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The “Magic” Fishscale Cut: Boric Acid in Cocaine

The illicit drug trade is fraught with dangerous practices, one of which is the addition of adulterants to bulk up the product and increase profits. One such substance that has been used in cocaine is boric acid. This addition is particularly concerning because it can introduce a host of health risks. But why is boric acid used, and how can it be detected?

The picture shows magic boric acid “fishscale” cut. Pure boric acid flakes are distinguishable from cocaine, but when mixed together in smaller amounts it is impossible to spot them.

Why Boric Acid?

Boric acid is chosen as an adulterant for cocaine primarily because of its physical properties. Cocaine, in its pure form, often has a shiny, pearlescent quality, reminiscent of fish scales. Boric acid, when ground finely, also possesses a similar sheen, making it an attractive option for unscrupulous dealers looking to pass off diluted cocaine as pure. The visual similarity can deceive users and law enforcement, making it a stealthy and effective adulterant.

Boric acid is white, has no smell, and tastes very slightly bitter and sour. This subtleness means it is easily overpowered by anything else in the mixture.

Detecting Boric Acid in Cocaine

Detecting boric acid in cocaine can be challenging but not impossible. One simple method hinges on the solubility differences between the two substances. Cocaine is highly soluble in water, whereas boric acid is not. Here’s how this principle can be applied:

Solubility Test:

  • Measure out 1 gram of the sample. You can use our precision laboratory scales for this.
  • Attempt to dissolve it in 5 g (5 mL) of water at room temperature. If the substance dissolves easily with agitation within 10 minutes, it indicates there is little or no boric acid. However, if the substance does not dissolve completely, boric acid might be present.
  • To further test for boric acid, microwave the liquid in an open container for 10 seconds and agitate the solution.
    If there is less than 0.75 g boric acid in your 1g sample then the boric acid will slowly dissolve in 5 mL of hot water.
  • Allow the solution to cool in a fridge for 30 minutes.
    Cocaine will stay dissolved, but boric acid will “precipitate” and make the solution cloudy, then sink to the bottom as a sediment.

Removing Boric Acid from Cocaine

  • You can decant the water into another container, leaving the sediment behind. The water can be evaporated on a plate with a fan.
  • The residue on the plate will contain any cocaine and water soluble drugs and cuts such as benzocaine, MDPVP, 3‑MMC, and amphetamine. To detect other cutting agents, you will need a home cocaine testing multipack or a lab test.

The picture shows 0.5g boric acid sediment in 10mL of water.

Advanced notes:

  • (Caffeine will also precipitate in cold water, but it forms larger clumps of fluffy crystals and struggles to sink.)
  • (Cellulose binder from crushed pills and calcium carbonate will never dissolve.)

Chemical Testing

Home reagent tests like the marquis reagent don’t change colour for boric acid, but they do detect a huge range of other molecules. They are designed to detect the presence of other drugs that present a serious risk but also detect other cutting agents.
You can see the different colours that other chemicals go here: Instructions for Using Reagent Tests

Health Risks

It’s important to highlight the health risks associated with the use of boric acid in cocaine. Boric acid is not meant for human consumption and can cause a range of adverse effects, including:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Skin irritation

With high doses or regular consumption, boric acid poisoning can lead to more serious health issues such as renal failure, seizures, and even death. This makes the practice of cutting cocaine with boric acid particularly dangerous and underscores the importance of awareness and testing.

If you are regularly consuming diluted cocaine and change to a supplier offering high purity, you could overdose from your normal dosage. Keep in mind that cocaine itself has health risks. Even when it is completely pure, cocaine disrupts the rhythm of the heart, prevents sleep (leading to temporary psychosis) and damages delicate tissues such as in the nose and gums. Use a saline spray after using cocaine to reduce the damage it does in the nose.

Reagent test results for boric acid

Note that the mandelin reagent is naturally yellow. None of the reagents show a change in colour.

Substance testedName of reagentColour change after 60-120 seconds
Boric acidMarquisNo colour change
Boric acidFroehdeNo colour change
Boric acidLiebermannNo colour change
Boric acidMandelinNo colour change
Boric acidMeckeNo colour change
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Your MDMA does not contain methylone, even if your test says it does. Here’s how we know.

Some suppliers of reagent tests provide reaction charts which show methylone as a possiblity. Often, it is the only yellow option on the chart for the marquis reagent. If the only reagent used is the marquis reagent then it’s reasonable that a person would assume they have methylone. This is a dangerous assumption because in 2021, it’s not methylone. You can get the kit to prove this here, but read below to understand exactly why it’s so unlikely.

It is very unlikely because methylone:

  • is banned at UN level (so no legal lab would produce it, same penalties as MDMA for illegal labs),
  • is not easier to make than MDMA,
  • demands lower prices in bulk,
  • sells for higher prices to the niche enthusiasts, it is quite sought after. So if you are a small lab producing small amounts you could get more money by selling it as methylone,
  • is less potent than MDMA so you need to smuggle larger volumes of drug,
  • has not really been seen on the market since 2016, it’s very rare.

If it was methylone (very unlikely) then methylone is very similar risk to MDMA but with less lovey effects and much shorter duration. The whole reason we take issue with this misleading reaction chart is because people might take this substance thinking it’s methylone and that they are happy with the risks being similar to that of MDMA itself.

So what are these substances if methylone is so unlikely, and how can we be sure?

N-ethylpentylone and eutylone are more common now and much more likely to be the culprits here because:

  • They’re quite potent, so easier to smuggle and cheaper to make
  • They’re not scheduled globally, so grey-market labs in asia can produce legally at huge scale (N-ethylpentylone was scheduled in 2020, so this only applies to eutylone now)
  • They also have very similar appearance to MDMA in crystal form (many drugs do, to be fair)
  • They are very commonly seen on the market since around 2018 when more desirable drugs were banned
  • They have the same yellow reaction with the marquis reagent (but can be very easily distinguished with the froehde reagent. This is one great reason why it’s always essential to test with more than one reagent)

We wrote an article on detecting N-ethylpentylone in 2018 because it was so common and causing so many problems.

The problem with these nasty compounds is that they lull people into a false sense of security because they feels kind of adequate enough at first, enough to make someone think they just have “rubbish MDMA”. The good effects last about 2 hours, so people take more.

But each redose adds about 6 hours onto the time a person can’t sleep for, so party for 10 hours and then can’t sleep for 30 hours after that. The mixture of residual dopamine release and insomnia then has the ability to cause intense paranoia and anxiety and in vulnerable people (about 1 in 20 cases, particularly at festivals where people dose 2 nights in a row) that develops into temporary psychosis which doesn’t subside until the person can sleep. This often requires medical intervention.

So what’s the solution to this? Always test with more than one reagent. It massively increases confidence in the accuracy of the result and completely avoids this confusing situation.

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Which reagent tests should be used for DXM?

DXM is a dissociative drug (in the same family as ketamine) which also has activity in the serotonin system. It is most popular in the US as it is readily found in some cough medicines but is also found as a white powder in other places.

Cough syrup cannot be tested with reagents because it contains a number of other chemicals such as water, sugars and colourings. Fortunately it is a legal product and also tends to have an ingredients list to warn about dangerous additives like chlorpheniramine and paracetamol (AKA acetaminophen in the US).

DXM reacts with reagent tests as follows. Slow reactions can be a bit confusing so we would recommend a minimum of two reagents but ideally three or more.
As an aside, reagent tests do not give “purity” readings but they do detect substitution and often adulteration, too.

ReagentTest Result
MarquisGray > Black (slow)
LiebermannPurple > Black
FroehdeBright Yellow
MandelinGreen > Pale Blue (Fast)

The plus side of a slow reaction is that if a fast reaction to a different colour happens while you are waiting, you know that there is something else present.

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Which reagent test kit is suitable for testing DMT?

The MDMA & Psychedelics Multipack is the best option for testing DMT. It contains the ehrlich reagent which is a “binary test” for the presence of compounds in the DMT family (technical term: indole-containing substances). If it stays clear then there is no DMT present in the sample.

If the ehrlich reagent goes purple then you can corroborate with other tests as follows:

Reagent TestReaction with pure DMT
MarquisOrange > Brown
MeckeYellow > V. Dark Green
FroehdeNo change

If the froehde reagent changes colour then you know that other compounds are present.

One of the challenges with drugs from plant origins is that plants contain many compounds and these are extracted by the same process. This makes it very hard to tell if any “other chemical” is from the plant or if it has been added by the person making or selling the compound. We recommend that the Best Practice is to discard any drug which has any reaction not compatible with the pure form of the expected substance.

The hofmann reagent can also be used for testing DMT and should only go yellow for pure DMT. Because the hofmann reagent is very sensitive to similar compounds from plants, it can be impractical for testing plant-derived DMT where there are usually strong green (from 5-MeO-DMT) and orange (from gramine) tones also present.

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Mexedrone Reagent Test Kit results

Mexedrone is the only cathinone currently sold legally in the UK. It strays significantly from the traditional structure by having an ether group in the alpha position, which makes it legal and brings the dose to be the same as mephedrone. It is still a stimulant drug, and does seem to have collected some limited popularity among enthusiasts.

It takes the form of some quite attractive white/colourless crystals.

The reagent test kit results are as follows, with the marquis test first, showing fizzing but no colour change.

Mexedrone Marquis colourless

The froehde reagent test gives the same reaction with mexedrone – no colour change.

Mexedrone Froehde reagent colourless

Yet again the liebermann reagent pulls through, giving a bright yellow/orange reaction.

Mexedrone Liebermann yellow orange

Mexedrone results Colour
Marquis test No colour change
Froehde No colour change
Liebermann Orange/yellow
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Dibutylone (bk-DMBDB) reagent test kit reaction results

Dibutylone is a novel cathinone stimulant which appears to be sold as MDMA and mephedrone since butylone has been banned. Based on similar compounds it is likely that it will behave as an “extended release” version of butylone, and be inactive until it passes through the liver. This would make snorting mostly ineffective.

Dibutylone forms attractive crystals and is quite cheap. You can see a picture of the dibutylone tested here below:

Dibutylone sold as mephedrone

You can see the reagent test kit results below. These were kindly submitted to us by a third party who was sold it as mephedrone and verified the sample with WEDINOS (W005102)

Dibutylone results

Dibutylone test results Colour
Marquis Yellow
Mandelin Yellow
Liebermann Orange
Mecke Yellow/Orange
Froehde Greenish Brown

You can see EcstasyData results for dibutylone here:

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Mandelin test results for DXM, ibuprofen, sugar and modafinil

None of these compounds had results available so we thought we’d test them so that future researchers would be able to screen for them.
Ibuprofen is of particular note because its easy availability makes it good for testing the reagents themselves to ensure they are still working well.

You can see the results below:

DXM reaction with the mandelin reagent (15s)DXM reaction with the mandelin reagent (60s)
DXM is an interesting one here, it very quickly reacts (as with most reagents) giving a green colour which progressed to blue within 15 seconds. The second photo is at 60s and shows the colour progression to clear in the middle with a blue tint at the edges.

Ibuprofen reaction with the mandelin reagent (60s)Ibuprofen goes a muddy brown colour pretty quickly and then stays that way. Beautiful.

Modafinil reaction with the mandelin reagent (45s)Modafinil gives the same deep brownish red that is seen with some of the other reagents when reacting with the mandelin reagent.

Sugar reaction with the mandelin reagent
Sugar doesn’t react at all with the mandelin reagent

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U-47700 Mandelin and Liebermann reagent test results

We previously tested U-47700 as it was becoming popular and since we’ve added new reagents to our offerings while its popularity has continued to rise we decided it was worth testing again.

You can see the original test results here but the summary is that there was no colour change.

The liebermann and mandelin results were only fractionally more exciting.

The liebermann reagent gave a very slow, faint yellow reaction:Reaction of U-47700 with the liebermann reagent

The mandelin reagent gave an orange reaction:

Reaction of U-47700 with the mandelin reagent

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Tianeptine Reagent Test results

Tianeptine is prescribed as an antidepressant (Stablon) in Russia but has found significant popularity among nootropic users worldwide for its anxiolytic and antidepressant effects, with many finding it useful for depression which has resisted other treatments.

We have teamed up with NewMind to publish the results of their testing of tianeptine so that buyers can more easily avoid the many shady nootropic vendors that have appeared online. Liftmode are unusual in that they test all of their products using reagents and traditional laboratory techniques, and are willing to share their results with the community.

This sample has been confirmed by HPLC to contain 99% sodium tianeptine.

Tianeptine reacts with the mandelin reagent to give a dark black reaction. The other reagents do not produce notable colour changes.


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Ephenidine reaction results with various reagent tests

Ephenidine is a dissociative drug with a very simple chemical structure. It is generally said to have similar effects to methoxetamine (MXE) but is legal in most places in the world. The effects last around 6 hours and the dosage is around 70-110 mg.

We couldn’t find any reagent test results for ephenidine so we took our own. Note that this sample has not had its identity verified yet.

The mandelin reagent goes to a dark green colour within about 10 seconds.
The marquis reagent goes to orange fairly quickly, and progresses to a brownish orange over the course of a 60 second test.
The froehde reagent gives a light yellow colour when reacted with ephenidine.
Finally, the libermann reagent goes very quickly to a deep red and then progresses quite quickly into a simlar red with a more brown body.

You can see the reagent test kit reaction results below. Click to enlarge

Mandelin, Marquis, Froehde and Liebermann reaction results for ephenidine