You may have heard that cocaine dealers will sometimes whack their packs with caffeine. In fact, a 2011 study published in Behavioral Brain Research, shows that nearly 80% of coca paste samples obtained from police seizures were cut with caffeine. The caffeine adulteration ranged from 1% to 15%. The caffeine cut is beneficial for dealers because it stretches the product into bigger quantities, but further research shows that it actually makes the coke more addictive.
Uruguayan neurochemist Jose Prieto contributed to the research. He and other researchers used rats to test the coca paste by itself and caffeinated coca paste in a laboratory. When given the straight coke, the rats would run around, but when given the cut coke, they would run faster, longer and farther. The caffeine coke would also take effect faster.
The caffeine also increased the addictiveness of the cocaine. Prieto teamed with Italian neuroscientist Valentina Valentini to test this. The researchers inserted catheters into the rats and trained them to self-administer with either saline, caffeine, cocaine or the caffeine cocaine mixture. Science News reports the findings:
Rats given either caffeine or saline never really learned to self-administer the drugs. “It was expected,” Valentini says. “We know that caffeine is a stimulant, but not an addictive drug.” But rats given cocaine or cocaine/caffeine in combination quickly picked up the task.
Then, the scientists changed the game. They introduced the rats to a progressive test. Where the animals previously had to poke a trigger only once to receive the drug, they next had to poke three times, then five, then eight. Each dose costs more and more effort, until finally the animals give up. This is a measurement of how motivated a rat might be to obtain a particular drug.
Cocaine itself made the animals work, but cocaine and caffeine together proved a lot more motivating. “It was pretty impressive,” Prieto says.
In conclusion, cutting cocaine with caffeine gives cocaine dealers more bang for their buck. Not only are pushers saving money by stretching their packs, they are distributing a more addictive and potent product. “It’s a win-win for the pusher, it’s a win-win for the cartel,” said Ohio State University neuropsychopharmacologist John Bruno.