Mentholated Crack Cocaine
Menthol causes and endothermic reaction overtime and reduces the product to a slurry or paste form of the product beginning to occur after the first 72 hours of manufacturing.
A review of case a determined there was a defined and remarkable reduction in weight on the proposed crack cocaine product submitted nearly two years previously, from the original weight documented by the Smith Texas Laboratory. Present at the review and reweigh of this product listed above were legal counsel for the defendant and two case agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration, and an unidentified undercover agent. During this review and reweigh procedure the aforementioned product emitted a strong odor of menthol. The undercover agent expressed concern regarding the degradation of this product that had a very strong smell of menthol and proposed the evidence had been mixed or cut with Procaine, a derivative of Novocain. This agent further surmised that the addition of Procaine may be responsible for the rapid rate of deterioration. I proposed a mock experiment and analytical research study to determine the cause of this deterioration and reduction in weigh by nearly 16 grams over a two year period. By the use of pharmaceutical grade caffeine, topical 10% mixture of menthol, and an over the counter derivative of procaine (2.5% solution of lidocaine), we could do a mock representation in an attempt to recreate the degradation of the solid back to a liquid phase with apparent deteriorating properties.
It was hypothesized that over time temperature and humidity levels would vary, and the rate of expansion and reduction of cocaine and its derivatives mixed with procaine and menthol will be proportional to respective changes in temperature and humidity.
The evidence submitted on May 7, 2007 to Smith Texas Laboratory, was scientifically determined to be a controlled substance and identified as crack cocaine with a total weight of 51.9 grams . On March 12, 2009, I performed a certified reweigh of this same controlled substance, marked with the above lab number and above case number, and recorded a weight of 35.54g. The product smelled heavily of menthol and I questioned the representing authorities concerning the liquid state this product had begun to demonstrate. The substance was in a partially solid and partially liquid phase and was emitting a strong odor of menthol that was permeating through the plastic bag. It was an unknown condition that had only been noted a few times previously by the DEA. The phenomena of the product degrading over time resulted in a lesser charge to the defendant after a re-evaluation of the product. As a temporary solution to the issue of degradation/stability, I was informed that the authorities were refrigerating the substance until the certified weight could be performed by the laboratory, then the product was returned to evidence holding following the analysis and no longer refrigerated. Additionally it was expressed that all products of this type and similar in nature were handled in this manner and done on a “rush” basis in an attempt to record the most reliable weight possible. Understanding the relationship between temperature and stability of cocaine and its derivatives mixed with procaine and menthol would then allow an understanding of proper storage and handling of the controlled substance until a final decision could be delivered on the case by the court.
Crack cocaine is a solid, smokable form of cocaine. It is produced by mixing baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and water over heat until solid “rocks” are formed. The end result of this process is that the cut (substances used to reduce the concentration of the original cocaine, such as sugar, baby laxatives, procaine, benzocaine, lidocaine, among others) remains in the freebase cocaine after the moisture has evaporated. The “rock” may still contain small amounts of water. Vaporization of crack cocaine is 90 degrees C or 194 degrees F.
Procaine is a local anesthetic drug of the amino ester group. Procaine has a molecular weight of 272.77g/mol in its hydrochloride form with a decomposition boiling point and a melting point of 154 degrees C or 309.2 degrees F. This compound is easily soluble in water and is stable in its solid form. Short term degradation hazard is not likely, however long term degradation hazards may arise. It is used in intramuscular injections for the purpose of reducing pain at the injection site. It is also used in dentistry. Procaine, similar to cocaine, has properties of constricting blood vessels that reduce bleeding, but does not have the same euphoric or addictive qualities as cocaine. Procaine also has a half life, unlike cocaine, which means that the compound breaks down in the metabolism over time to the degree of only half of its original concentration at a time.
Menthol is a compound made synthetically or it is obtained from peppermint or other mint oils. It is a waxy, crystalline substance clear or white in color that is solid at room temperature (25 degrees C or 72 degrees F) and melts slightly above. Menthol has local anesthetic and counterirritant properties, and is widely used to relieve minor throat irritations. Menthol has a molecular mass of 156.27 g/mol, a melting point of approximately 36 degrees C or 96.8 degrees F, a boiling point of 212 degrees C or 413.6 degrees F, and is only slightly soluble in water. Menthol has analgesic properties that are mediated through a selective activation of k-opioid receptors. Menthol has also been reported to enhance the efficacy of analgesics in topical medications via vasodilatation, which reduces skin barrier function. Applications of menthol include short-term relief of minor throat and mouth irritation, antipruritic (reduces itching), topical analgesic (pain relief), decongestant, flavoring, pesticides, perfumery, first aid, and beauty products.
According to representatives of the New Orleans DEA office, products of cocaine and its derivatives have been noted to contain levels of procaine. Upon examination of the evidence previously listed in this report, there was a remarkable minty or mentholated smell permeating from the bag that contained the controlled substance identified as crack cocaine by the Smith Texas Laboratory. Also remarkable, was the apparent breakdown and degradation of the substance to its partial solid and partial liquid state. With the given information from the New Orleans DEA representatives, the properties of this product were in need of investigation and clarification. This mixture of cocaine could have been mixed with procaine, though no report indicated it, and it was extremely probable that it contained some form of menthol or mentholated substance, though this was also not indicated on any report. The scope of this research was to determine overall stability of a product containing pharmaceutical grade caffeine (similar in properties as cocaine), lidocaine (2.5% solution available at pharmacies over the counter), and a mentholated topical (10%), and a mixture of additives including powdered sugar (used in cutting the product to reduce the concentration of the “caffeine”). The next step was to determine if the product was manufactured in a similar manner as crack cocaine, would the same degradation become apparent under similar conditions and provide potential solution as to what was creating this degradation of material to a partial liquid state. I needed to investigate various properties of the various ingredients and determine a possible cause, combined with a viable solution for handling the product throughout the evidence discovery period until a final decision is delivered by the appropriate court.
METHOD AND CONTENT
This research project was designed with three separate samples. All three to contain relatively the same amount of pharmaceutical grade caffeine (approximately 1g), altering the sugar content as it may be altered in the production of crack for cutting purposes. Additionally, the amount of baking soda was altered slightly only for varying production purposes that may be the case in actual crack cocaine production. Some readings were available that may not have been reliable, regarding the actual production of crack cocaine, whereby it was suggested that a 3:1 ratio sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) may be used in the cooking process with enough water to cover the material during the cooking phase. That would be 1 part cocaine and 3 parts sodium bicarbonate. Example of this ratio would be: 1g cocaine mixture and 3g sodium bicarbonate. The first sample was cooked until no moisture was present in the cast iron pot leaving a moist solid substance resembling small pebbles. The second sample was cooked until most of the moisture had evaporated leaving small pebbles of moist product that could be strained from the remaining liquid. The third sample was the control sample and was prepared with all the same ingredients as the others without going through the cooking process. This sample should retain its same properties from the beginning of the research through the final conclusion. The caffeine would be reduced to its “purer” state in the cooking phase whereby the sugar, sodium bicarbonate and lidocaine were soluble in water leaving a “mentholated” end product of solid caffeine. The control would have all additives and bicarbonate added to the caffeine and without the cooking phase should remain constant in its weight.
At room temperature these samples were allowed to air dry. The samples were then placed in plastic bags. The plastic bags were weighed prior to submitting product into them and then weights were recorded one to two times per day. The weight of each bag was considered and subtracted from the weight of the product resulting in reporting the actual weight of the compound.
Sample #1: 1.147g pharmaceutical caffeine
3.576g powdered sugar (used as additive)
4.602g sodium bicarbonate (baking soda)
1.533g menthol topical agent (10% menthol concentration)
1.0 oz lidocaine mixture topical 2.5% solution
Added tap well water and cooked at med-high temperature on a gas stove top until all vapor had disappeared, leaving moist solid chucks of product remaining in cast iron pot. Material was placed on a dry surface (laboratory weigh boat) to dry at room temperature, approximately 25 degrees Celsius or 72 degrees Fahrenheit.
Sample #2: 1.074g pharmaceutical caffeine
1.212g powdered sugar (used as additive)
2.290g sodium bicarbonate (baking soda)
1.168g menthol topical agent (10% menthol concentration)
1.0 oz lidocaine mixture topical 2.5% solution
Added tap well water and cooked at med-high temperature on a gas stove top until the majority of the vapor had disappeared, leaving moist solid chunks and some water in the cast iron pot. Decanted water and discarded with remaining moist solids left to dry on a dry surface (laboratory weigh boat) to dry at room temperature, approximately 25 degrees Celsius or 72 degrees Fahrenheit.
Sample #3: 1.025g pharmaceutical caffeine
2.138g powdered sugar (used as additive)
3.227g sodium bicarbonate (baking soda)
1.034g menthol topical agent (10% menthol concentration)
3 drops using and glass dropper found at local pharmacies lidocaine
mixture topical 2.5% solution
No water added to this sample. This sample was basically designed as a form of control to determine if heating was altering the composition and degradation or would it be remarkable with similar properties even without cooking the product down to a solid phase. In effect this sample should remain constant with no heat or water added.
Date of Simulated Production: March 19, 2009
Avg Hum: 63%
Initial Recorded Weights:
1. 4.41g within the first hour after production
2. 6.31g within the first hour after production
3. 6.40g at the production phase (non-cooked)
All weights recorded here are in sample weigh boats on Sartorius Analytical Balance model ED153 # 21507975, manufactured by Sartorius AG, Goettingen, Germany. Troemer NVLP certified weights used to establish accuracy serial number 14893 with certification #410437.
According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) crack cocaine with procaine is termed “Blowcaine”, cocaine cut with bezocaine is termed “Coco Snow” and crack cut with benzocaine if termed “Flat Chunks” by the sellers and users. There did not seem to be any documentation of terminology used for any sort of cocaine or its derivatives that may be mixed with menthol or mentholated products. However, it was evident by nature of smell and the waxy, partially solid and partially liquid mixture that was examined and the reason for this document that it is indeed being incorporated into forms of crack cocaine and potentially powder forms of cocaine as well. Upon further investigation of medicinal uses of cocaine dating back to the late 1800’s various formulas can be found documenting the usage of menthol with cocaine. An early 1900’s formula for nebulizers (an apparatus used to clear nasal congestion) contained 66 grains of Menthol, 11 grains of Cocaine Hydrochloride, 2.5 fluid ounces of Benzocaine, and 5 fluid ounces of Glycerin. Another formula from the late 1800’s was developed for Neuralgia (a condition of pain that is not related to activation of pain receptor cells in any part of the body) and Chilbains (ulcers affecting the extremities that occur when the predisposed individual is exposed to cold and humidity) was used by the Japanese by mixing lanolin, menthol, and cocaine. Additionally, various forms of research done on use of menthol in tobacco products to potentially attract younger users, it is not out of the realm of probability that controlled substances “marketers” may be attempting similar methods of strategy. It is plausible that cocaine is being introduced in the “marketplace” with menthol properties. It is apparent that menthol seems to be the result of the cocaine weight variation based on the fact that of all the ingredients used to produce this report, menthol is the only compound that is not stable at varying temperatures and is also affected by relative humidity levels.
Sample #1 initial recorded weight was 4.41g within one hour after the “manufacture” of the product. The product over the next 24-48 hours had a 20% loss of weight likely due to additional moisture loss. The third day after production a decrease in temperature by 4 degrees F and decrease of average relative humidity resulted in and additional 18% degradation. This was followed by varying weights corresponding to temperature variances as well as relative humidity variances. On a 69 degree F day with relative humidity of 81% and rain recorded at 0.41” by the national weather service this original product that weighed 4.41g weighed in at 1.95g at 7:00pm on 3/26/09. This was recorded following the previous day that was recorded at 51 degrees F and 51% average humidity. The day following was 70 degrees F with 81% average humidity the product weighed 3.69g. Until the product was placed in the freezer the daily or twice daily weights seemed to be unstable to the amounts of at least 20-40% reduction or expansion.
Sample #2 had a remarkable decrease of 35% in one day with a slight decrease in temperature and decrease in average humidity. A similar decrease was observed with higher temperatures and average humidity. Again with this sample the product remained with unstable weights corresponding with temperature and average humidity variances until the product was placed in the freezer. The notable expansion and reduction properties were not a factor once the product was held at a constant temperature below 50 degrees F.
Sample #3 was the most remarkable in that it was the control sample. All ingredients mixed together excluding water and left at room temperature and uncooked. This sample had a very noticeable expansion property within 3 hours after the menthol was added. A 76% increase was recorded within 3 hours of the addition of the 10% menthol product and was warm to the touch through the bag. This sample remained at a weight that was more than 100% above its original weight from 24 hours after mixing the ingredients and through the duration of the research project. It became apparent that the menthol product addition created its own exothermic (creation of heat) reaction and began expanding at a rapid rate. As the temperature and average humidity decreased, the weight of the product was notably decreased. On 3/29/09 a weight reduction was noted with an average humidity reduction and a similar temperature as the previous day. The stability of the weight of this product that was originally defined as the control was not notable until the product was placed in a freezer.
Menthol appears to have been added to the evidence examined on March 12, 2009 . This observance was reported by smell test and not confirmed by analytical instrumentation. The smell resembled that of a pungent “Vick’s” vapor rub, which is a notable product of mentholated topical products. Menthol remains stable at room temperature according to the Material Safety Data Sheet, however it does not appear to be stable at said room temperatures once mixed with a mixture of caffeine, powdered sugar, sodium bicarbonate, and lidocaine. Room temperature is defined at 25 degrees C or 72 degrees F. Menthol stability is noted to be affected by humidity and temperature changes. At approximately 96 degrees F, it begins to melt if left in its natural state. Being mixed with sugars, caffeine, bicarbonates, and lidocaine starts an exothermic reaction of its own and has a rapid expansion rate followed by fluctuating rates of reduction and again expansion corresponding to changes in the temperature and average humidity. The samples prepared in this research project varied as much as twice its original weight and as little as 0.1g depending on the temperature and relative humidity of the days preceding and the days following and the actual day of the analysis. Upon placing in a residential style freezer there was a noticeable rate of stability and product weight variation was nor more than 0.05g per day over the course of several days. Additionally, there seemed to be no reaction of additional product expansion or reduction in respect to the temperature or average humidity.
The control sample (Sample #3) could be representative of what can be the result of powder forms of cocaine when mixed with menthol. A noticeable expansion of more than twice the original weight could be advantageous to the seller of such product by way of a higher profit margin. The product being powder or crack cocaine should be placed in a frozen state until it can be determined that menthol is or is not a factor in the ingredients. If menthol has been added to the product it should remain in its frozen state until a final conclusion/decision has been defined by the appropriate court.
By 3rd Degree Investigations, Inc.ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dana M Way
Chemistry Forensic Consultant and Expert Witness
Chemistry Forensic Consultant and Expert Witness
Dana Way started her career working in a laboratory in 1989. While working as a Chemist for Commonwealth Laboratories and later for Roche Analytics Laboratories, she learned analysis and reporting, laboratory methods and procedures, method development, and worked with a variety of analysis instruments. Dana started a company called 3rd Degree Investigations in 2005. Since then her work as a defense expert has sent her across the country where she has testified in both state and federal criminal and civil courtrooms. Additionally Dana has acted as a consultant for federal and state law enforcement agencies.
Copyright 3rd Degree Investigations, Inc.
Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.