alcohol alone. It increases toxicity to the heart, liver and other major organs.
Cocaethylene also stays around for a much longer time in the body than cocaine, and its toxic effects last longer. Alcohol also slows the removal of another metabolite, ethylbenzoylecgonine, from the kidneys. This raises the blood levels of cocaine and cocaethylene.
Increased Risk Of Stroke
Sudden stroke is possible when using both cocaine and alcohol. Cocaine increases the risk of stroke by:
- Shrinking blood vessels
- Raising heart rate and blood pressure
- Causing sudden brain bleeding
- Increasing risk of blood clots
Cocaethylene can increase the risk of stroke even more because it can stay around in the body for days to weeks.
Increased Alcohol Consumption
Alcohol can increase cravings for cocaine. This can make it harder to stop using. People may binge-drink to continue feeling its effects and keep withdrawal at bay.
Both cocaine and cocaethylene raise levels of the brain chemicals dopamine and serotonin and block their reuptake. This increases stimulant effects on the body, which can lead to:
- Impulsive and violent behaviour
- Panic attacks
Increased Risk Of Heart Related Problems
The rise of cocaethylene and cocaine increases heart toxicity. The biggest danger of using both are sudden heart-related problems, such as a heart attack or change in heart rhythms.
The level of risk may increase if a person already has heart-related health issues.
Mixing Cocaine & Alcohol Can Increase Your Risk Of:
- Sudden stroke
- Heart attack
- Violent behaviour
- Anxiety, depression and unclear thinking
- Seizures (fits)
- Liver damage
- Increased body temperature
- Intense drug cravings
- Increase in cancer risk
- Sudden death
People who use cocaine and alcohol are also more likely to have injuries or adverse reactions and visit A&E departments more often.
How Long Does Cocaine & Alcohol Stay In Your Body?
Plasma and liver enzymes break down cocaine into two major metabolites: benzoylecgonine and ecgonine methyl ester. The body removes them through urine. These metabolites can be detected in urine for up to 36 hours, in blood for two days and in hair for months.
When people mix cocaine and alcohol, cocaethylene can stay around for days to even weeks in the body. Total duration depends on how much is used and how it’s consumed. How your liver, pancreas and kidney are working also play into duration time.
How Pure Are Street Drugs?
There is no proper quality control over illegal drugs. It is often difficult to know whether a powder, pill, herb or liquid is a particular drug. Furthermore you may have no idea how strong the dose is or whether it contains other drugs or substances to bulk it out. Illegal drugs may contain:
- Impurities – substances present in the drug as a natural result of how it was made rather than deliberately added. For example, opiate alkaloids may be present in heroin from refining opium into heroin.
- Adulterants – these are drugs that deliberately mimic or enhance the effects of the drug being offered. Examples are the way caffeine and/ or ephedrine are often found in amphetamine or ecstasy.
- Dilutents – these are mainly sugars such as glucose, lactose and mannitol. These are added to bulk out the deal and assist the process of dilution of the drug for injection.
While impurities and dilutents can, in themselves be dangerous, the likelihood of this happening has often been exaggerated. While rumours circulate about drugs cut with rat poison, strychnine and brick dust such contamination is rare. It is not in the dealer’s interest to have customers dropping dead from deliberately contaminated drugs. In contrast people will return to get drugs from dealers who offer good quality products (substances).
There are a number of terms which are used to describe the additional elements contained in illicit substances. There is a common misconception that the purity of a drug, usually expressed in percentage terms, means that the remainder of the content is intentionally put there as a ‘cutting’ or ‘bulking’ agent (i.e. cocaine at 30% means 70% must be cutting agent). In reality, many factors influence composition, including the manufacturing process itself, which can create by-products which adulterates the final product.
The skills, resources, working environment, distribution network and market forces will all also play a role in determining what goes into a product. The use of potentially harmful substances cannot be completely discounted however; there are clearly incidents of it happening, such as at festivals where the dealer knows they can disappear into the crowd with little chance of any comeback from the unfortunate consumer they’ve sold to who are often already drunk or high on drugs or alcohol already. But it is clearly not good business practice, as Professor Ross Coomber of Plymouth University has pointed out. As we mentioned earlier, addicts who use the same dealer daily or regularly are very rarely “ripped off” as dealers want repeat “customers” who will give them repeat business. However, where customers are one-offs or Chance customers, for example at the festival example we mentioned above, the risk of being given dangerous or fake substances is substantially higher.
The purity of drugs continues to be an issue of concern in either case and users should take every precaution to attempt to find out precisely what is in the drugs they buy and how strong the substances are to reduce the risk of overdose, but some of the more frightening headlines in the newspapers recently about ‘killer cutting agents’ should be taken with a pinch of salt: unless that’s what the headline is suggesting!
Back in 2014, the Druglink street drugs survey contacted police forces, drug workers, treatment services, drug expert witnesses and members of the Drug Expert Witness and Valuation Association from around the UK.
The survey reported rising purity levels for heroin, cocaine and MDMA and this trend was found to have continued in the 2016 DrugWise Street Drug Trends Survey.
Bearing these purity levels in mind, it is important to adhere to harm reduction advice when using these drugs and start with small amounts, such as a quarter of a pill and wait for an hour or two before considering using more.
Please note that this is a guide to national patterns and should not be relied on to determine the content of substances circulating in your area.
The purity of street drugs varies between different areas and can change within a matter of days or even hours!
As with previous years, the purity of amphetamine is low compared to drugs such as ecstasy. Even in the peak years, roughly 1997-2000, purity levels never rose above 15%, more usually they settle between 5%-10%.
The purity level which drug powders level out to is the lowest which dealers can get away with, i.e. the level at which they can make most profit before users stop buying it because it has gotten too weak or too adulterated to inject and/or smoke and/or sniff. This varies with the drug (its chemistry and related effects). With heroin that seems to be around 20% to 30%, while for amphetamine it is more in the range 5% to 10%.An informant to our Street Drugs Trend Survey 2016 from Liverpool
Our survey found that purity levels for street cocaine (and therefore crack) are unprecedented with informants uniformly citing some purities regularly at anything between 70%-90%.
Triangulating three laboratories testing UK-wide samples gives a UK average purity for cocaine at 64% and 74% for crack.
Given that crack selling is an integral part of county line distribution, the reasoning behind the increased purity is probably similar as for heroin, despite the very different routes from producer country to street.
The two tier market in cocaine continues with prices at ‘student’, ‘pub dust’ or ‘monkey dust’ purity (the name depends on location) at around 40% and costing about £30-£40 a gram going up to around £80 a gram for purity in excess of 70%.
As with cocaine and heroin, purity levels for ecstasy have increased sharply over the past two years. Whereas in the early days of ‘rave culture’, the average dose was around 50-80 mg, now agencies such as the Welsh drug testing organisation WEDINOS and Police Scotland regularly report pill dosages in excess of 150mg and sometimes as high as 300mg.
The heroin drought of 2010 resulted for a while in low grade heroin on the streets. Often cut with paracetamol and caffeine, purity levels averaged out in the mid-teens to low 20%.
By 2014, this had climbed in some areas to 40% while today, purity levels at 60% are being quoted. Triangulating data from three forensic laboratories reveals an average UK purity for heroin at 43%.
Further information on drug purity is provided in the United Kingdom drug situation: Focal Point annual report 2017 (PDF)
Our Top Tips:
The best way to avoid these potentially deadly Russian roulette risks is to not use or drink at all, however if you do decide to use, try to reduce your risks as best as possible and reduce any potential harm by following our top tips below:
- Avoid using or drinking alone: If you were to overdose, someone else is there to help you, reverse your overdose (if it is opioid/opiate based) & call 999 for an ambulance.
- Use the smallest amount of drug(s) possible: This will reduce your risk of overdose & minimise any possible drug interactions.
- Try to use the same dealer each time: This will reduce the risk of getting variable quality or varying strength drugs.
- Try to sniff or smoke rather than inject: This reduces your risk of Overdose and also reduces your risk of infections, blood clots, nerve damage and others.
- Always use clean, sterile, single use injecting equipment & never share with others: This not only reduces your risk of infection and blood borne viruses such as hep c and HIV.
- Ensure you store your drugs away from children, pets or vulnerable adults: The amount of drugs you take would most likely kill someone else who doesn’t use drugs, so ensure you keep them out the way in a safe, secure place out of easy access from others.
- Dispose of used sharps (needles/syringes ect) in a proper sharps bin: Once full, take them into your local needle exchange to dispose of them safely.
- IF EVER YOU’RE IN DOUBT, THROW IT OUT!…
If you want more help and support to overcome your addiction or want to help someone else with their addiction, you can find contact information for charities, organisations and groups who can help. You can find their contact information on our help and support page here.
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