Cocaine May Be Killing Your Skin

Drug contaminant found in cocaine is compromising skin and immunity

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) There are many reasons why you shouldn’t try cocaine – this is just another. Cocaine users are showing up with blackened skin and weakened immune systems – there’s something in the cocaine.

Dying blackened skin has become a routine sight for some doctors in emergency rooms. Researchers have linked it to a drug contaminant found in cocaine.

"Don’t do cocaine."

Co-author, Noah Craft, M.D., Ph.D., D.T.M&H., a dermatologist at the Harbor University of California Los Angeles Medical center, tells Scientific American that cocaine users are coming in at least once a month with blackened skin on their ears, face, trunk or extremities.

The outbreak is due to a veterinarian deworming medication, levamisole, which is used to dilute or cut cocaine. This medication is often found in cocaine that has come from South America to the United States. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (D.E.A) has already found that three quarters of the cocaine seized is laced with levamisole.

Levamisole was approved as a cancer treatment, but was removed for its various side effects. These side effects are preferable for cocaine addicts because it has been known to improve mood, cause insomnia and hyperalertness – all similar effects of cocaine.

A more concerning side effect that can even be fatal as it lowers the number of neutrophils in the body, which are a specific type of white blood cell. These white blood cells are important for the immune system to fight off infections, and disease. Doctors believe that people are having allergic reactions to the drugs which cause an attack on the skin or an attack on the bone marrow.

This might be alarming for some cocaine users but the D.E.A. does not plan to change how they pursue drug traffickers, Barbara Carreno, an agency spokesperson says.

This research is published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
August 24, 2011
Last Updated:
August 26, 2011