Cannabis, Coca, & Poppy:
Nature’s Addictive Plants

Production & Distribution

Coca harvesting

Colombia is Cocaine’s Main Producer

Cocaine is produced from the leaves of the coca plant (Erythoxylon coca). The plant grows almost exclusively in northern and western South America. Colombia is now the main producer of illegal cocaine with Peru, Bolivia, and Chile providing significant amounts of the drug. The coca plant grows best in the mountain and jungle areas of these countries.

Small cocaine brick and press

Small cocaine brick and press

Small laboratories are scattered throughout the coca growing areas of South America. The hand picked coca leaves are soaked in gasoline and other chemicals to extract the coca base from the leaves in industrial-sized drums. Then the base is poured into brick molds. The water is pressed out, leaving a hard, easy-to-handle brick containing about 50 percent cocaine. The bricks are sent to collection points where they are shipped to markets in the U.S. and other countries.

Colombians Control the Trade

Drug cartels based in Colombia control almost all cocaine trafficking. They process coca from Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia. Various cocaine trafficking organizations then ship it to all corners of the globe.

Cocaine Processing Labs

In these remote areas, processing laboratories are set up to extract the coca from the leaves and then convert the coca into cocaine. There are two types of processing labs: pozo pit labs that use acidic solutions, and the more common lab that uses metal drums and gasoline.

  • Step One

    Cocaine is typically processed in jungle labs by first soaking leaves in gasoline inside metal drums.

  • Step Two

    Gasoline containing cocaine alkaloid is drained from metal drums and filtered into a barrel with diluted acid. The gasoline will be removed from the acid layer and sodium bicarbonate or ammonia will be added to the solution to make cocaine base.

  • Step Three

    Cocaine base is filtered through a cloth.

  • Step Four

    The remaining substance is dried, resulting in a purer form of cocaine base.

  • Step Five

    Cocaine base is dissolved in a solvent such as ethyl acetate, acetone, or ether and then heated in a hot water bath called a “bańo maria.” Another solvent such as methyl ethyl ketone is added to the boiling liquid along with concentrated hydrochloric acid which results in the crystallization of cocaine hydrochloride.

  • Step Six

    Excess solvents are removed from the cocaine hydrochloride, first by hand, and then using a hydraulic press.

  • Step Seven

    Solvents are finally removed using microwave ovens creating the basis for powder cocaine.

  • Step Eight

    Cocaine base, commonly called “crack,” is typically made by dissolving cocaine hydrochloride in a mixture of water and baking soda. The solution is boiled until the cocaine forms an oily substance that drops out of the solution and settles at the bottom of the container.

  • Step Nine

    Excess water, sodium chloride, and other impurities can be removed after cooling the oil to a rock-like substance. The resulting product is crack cocaine.