Lacing (drugs)

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Lacing or cutting, in drug culture, refer to the act of using a substance (referred to as the lacing agent or cutting agent) to adulterate substances independent of the reason. The resulting substance is laced or cut.

Some street drugs are commonly laced with other chemicals for various reasons, but it is most commonly done to bulk up the original product or to sell other, cheaper drugs in the place of something more expensive. Individuals sometimes lace their own drugs with another substance to combine or alter the physiological or psychoactive effects.


The classical model of drug cutting refers to the way that illicit drugs were diluted at each stage of the chain of distribution.[1]

Drug markets have changed considerably since the 1980s; greater competition, and a shift from highly structured (and thus controlled) to greatly fragmented markets, has generated competition among dealers in terms of purity. Many drugs that reach the street are now only cut at the manufacture/producer stage, and this may be more a matter of lacing the drug with another substance designed to appeal to the consumer, as opposed to simple diluents that increase the profit for the seller. The extent of cutting can vary significantly over time but for the last 15 years drugs such as heroin and cocaine have often sat at the 50% purity level.[citation needed] Heroin purity sitting at 50% does not mean 50% cutting agents; other adulterants could include other opiate by-products of making heroin from opium.[citation needed] Coomber,[2] after having street heroin seizures from the UK re-analysed, reported that nearly 50% of the samples had no cutting agents present at all. This means that 50% of street heroin in the UK in 1995 had worked its way from producer to user without being cut at any stage, although other adulterants may have been present. Other research outlined how drug dealers have other ways of making profit without having to resort to cutting the drugs they sell.[3]

Cocaine has been cut with various substances ranging from flour and powdered milk to ground drywall, mannitol, baking soda, and other common, easily obtainable substances.[citation needed]

Most hard drugs are adulterated to some degree. Some street drugs can be as low as 10–15% of the active drug, with the other (85–90%) not necessarily being the cutting agent. In fact a heroin sample of only 20% purity may have no cutting agents in it at all. The other 80% may be impurities produced in the manufacturing process and substances created as by products of this process and/or degradation of the drug if improperly stored.

When choosing a cutting agent, the drug manufacturer or dealer would ideally attempt to find a chemical that is inexpensive, easy to obtain, relatively non-toxic, and mimics the physical attributes of the drug to be adulterated. For example, if a drug is soluble in water, the preferred adulterant would also be water-soluble. Similar melting and boiling points are also important if the drug is to be smoked.

Types of lacing agents[edit]

Non-psychoactive lacing agents[edit]

Visually mimics[edit]

Some fake drugs consist of substances from relatively harmless sources, such as grocery store goods like flour, oregano or allergy pills. Even despite the substances' harmlessness, legal penalties for the crime of selling them can include time in jail.[4][5]

Flavor masker[edit]

Cocaine adulterated with fruit flavoring

Sometimes a flavor masker are added to give a more pleasant experience.

Psychoactive mimics[edit]

Lacing/cutting agents may be psychoactive.[6]

Certain fake drugs include other controlled drugs, or they may include synthetic drugs with similar properties. Uncertainty of an identity of the substance may increase the risk of an overdose.[citation needed]

A related, yet distinct, problem is the trade of counterfeit medications with pills including substances such as fentanyl which can be used recreationally.[7][8]

Reasons for lacing[edit]

Illegal drug trade[edit]

Drugs may be sold to end users who are unaware they have been laced or are unaware what was used to lace them. At various points in the supply chain, in order to maximize profitability, many drugs are adulterated with cutting agents. Substances with similar physical and/or chemical properties can be used so the end product most closely resembles what it is purported to be. Inert substances with similar physical properties can be used to increase weight without changing the look and feel. Less expensive or easier to obtain compounds with similar chemical properties may be used to lace heavily adulterated drugs while still maintaining some psychoactive potency.[citation needed]

Mickey Finn[edit]

In slang, a Mickey Finn—or simply a Mickey—is a drink laced with a psychoactive drug or incapacitating agent (especially chloral hydrate) given to someone without their knowledge, with intent to incapacitate them.

Poly drug use[edit]

Drugs may also be laced with the end user being made aware of the lacing. In this case, rather than as an adulteration, the lacing is intended to make the product more desirable. Sometimes less potent, often less expensive drugs, are laced with a small amount of a more potent, often more expensive drug. This may be used to facilitate the ingestion of drugs or to allow the simultaneous ingestion of multiple drugs. Cigarettes laced with PCP allow users to take in the liquid PCP through smoking and some multi drug users report intentionally buying marijuana laced with methamphetamine.[9]

Commonly laced substances[edit]

Dietary supplements[edit]


Street drugs[edit]

Drug 1 Drug 2 Drug 3 Poly drug name[11] Intoxication name Comment
Any synthetic opioids opioids Gray death Synthetic opioids sold to maximize profitability
Alcohol Barbiturates Geronimo. Wild geronimo
Alcohol Chloral hydrate Mickey Finn In slang, a Mickey Finn—or simply a Mickey—is a drink laced with a psychoactive drug or incapacitating agent (especially chloral hydrate) given to someone without their knowledge, with intent to incapacitate them.
Alcohol (moonshine) Methanol List of methanol poisoning incidents
Cannabis Embalming fluid Illy. Love boat[12] The use of fry (embalming fluid and PCP-laced cigarettes or marijuana sticks) among crack cocaine smokers.[13] Embalming fluid has been found as a by-products of PCP manufacture.[14]
Cannabis Formaldehyde PCP Wet Marijuana cigarettes dipped into or laced with other substances, typically formaldehyde, phencyclidine, or both, are known as "wet" and have caused respiratory failure.[15]
Cannabis Formaldehyde Clicker, dank. Love boat[12] Marijuana cigarettes dipped into or laced with other substances, typically formaldehyde, phencyclidine, or both, are known as "wet" and have caused respiratory failure.[15]
Cannabis PCP Embalming fluid Fry, fry sticks. Love boat[12] Embalming fluid has been found as a by-products of PCP manufacture.[14]
Cannabis Cocaine paste Bazooka
Crack-cocaine Benzocaine Coco snow Crack cut with benzocaine. Benzocaine is a dental anaesthetic that mimics coke's numbing effect.
Crack-cocaine Procaine Double rock Crack cut with procaine. Procaine is a dental anaesthetic that mimics coke's numbing effect.
LSD Strychnine Back breakers (sometimes backbreaker) Strychnine has been found in murder or attempted murder investigations where someone was being specifically targeted for poisoning.
Heroin Motion sickness medication Polo This combination caused dozens of overdoses in Newark, New Jersey, the police and doctors said they suspected that one dealer in the area had been trying to improve his profit margin by diluting his heroin supply with scopolamine, the main ingredient in skin patches used to prevent motion sickness.[16]
Heroin Scopolamine or strychnine Spike [16] Strychnine has been found in murder or attempted murder investigations where someone was being specifically targeted for poisoning.
Heroin Xylazine Tranq Xylazine is a horse anesthetic. Heroin is now commonly laced or replaced with Fentanyl.
Ketamine LSD THC Free-wheeling Free-wheeling[17]
PCP Gasoline Octane PCP laced with gasoline. Cigarettes or joints are soaked in the solution that quickly evaporates.



Heroin is commonly cut with quinine, caffeine, dimethocaine, lidocaine procaine, lactose, inositol, dextrose, mannitol, and starch.

Other opioids are sometimes sold as heroin or cut with heroin. Fentanyl sold as or laced into heroin has made the news in the past due to the numerous fatalities it causes when it appears on the market. Recently, Fentanyl and close analogues have been produced in pure powder form for very cheap. Dealers may cut with or sell heroin with Fentanyl due to the street cost of Fentanyl versus the cost of heroin. The potency of such mixtures (especially if made carelessly) can be far above that of pure heroin, and users frequently overdose due to this. Gray death is a street drug in the United States. Samples have been found to contain the designer drug U-47700, heroin and opioids including fentanyl and carfentanil.[18]


Stimulants are drugs that speed or give a mental boost to the consumer.


Black cocaine, and cocaine paste, are impure forms of cocaine.

The most common cocaine adulterants found in 1998 in samples in Rome, Italy were lidocaine and caffeine.[19] Cocaine is sometimes mixed with methylamphetamine, methylphenidate, and ephedrine, but is usually mixed with non psychoactive chemicals such as mannitol, inositol, pectin, glucose, lactose, saccharin, white rice flour, and maltodextrin.[citation needed] Other of agranulocytosis, including 2 deaths, according to an alert from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

The emergence of fentanyl-laced cocaine has led to an increase in cocaine overdose fatalities in New York City.[20]


MSM is sometimes used as a cutting agent for illicitly manufactured methamphetamine.



Cannabis products that are laced are usually laced with synthetic cannabinoids:

  • Counterfeit cannabis-liquid (c-liquid) for e-cigarettes: Synthetic cannabinoids are increasingly offered in e-cigarette form as "c-liquid".[21]
  • Counterfeit cannabis buds: Hemp buds (or low-potency cannabis buds) laced with synthetic cannabinoids.[22][23][24][25]
  • Counterfeit cannabis edible: The Florida Poison Information Center in Jacksonville warned parents in September 2020 that the number of people poisoned by fake marijuana edibles and candies has tripled.[26]
  • Counterfeit hash oil: Several school kids in Greater Manchester collapsed after vaping synthetic cannabinoids mis-sold as THC vape.[27][28][29][30][31][32][33][34][35]
  • Counterfeit hashish: In 2020 counterfeit hashish were found to contain 4F-MDMB-BINACA and 5F-MDMB-PINACA (5F-ADB).[36]

Less common psychoactive substances used to adulterate cannabis:

  • Erectile dysfunction drugs: In the Netherlands two chemical analogs of Sildenafil (Viagra) were found in adulterated marijuana.[37]
  • Methamphetamine: psychiatrist Dr Bill MacEwan believes that drug dealers in British Columbia are intentionally lacing cannabis with methamphetamine to make it more addictive. He had some psychiatric patients that claimed they only smoked pot but their drug tests were positive for methamphetamine use.[9]
  • PCP: Rarely, cannabis (especially that of low quality) is laced with PCP, particularly in the United States.[38] However, it is not always done surreptitiously. Dealers who do so often (but not always) advertise their wares as being "enhanced" with other substances, and charge more money than they would otherwise, even if they do not say exactly what the lacing agents are. Such concoctions are often called "fry", "wet", "illy", "sherm", "water-water", "dust(ed)", "super weed", "grecodine" or other names.[39]

Weight cutting agents:

  • Binding substances: Sometimes cannabis is adulterated with other binding substances including industrial glues such as neoprene, tar, ammonia, bitumen, petroleum-derived hydrocarbons, dog food or even human or animal excrement.[40] to make it cheaper, thus being of poorer quality.
  • Sand, sugar, brix fertilizers, hair spray, fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides.
  • Microscopic glass beads: Cannabis buds was found to be contaminated with glass beads in 2007, known as gris weed.[41][42]
  • Lead: In 2008, 30 German teenagers were hospitalized after the marijuana which they smoked was found to have been contaminated with lead (presumably metallic lead particles), which was added in order to increase its weight.[43]
  • Shoe polish: Hash has been cut with shoe polish.[44]
  • Vitamin E acetate: Although harmless when used orally, high levels of the substance cause vaping-associated pulmonary injury when inhaled.[45]

Black market ecstasy pills are frequently found to contain other drugs in place of or in addition to methylenedioxymethylamphetamine (MDMA). Since the slang term "ecstasy" usually refers only to MDMA, any pill which contains other compounds may be considered adulterated. 3,4-Methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA), methylenedioxyethamphetamine (MDEA), amphetamine, methylamphetamine, benzylpiperazine (BZP), trifluoromethylphenylpiperazine (TFMPP), caffeine, ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, and dextromethorphan (DXM) are all commonly found in pills being sold as ecstasy. Less common drugs in ecstasy include diphenhydramine, acetaminophen, 5-MeO-DiPT, 2C-B, procaine, and phencyclidine (PCP). Ecstasy pills sometimes contain dimethylamylamine to increase its stimulant effects. Ecstasy pills might also contain a low dose of 2C-I to potentiate its euphoric effects. Pharmaceutical pills are sometimes sold as ecstasy, as well as pills that contain no psychoactive chemicals at all. Ecstasy sometimes contains 10 mg to 20 mg of baclofen to reduce overheating caused by ecstasy. para-Methoxyamphetamine (PMA or "Dr. Death", a drug that causes so much overheating that it can kill within 40 minutes) is sometimes sold as ecstasy.[citation needed] There is one published case[46] of an ecstasy tablet being adulterated with 8 mg of strychnine, a toxic alkaloid which was used in very low doses (less than 1 mg) as a stimulant and performance-enhancing drug in the past. Recently, several groups advocating for drug safety through education have made reagent testing products available to confirm what substances there are.[47]


LSD is virtually never laced with other chemicals[citation needed], but other lysergamides such as ALD-52 are sometimes sold as LSD-25. DOB, DOI, and other closely related drugs are sometimes sold as LSD. Several other highly potent hallucinogens such as Bromo-DragonFLY or 25I-NBOMe can be found in the form of blotters. LSD is also tasteless in normal dosages, so detection is only possible after ingestion or reagent testing. For these reasons, it is not uncommon to find blotters sold as LSD completely devoid of psychoactive substances.

Prescription medication[edit]

As the sources of prescription medication on the street are not verifiable through legitimate channels, misrepresentation of prescription medications is a common practice.

Case reports in commercial products[edit]


In June 2022, the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority warned that the 3-liter champagne bottle from Moët & Chandon Ice Impérial contained MDMA, killing a person in Germany.[48]


Reagent testing[edit]

Reagent testing kits are available online and also sold at some head shops. These kits claim to be able to identify common adulterants in ecstasy.

Professional lab tests[edit]

There are services available for testing the contents of an ecstasy pill that can tell the user what chemicals are contained in the pill and at what ratio. The results are then posted on their website along with every other pill that they have tested. The tests are considered to be highly accurate. Their services were at one time free, but when they ran out of funding they had to charge a fee for every pill tested.[49]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Preble, Edward; Casey, John J. (January 1969). "Taking Care of Business—The Heroin User's Life on the Street". International Journal of the Addictions. 4 (1): 1–24. doi:10.3109/10826086909061998.
  2. ^ Coomber, Ross. "How Often Does the Adulteration/Dilution of Heroin Actually Occur: An Analysis of 228 'Street' Samples Across the UK (1995–1996) and Discussion of Monitoring Policy". International Journal of Drug Policy. 8 (4): 178–186.
  3. ^ Coomber, Ross (January 1997). "The Adulteration of Drugs: What Dealers Do to Illicit Drugs, and What They Think is Done to Them". Addiction Research. 5 (4): 297–306. doi:10.3109/16066359709004344.
  4. ^ "Boston's Criminal Defense Attorney - Keegan Law". 17 November 2015. Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  5. ^ "Counterfeit & Synthetic Drugs - Davis Law Group". Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  6. ^ Żubrycka, Anna; Kwaśnica, Andrzej; Haczkiewicz, Monika; Sipa, Karolina; Rudnicki, Konrad; Skrzypek, Sławomira; Poltorak, Lukasz (15 January 2022). "Illicit drugs street samples and their cutting agents. The result of the GC-MS based profiling define the guidelines for sensors development". Talanta. 237: 122904. doi:10.1016/j.talanta.2021.122904. PMID 34736717. S2CID 243761335.
  7. ^ "Does Crime Pay When It Comes to Fake Drugs? - RealClearHealth". Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  8. ^ "DEA Considers Fentanyl-Containing Counterfeit Medications a Global Threat – Partnership for Safe Medicines". August 2016. Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  9. ^ a b Meth-laced pot a huge problem, experts say January 27, 2006.
  10. ^ "How the Associated Press collected information on CBD vapes". Associated Press. September 16, 2019. Retrieved November 27, 2021.
  11. ^ Copping, Jasper (8 November 2009). "Drug slang: what police must learn A to B".
  12. ^ a b c Veronese, Keith (February 26, 2012). "The street drug Love Boat comes in many brain-warping varieties". Gizmodo. Retrieved November 27, 2021.
  13. ^ Peters, Ronald J; Williams, Mark; Ross, Michael W; Atkinson, John; McCurdy, Sherly A (2008). "The Use of Fry (Embalming Fluid and PCP-Laced Cigarettes or Marijuana Sticks) among Crack Cocaine Smokers". Journal of Drug Education. 38 (3): 285–95. doi:10.2190/DE.38.3.f. PMC 2873769. PMID 19157045.
  14. ^ a b Holland, Julie A.; Nelson, Lewis; Ravikumar, P. R.; Elwood, William N. (June 1998). "Embalming Fluid-Soaked Marijuana: New High or New Guise for PCP?". Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. 30 (2): 215–219. doi:10.1080/02791072.1998.10399693. PMID 9692385.
  15. ^ a b Gilbert, C. R; Baram, M; Cavarocchi, N. C (2013). "'Smoking wet': Respiratory failure related to smoking tainted marijuana cigarettes". Texas Heart Institute Journal. 40 (1): 64–7. PMC 3568288. PMID 23466531.
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  20. ^ "Health Department Warns New Yorkers About Cocaine Laced With Fentanyl; Occasional Users At High Risk Of Overdose". NYC Health. 1 June 2017. Archived from the original on 21 June 2017. Retrieved 21 July 2017.
  21. ^ Angerer V, Moosman B, Franz F, Auwärter V (2015). "5F-cumyl-PINACA in 'e-liquids' for electronic cigarettes – A new type of synthetic cannabinoid in a trendy product" (PDF). Retrieved 14 June 2018.
  22. ^ "Fake Hanf: Ein Drogentrend schwappt in die Schweiz – was du darüber wissen musst". (in German).
  23. ^ "Fake Hanf: Tödliches Marihuana hat bereits 61 Menschen getötet". (in German).
  24. ^ "Fake Hanf mit synthetischen Cannabinoiden besprüht - drugcom".
  25. ^ "Tödlicher Fake Hanf - Chemisch behandelte Hanfblüten – niemand kann sie erkennen". Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen (SRF) (in German). 14 August 2020.
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Further reading[edit]

  • Coomber, R. (1997) Vim in the Veins – Fantasy or Fact: The Adulteration of Illicit Drugs, Addiction Research, Vol 5, No. 3. pp. 195-212
  • Coomber, R. (1997) ‘Adulteration of Drugs: The Discovery of a Myth', Contemporary Drug Problems, Vol 24, No. 2. pp. 239-271