Street Drugs and Their Varied Effects

Why will one person be affected one way and another more severely? You may have observed a friend or acquaintance who used the same quantity of drugs as you have in the past and yet ended up at the ER.

Possibly, you have tried some cocaine and felt a severe burning in the nasal cavity. Or you became extremely anxious and felt like jumping out of your own skin.

Whether the drug is cocaine, crack, amphetamines, weed, or hallucinogens like mushrooms, the effects can vary widely from person to person. This variability is especially pronounced if someone tampered with these substances.

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Tampered Drugs and Russian Roulette

When referring to tampered drugs, it means drugs that have been mixed or cut with other substances. Below is a list of substances that are often used as cutting agents. This list is by far not the only cutting agents used by traffickers.  

  • Caffeine
  • Diphenhydramine (An antihistamine and sedative that is used to treat allergies, insomnia, and cold symptoms).
  • Phenacetin (Phenacetin is a pain-relieving and fever-reducing drug)
  • Local anesthetics (similar to Novocain)
  • Levamisole (a medication used to treat parasitic worm infections)
  • Dimethylsulfone (a sulphur-containing compound that can reduce inflammation, pain and oxidative stress)
  • non-opioid pain relievers

Illicit drug purchases can have some value. But it is often cut with something else, which can significantly alter its effects and increase the risk of harmful reactions. The consequences are unpredictable without knowing your physical tolerance to the above chemicals.

This does not mean that every street drug purchased will have devasting results. It simply means that one is putting their life in a game of “Russian roulette.”

Fentanyl — a Favourite Cutting Agent.

Over the years, one heard of the “opioid crisis,” which basically boils down to the overdose deaths & ER incidents related to opioid use. The culprit behind this was very often found to be Fentanyl or Carfentanil, according to the analysis of the drugs seized.

The reason Fentanyl is such a popular cutting agent is its effects on the person in such small quantities. A trafficker could cut a kilo of cocaine with fentanyl and gain 50%-100% more profit than with other substances.

What Consequences Does this Action Have?

Because only minuscule amounts of fentanyl are being combined into cocaine, dealers and buyers may not know exactly what amount they are selling or ingesting. Fentanyl carries a high risk of overdose due to its potency and can be lethal in the 2-milligram range.

The symptoms of fentanyl include drowsiness, disorientation, sedation, respiratory distress, pinpoint pupils, and clammy skin. The onset of these symptoms is dramatic and usually occurs within a few minutes.

 Cellphone & drink.
 Marijuana smoke.

Can Marijuana be Cut with Other Substances?

Since the advent of hydroponic marijuana, the potency of the substance has been altered and controlled. However, dealers have found ways to modify the drug to make its potency even greater and increase their sales and profit.

An ex-trafficker once stated that the way to get their weed sold for even triple the profit was to spread the pot out on a table. They would then cover the tabletop with plastic and vaporize the pot with minute particles of fentanyl, making the weed very strong. After a few clients went to the ER and a couple of ODs, they stopped this practice. This example is just one example of harmful sales of drugs.  

Crystal Meth: by far the Worse

One of the more notorious drugs containing the worst cutting agents is Meth or Crystal Meth. One has heard of “Meth-labs”. These are homemade laboratories in a shed, garage, basement, etc. A clandestine lab is a secret or concealed location where dealers & traffickers produce or prepare synthetic drugs. It includes methamphetamine and MDMA (also known as “ecstasy”). The majority of Canada’s meth and MDMA supply is produced domestically by organized crime.

These labs use all types of chemical compounds to produce a drug to sell to the community or export. Some of the chemicals used include:

  • Acetone (It is a colourless, highly volatile, and flammable liquid)
  • Anhydrous ammonia (undiluted ammonia: a corrosive gas or colourless liquid; very toxic. It is used as )
  • Ether (a clear liquid used as an anesthetic)
  • Red phosphorus (a chemical that is used in the production of pyrotechnics, fertilizers, and pesticides)
  • Lithium (lithium toxicity can lead to coma, brain damage, or even death. Lithium can induce serotonin syndrome, a potentially fatal and life-threatening condition.)

To name a few. These are dangerous to the person as well as the environment.

Important Advice for Street Drug Users

A vital point of advice to anyone who intends to use street drugs for recreation or self-medicating: you never know what you are buying! You never really know what is in these street-purchased substances. It may just be your last use.

If you or someone you know needs help with substance use disorder or even intervention services, you should reach out to those who work in the field and have experience with the subject. You have it in you to save a life.


  1. Seized cocaine containing fentanyl, Carfentanil
  2. Drugs on the Illegal Market in Canada
  3. Clandestine synthetic drug labs


Picture of Marc J. Bernard

Marc J. Bernard

Substance Use Disorder & Recovery Professional,
Referral & Consultation Counsellor

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1 888-488-8434
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