Why is cocaine adulterated with an animal dewormer? Mystery solved?
February 20, 2014, 7:41 pm
Aminorex, a metabolic of the cocaine adulterant levamisole, exerts amphetamine like actions at monoamine transporters. Hofmaier T et al. Neurochem Int 2013 Dec 1 [Epub ahead of print]
During the last decade, many shipments of cocaine seized by U.S. drug authorities have been found to be adulterated with levamisole, a veterinary anti-worming medicine. The drug in the past has been used to treat various medical conditions in humans, but was withdrawn from the market because of significant adverse reactions. Levamisole has also been associated with the occurrence of agranulocytosis and dermal vasculitis in drug users exposed to tainted cocaine.
This laboratory study helps suggest why levamisole is so often used as a cocaine adulterant. The authors point out that levamisole is metabolized to form aminorex, and amphetamine-like drug that had been marketed in Europe as an appetite-suppressant and weight loss drug until it was found to cause vasoconstriction and pulmonary hypertension.
It has been speculated that levamisole and/or aminorex may enhance the effects of cocaine. The authors set out to examine what effects levamisole and aminorex have on neurotransmitter transporters and levels of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin.
Using techniques too detailed to go into here . . . okay, who am I kidding. Not being a lab person, I found it impossible to follow the methods section, so I’m taking the authors somewhat on their word. However, their results are consistent with previous literature on the subject. They found that levamisole itself produced similar, though relatively weak, effects to those of cocaine, inhibiting reuptake of dopamine and norepinephrine (and, to a lesser extent, serotonin). In contrast, aminorex strongly inhibited uptake of dopamine and norepinephrine while increasing release of serotonin. This total effect of increasing levels of catecholamines in the synapse may enhance and prolong the effects of cocaine itself.
I wonder what underground chemist first figured this out.