Warning: This article contains graphic medical imagery.
If the idea of heart problems, sweat-dripping anxiety, and environmental vandalism wasn’t enough to put you off cocaine, then take a look at this medical case report.
Published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases back in 2016, doctors in the Colombian city of Medellín detailed 11 cases of people whose skin turned a deathly deep purple and began to die as a result of abusing cocaine cut with cattle de-wormer.
All of the patients’ ears had necrosis, where the tissue turns black and dies due to irreversible damage to cells. One of the patients even had necrosis occur on his penis. Another common symptom was retiform purpura across their body and face, where the skin turns a deep purple due to the rupturing of blood vessels. A number of them also had the condition cytopenia, a lower than a normal number of mature blood cells.
Remarkably, all of these lesions managed to be resolved after the patients received medical treatment, including steroid medication, and kicked their cocaine habitat.
The cocaine they had used was laced with the less expensive drug, Levamisole, a medication used to treat parasitic worm infections in cattle and livestock, to add bulk and weight to the product. Humans can use this drug to treat parasitic infestations, however, shoving unmeasured quantities of cheap cattle de-wormer up your nose is evidently not good for your health.
Other studies have also shown that regular users of levamisole-laced cocaine also suffer from brain damage and cognitive impairment. This research even noticed people who consumed cocaine with high levels of levamisole had an altered brain structure and notably thinner prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain associated with executive functions.
Levamisole is actually a surprisingly common cutting agent for cocaine, even in North America and Europe. A study from 2009 reported that 69 percent of cocaine samples in the US and over 50 percent of cocaine sample in the UK tested positive for Levamisole. Another medical report in the journal BMJ Case Reports from 2015 documented a 42-year-old woman in the Netherlands suffering from vasculitis due to Levamisole-contaminated cocaine.
However, it’s worth noting that the people in this case report were all chronic, heavy cocaine users. So, while it's certainly not recommended, a night of dabbling with powered stimulants won’t cause your ears to turn purple and die.