How is Cocaine Made?

Sharon Farntrog
Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Jefferey A. Berman MD, DFASAM
Last Updated
December 4, 2023

Part of the complete guide to understanding addiction

Table of Contents
  1. Cocaine Production
  2. What is Cocaine?
  3. History of Cocaine
  4. Where is Cocaine Made?
  5. How is Cocaine Made?
  6. Common Additives and Dangers
  7. Conclusion
  8. Sources

Cocaine Production

Cocaine is an addictive stimulant drug with a long and expensive production process. To summarize how to make cocaine, these are the basic steps. After being harvested, fresh coca leaves are soaked in gasoline, drained and dried, mixed with strong solvents like lime and potassium, and soaked once again in acid to fully extract all alkaloids. The resulting paste is then drained of liquid and dried into bricks of cocaine, ready for distribution.

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What is Cocaine?

Cocaine is a strong stimulant drug that is highly addictive. Cocaine is made out of two species of the Coca plant native to South America. Because it is a central nervous system stimulant, cocaine speeds up many bodily functions and induces euphoria, energy, mental alertness, and hypersensitivity. Its effects are felt almost immediately and are short-lived, disappearing within a few minutes to an hour. In its powdered form, cocaine may be snorted, sublimated and then inhaled, dissolved and injected, rubbed on the gums, or heated and smoked. Cocaine is classified as a Schedule II drug 1, indicating that it has a high abuse potential as well as a legitimate medical use in some situations.

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History of Cocaine

For over a thousand years, the indigenous peoples of South America have chewed the leaves of the Erythroxylum Coca plant for its many nutrients and pleasure – inducing alkaloids. When Spanish conquistadors arrived in the Americas, they first banned the coca plant as an “agent of the devil”, but then reversed the decision when they saw that the natives were simply unable to work without it.

In 1855, German chemist Friedrich Gaedcke successfully isolated the alkaloid cocaine from the coca plant and named it “erythroxyline”. Over the next century, numerous studies, experiments, and trials were conducted with this new alkaloid, and countless products were created with it – ranging from coca wines to cocaine hair tonics to cocaine toothache drops. John Pemberton’s original recipe for Coca-Cola included the key ingredient “a pinch of coca leaves” (which has long been removed since the passing of the Pure Food and Drug Act).  It also gained popularity in medicinal circles as an effective analgesic and local anesthetic. Cocaine was strongly considered by the German Army for use as a performance and endurance–enhancing drug (aka “pep pill”) in troops during WWII. In modern times, its medical use faltered in the face of new, increasingly effective analgesics, and it has rapidly devolved into a recreational party drug that is widely used and abused. Today, cocaine is a glamour drug widely associated with the rich and famous. 2

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Where is Cocaine Made?

The seat of the cocaine-making process is indisputably in the continent of South America. Cocaine is produced in various South American countries, including Colombia, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. Colombia is a particular hotspot, accounting for nearly ninety percent of the cocaine on the streets in 2020 3. In 2021, Colombia produced around 972 tons of cocaine and 234,000 hectares were planted with the coca plant 4. Due to its warm climate, fertile soil and higher altitude, Colombia produces especially potent cocaine leaves which are favored by drug dealers and users.

According to the Foundation for A Drug – Free World, cocaine takes second place on the list of most trafficked and abuse drugs. To date, 756 metric tons of cocaine have been confiscated by various law enforcement agencies, a number that keeps on rising.

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How is Cocaine Made?

The cocaine-making process is long and labor–intensive, which greatly contributes to its prohibitive cost. Below are the basic steps of how to make cocaine:

  • Step 1: Coca leaves are harvested from their parent bushes.
  • Step 2: The coca leaves are soaked in gasoline. Placing cocaine in gasoline isolates and extracts their alkaloids (specifically cocaine hydrochloride).
  • Step 3: The leaves are drained of gasoline and then dried.
  • Step 4: The treated leaves are mixed with other solvents such as lime, cement, acid, and potassium to extract all active alkaloids further.
  • Step 5: The mixture is soaked in acetone and acid and drained one final time.
  • Step 6: Any remaining leaves are strained away, and the resulting paste is heated, dried, and pressed into bricks. 5

It takes approximately 450 – 600 kilograms of fresh coca leaves in order to produce a mere 1 kilogram of cocaine base, which can then be converted into 1 kilogram of cocaine hydrochloride.

To make crack cocaine, processed hydrochloric acid is dissolved in water and mixed with sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). The resulting mixture is cooked down until a solid forms, and then broken down into the ubiquitous rocks which characterize crack cocaine. 6

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Common Additives and Dangers

Due to its complicated and exhaustive production process, cocaine is among the most expensive drugs on the market. If you’re wondering how much an 8 ball of cocaine costs, the answer depends on factors such as purity and location.

In an attempt to lower costs and increase supply and profit margins, drug suppliers have taken to cutting cocaine with a wide variety of substances – ranging from relatively benign to deadly. 7

Some additives are relatively harmless, and are used only to mimic the white powder appearance of cocaine hydrochloride (and possibly weaken its effects). The list is exhaustive, and includes but is not limited to:

  • Talc
  • Flour
  • Cornstarch
  • Sugar
  • Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda)
  • Vitamin C powder
  • Glucose
  • Baby formula
  • Quinine
  • Thiamin (aka Vitamin B1)
  • Tyramine (can induce migraines)
  • Sodium carbonate (aka washing soda)
  • Magnesium silicate (aka asbestos)
  • Magnesium sulfate (Epsom salts)
  • Salicylamide (an over-the-counter painkiller)
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Sodium
  • Phosphorus
  • Aluminum
  • Iron
  • Manganese
  • Zinc

Cheap white stimulants are often used to recreate the psychoactive or numbing effects of cocaine, and some can have dangerous or even fatal consequences when ingested. These include:

  • Caffeine
  • Heroin
  • Amphetamines
  • Crystal Meth
  • Methylphenidate
  • Ergotamine
  • Aminophylline
  • Procaine (often called Novocain)
  • Lidocaine
  • Tetracaine
  • Benzocaine
  • Fentanyl

**Above all cutting agents, fentanyl poses by far the greatest danger. Fentanyl is an incredibly powerful synthetic opioid which is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. Four grains of fentanyl is sufficient to kill an average adult, which has led it to be the leading cause of overdose deaths as of late. Other, more toxic analogs of fentanyl – such as carfentanil – have been detected in cocaine as well. A lethal dose of carfentanil is so miniscule that it is invisible to the naked eye.

Learn more about lacing Cocaine with Fentanyl

Additionally, random poisons have been found cut into cocaine samples – an unusual but fatal occurrence called a “death hit” by cocaine users. Below are some poisons that have been found in cocaine:

  • Strychnine (commonly used in rat poison)
  • Arsenic (a natural and highly toxic chemical element often used as poison)
  • Levamisole (an anthelminthic drug used to treat parasitic worm infections in livestock)
  • Thallium (an odorless, tasteless heavy metal with highly toxic properties)

*An evaluation of the average purity of cocaine revealed that nearly 80% of street cocaine contains levamisole 8, which can cause severe necrosis – mass death of cells in the skin tissue due to failure of blood supply.

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What to Know About How Cocaine is Produced

All in all, the end product of cocaine production which lands in the majority of drug users’ hands is an undocumented amalgamation of various different substances, ranging from useless to lethal. The one thing which it almost never turns out to be is pure cocaine. Extreme caution must be exercised whenever using cocaine – or any drug, for that matter – to ensure that it is not tainted with agents that may have disastrous consequences.

If you or a loved one is suffering from cocaine addiction, know that help and healing is always possible. Reach out to Avenues Recovery Center today to discover how we can help you and begin you in your journey home.

Learn more about cocaine including how much an 8-ball of cocaine costs and the side effects of cocaine use, by reading our online resources.

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