A 2012 case report published in the British Medical Journal described a woman with some hair-raising symptoms: a dark, painful purple rash streaked her cheeks, ears, and legs after a three-day binge on crack cocaine. Physicians had seen these symptoms before, and could tell that the cocaine she'd used was cut with levamisole. Levamisole is a medication used for de-worming livestock, but, before doctors noticed its horrifying side effects, it was prescribed to humans. Those side effects included dying flesh, especially around the ears. In 2009, the Drug Enforcement Agency estimated that levamisole was in 69% of the cocaine they seized, and multiple case studies have shown its effects in cocaine users. So why are cocaine traffickers cutting their drug with something so harmful to their client base? Some experts think it has to do with the way levamisole interacts with cocaine, boosting its potency. But the skin rot doesn't have to last forever: Studies from when levamisole was commonly prescribed show that symptoms reversed when people stopped using the drug, though they came right back if they started again.
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Key Facts In This Video
Cocaine is often cut, or mixed, with other substances like powdered caffeine or white flour. Today, it's being cut with a de-worming drug called Levamisole. 00:19
Doctors used to treat inflammatory diseases and some forms of cancer with Levamisole, but soon realized that it caused some patients skin to die, especially the ears. 00:54
In 2009, authorities estimated that Levamisole was in 69% of the cocaine seized in the US. 01:34