Drugs of abuse are remarkably powerful. One hit of certain drugs can alter chemical processes inside the brain, and with those changes, a person might move from feeling slightly unhappy to downright euphoric in mere minutes. Drugs really are that powerful, but the power of a drug can be undercut when that drug is mixed with inactive ingredients. These additives, often called cutting agents, can help a drug dealer to stretch purchasing power.

A cutting agent is typically inexpensive. Adding that agent to an expensive drug can give a dealer a larger product to sell. And that dealer may not disclose the presence of the agents, and that dealer might sell the drug at a high price that should be reserved for a pure drug.

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List of Drug Cutting Agents

drug cutting agents

The use of cutting agents is rampant. Analysis cited by the BBC suggests that 39 percent of cocaine is less than 10 percent pure. That means the majority of drugs are mixed with something else. These are the top 10 things that might be found in these drugs:

Baby Powder


  1. Benzocaine: This is a substance that is typically sold in a powdered format. It is used in all sorts of common, everyday products that a person might use for minor pain. Those products include cough drops, spray-on anesthetics, and pain-relieving ointments and gels. The substance works on contact, helping to narrow blood vessels and reduce the sensation of pain. In this way, benzocaine is much like cocaine. It looks like the drug and it works in the same way. Documents released by the British government suggest that cocaine can be mixed with benzocaine in a one-to-one ratio, meaning that the cocaine people might buy is only about half pure.
  2. Lidocaine: This is another painkilling medication that is often sold in a powdered form. People can apply it topically, or they can put it directly on a sore spot and feel almost immediate relief. Dealers choose this substance as a bulking agent due to its lookalike qualities, but it is also a good choice because it can fool people on a taste test. When people put cocaine mixed with lidocaine on the tongue, says the Daily Mail, the tongue goes numb. That is a trait people use on the fly to determine drug purity. Lidocaine can fool those testers, which makes it an ideal cutting agent.
  3. Phenacetin: This is another substance that is sold as a white, crystalline powder. In the past, this substance was used as a painkiller in the United States, but that use has been discontinued. In fact, now this substance is considered quite dangerous. According to documents from the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, phenacetin is considered a probable cancer-causing agent, and it is not considered safe to breathe, much less take in orally or nasally. This substance is banned in the United States, but dealers might still be able to get it from overseas sources. If they do, they could use it in powdered, white drugs like cocaine and heroin to dilute power and maximize profits.
  4. Baby powder: The prime ingredient in baby powder is talcum, and this substance is white and powdered. This substance is also remarkably inexpensive. Dealers must use caution when adding talcum, as it tends to have a distinctive and pervasive smell. Adding a little could help to stretch a stash of drugs and allow dealers to maximize their profits.
  5. Caffeine: When most people think of caffeine, they think about the brown grounds that can be used to produce a cup of coffee. This is a completely different substance. This is a powdered form of the element that gives coffee its punch, and it can be found in vitamin shops and online bodybuilding stores. Caffeine like this can help people to feel strong and invigorated, and it also looks like powdered cocaine or heroin. Caffeine can also be used as a sales promotion for dealers. When caffeine is mixed with heroin, says the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, it causes that heroin to vaporize at a lower rate. That could allow users to take the drug faster and get a big punch sooner.
  6. Chloroquine: This is a white, powdered medication that is used to help people deal with the effects of the illness malaria. It is a relatively easy substance to find, especially in countries where malaria is active, and it is an inexpensive substance to purchase. That makes this drug a good cutting agent. It is a very common choice among people who hope to maximize profits and reduce costs.
  7. Aspirin: Crushed aspirin pills are almost indistinguishable from powdered drugs like cocaine and heroin. Aspirin also has a slightly bitter smell and taste, which is another attribute dealers look for when trying to assess the purity of a substance they would like to purchase or test. Aspirin is remarkably cheap to buy, and there are no limitations on how much a person can buy at any one time. Dealers pressed for time could simply head to a big box store and pick up aspirin in bulk. Once they have crushed the tablets, they could have enough powder to amend several doses of drugs.

Since cutting agents are so common, some countries have taken steps to make their purchase and use illegal. The Evening Standard reported, for example, on the case of a young person who was sentenced to more than five years in prison for his possession of cutting agents. There was no reason for this young person to have great quantities of these agents unless he planned to make drugs, and he was convicted as though he was making drugs. Those laws are not uncommon. They could devastate a person’s future chances, if the charges stick.

Similarly, cutting agents could be catastrophic to the people who take them in. It is not at all clear how these agents will work inside of the human body, and in some cases, they could clump together if they are placed inside the body via something like a needle. Just as pure drugs can be dangerous, cut drugs can cause harm.

If you are using drugs, use this as a wakeup call for a whole new life. Get help. You could find that you no longer need drugs, whether cut or pure.

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