Metal Contamination of Illegal Drugs

The most toxic heavy metals associated with poisonings are mercury, lead, chromium, cadmium and arsenic. Other metals of concern include aluminium, thallium, manganese, copper and zinc.

Once they enter the body, they are retained and accumulate in the tissues and organs over time, making long-term users of illegal drugs have a higher risk of poisoning. There are also gender differences in the toxicity of metals – for example, women are less likely to have cardiovascular illness brought on by heavy metal exposure (1).

Unintentional contamination of illegal drugs occurs due to manufacturing impurities or storage effects. Occasionally, the reasons for contamination are unclear, such as a documented outbreak of brodifacoum-tainted synthetic cannabinoids in the United States (2-3).

Metal contamination of illicit drugs has been understudied, partly because many analyses have used techniques intended to detect volatile compounds or utilized liquid chromatographic techniques without evaluating for metals. Prior reports have investigated metals in methamphetamine, cannabis, heroin, opium, and several other drugs (3). Among those substances, reports have variably detected aluminium, cadmium, calcium, lead, zinc, and numerous other metals [46].

When looking at metal contamination, the form and bioavailability of the metal, nutritional status, and route of administration are all important factors to consider. Injections contaminated with heavy metals will be much more of an issue than orals, as the metal may be 100% bioavailable compared to orally ingested, where it could be 10% (7).

Effects of heavy metal exposure include:

  • Gastrointestinal and kidney dysfunction
  • Nervous system disorders
  • Skin lesions
  • Vascular damage
  • Immune system dysfunction
  • Cancer
  • Fatigue, anxiety, neuropsychiatric disorders

Sudden (acute) poisoning has obvious effects that can be diagnosed, but chronic, long-term exposure can go without notice (8).

William Llewellyn’s 2008 publication “Underground Anabolics” details a study done by the author where 14 oil steroid samples were analysed for the presence of heavy metals (excluding some, such as aluminium). 21% of samples returned a positive result for heavy metals.

“Heavy metal detox” diets, vitamins, probiotics, activated charcoal/carbon, clays, over-the-counter “chelation” products – NONE OF THESE has any effect on heavy metals within your body. They are a scam. At-home urine tests that detect heavy metals are likewise a scam.

Some metals can be removed by medical chelation therapy, but others, such as cadmium, cannot. Once it is in your body, it stays. Filtering of drugs before use will not remove metals.

1. Peter, Idowu & Oyedele, Oketayo & Olaniyan, Suaib Dolapo & Ezekiel, Lawan & Hannah, Abejide. (2023). A REVIEW OF SEX DIFFERENCES IN VULNERABILITY TO HEAVY METALS

  1. Moritz E, Austin C, Wahl M, DesLauriers C, Navon L, Walblay K, Hendrickson M, Phillips A, Kerins J, Pennington AF, Lavery AM, el Zahran T, Kauerauf J, Yip L, Thomas J, Layden J. Notes from the field: outbreak of severe illness linked to the vitamin K antagonist brodifacoum and use of synthetic cannabinoids – Illinois, March–April 2018. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2018;67:607–608. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6721a4.
  2. Schimmel J, Nakhaee S, Mehrpour O. Metal and bacterial contamination of illicit drugs. Daru. 2018 Dec;26(2):91-92. doi: 10.1007/s40199-018-0225-1. Epub 2018 Oct 29. PMID: 30374834; PMCID: PMC6279659.
  3. Burton BT. Heavy metal and organic contaminants associated with illicit methamphetamine production. NIDA Res Monogr. 1991;115:47–59.
  4. Infante F, Dominguez E, Trujillo D, Luna A. Metal contamination in illicit samples of heroin. J Forensic Sci. 1999;44(1):110–113. doi: 10.1520/JFS14420J.
  5. Exley C, et al. Aluminium in tobacco and cannabis and smoking-related disease. Am J Med. 2006;119(3):276–2e9. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2005.08.004.

7.Pharmacopeial Forum Vol. 36(1) [Jan.–Feb. 2010] Elemental Impurities.

8.Balali-Mood Mahdi, Naseri Kobra, Tahergorabi Zoya, Khazdair Mohammad Reza, Sadeghi Mahmood; Toxic Mechanisms of Five Heavy Metals: Mercury, Lead, Chromium, Cadmium, and Arsenic. Frontiers in Pharmacology; Vol12, 2021