There are a few existing versions of the street drug known as cocaine (or blow, crack, gear and many more names). Perhaps we are most familiar with the white powdered form. But that is the end product of a dangerous and complicated process. In South America, cocaine can refer to the powder (actually, it's more of a salt), but also to a paste and to the main ingredient of the drug coca leaves.
It's In The Leaves
The coca plant (Erythroxylon coca) is a shrub-like plant that has leaves containing the magic chemical cocaine hydrochloride. Just the leaves alone can kill pain, kill the appetite and give a high. It's theorized that South American have been chewing the leaves, making a tea called mate de coca or making a paste from the leaves for over 5000 years.
But coca plants do not grow well outside of South America. Also, after a while, freshly harvested leaves rot. So, there was a need for a longer lasting version of coca leaves. This was solved by making a paste, known by various names like basa, pasta or pilluto. This paste was made by putting the leaves in a large container containing water and hydrochloric acid. This cocaine sulfate goop is mixed around with bare hands or bare feet in order to get the most out of the leaves.
This paste not only lasts longer, but gives more of a kick. It's often added to tobacco to make a very powerful cigarette. But this isn't the stuff seen on the streets.
Wash, Rinse, Repeat
Whenever money is to be made, people quickly figure out how to make it. Although the paste was powerful, people out that a smaller, more potent form would be easier to transport and use. The paste was put through repeated washings in dangerous chemicals in order to make the cocaine hydrochloride more powerful.
The liquids for these washings vary, but usually are first washed with kerosene. The paste and kerosene mixture is chilled and then strained. The prize is cocaine hydrochloride salt. But it can be made even more powerful through numerous repetitions of the washing, chilling and straining process. This time, the washing liquid could be methyl alcohol, sulphuric acid, benzole and potassium maganate.
The Final Touch
After going through all of that bother, you want to get the most for your money. People figured out that the best way to do that was to add powder that resembled cocaine. This cut down on the potency but substantially fattened profits. The materials added can be a combination of ground powders such as cornstarch, confectioner's sugar, baking flour, baking soda or baby powder.
This is one of the dangers of cocaine abuse. You never quite know what you're getting. If your body is used to a very low percentage of cocaine hydrochloride and suddenly it gets a mostly pure batch, death can occur.