1. EdFromNY

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Chemical results of burning cocaine

    Discussion in 'Research' started by EdFromNY, Nov 9, 2017.

    I don't mean what happens in the human body from freebasing cocaine or crack, which is the only thing I've been able to turn up. I'm talking about what happens when there is a large fire and a supply - several pounds - of cocaine is burned in it. I'm trying to find out what, if any, residue might be left to identify that there was cocaine present in the fire.

    Many thanks in advance.
     
  2. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    It depends on how hot your fire is. Chemically cocaine is basically Carbon, Hydrogen and a couple of atoms of Nitrogen. If you get that hot enough it'll break down and oxidize and leave pretty much nothing. If, however, you get it hot, but not burnt, then there would be some derivatives that you could pick up on. If there was a residue from a fire, though, chances are it'd be mostly impurities left behind. Mind you, I've never actually lit cocaine on fire. I've cooked some with some baking soda, but that's something completely different.
     
  3. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

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    I've not done this either, but it's a hydrocarbon, so you'll get organic residue but I doubt there would ever be a way to definitely say it used to be cocaine. I'm looking at the structure of the molecule now and I can give you an idea of what would happen. At extremely high temperatures in ideal conditions, the molecule will break apart entirely and form carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and water. Most likely it won't completely vaporize like that though so the weakest bonds in the molecule will break first. Cocaine has a ring in it as well as two tetrahedrons, which are quite stable so I would expect those to survive and then link to whatever else might be floating around. That'll give you a mess of long polymers, but mostly aldehydes, ketones, and carboxylic acids. Unfortunately, you'd get the exact same mix if you burned sugar or flour.
     
  4. EdFromNY

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Thanks, guys. That's very helpful.
     
  5. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    That's the phenolic ring. It's that structure that likes messing around with your dopamine receptors. Crystal Meth has a similar arrangement of molecules.
     
  6. EdFromNY

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Got this from another source: cocaine HCL is an acid, and as such would likely simply melt in the heat. Traces would still be detectable by dogs trained to sniff out narcotics.

    Anyone disagree? And if so, I need the scientific base for that disagreement.

    (Sorry if I'm being a hardass about this, but one needs to get it right in police procedurals :D).
     
  7. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

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    I agree. The majority of it will burn and form those complex polymers. Those would then protect the rest of the cocaine underneath, likely leaving traces of it behind. Once burned, no dog would be able to tell the difference between burnt cocaine and burnt flour, but unless you're specifically trying to destroy the cocaine, an idealized fire you will not get.
     
  8. EdFromNY

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Well, actually, what my other source said was that the cocaine HCL wouldn't burn, it would simply melt and retain its chemical composition. If I understand correctly, what you're saying is that most of would burn, but that the complex polymers that resulted would likely prevent some portion from burning, leaving detectable traces. That actually strikes me (a non-chemist) as the more logical result.

    Just curious. Do you have a strong background in chemistry?
     
  9. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

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    No, my expertise is physics. I’m extrapolating my understanding of how the chemical bonds work.

    The cocaine would certainly melt. It’d be a good insulator because of the size of the molecule and how it’s powdered. When things burn they do it from the outside in. The heat would melt the outer layer and then vaporize it. Only when it’s vapor is it in the process of burning. Those single bonds all over the molecule would likely break at a few hundred degrees, which would leave small ionized molecules as debris. When in the air, the oxygen grabs ahold of those molecules and release energy which fuels the fire.

    There are some configurations of hydrocarbon atoms that are extremely resilient to heat, but I don’t see any obvious reason why this molecule would be particularly strong.

    It may not produce enough energy to sustain a fire, you may need additional fuel. You probably couldn’t just hit it with a blowtorch and it’s burn itself conpletely, it might even flame out instantly; but it’s certainly change chemically. If you toss a brick of cocaine in with a couple of pounds of burnable trash, you’d have little more than ash left.


    EDIT: cocaine definitely burns, that’s literally how it’s destroyed.
    [​IMG]
     
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  10. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    Cocaine definitely burns. One of the reasons people make crack is because when you heat cocaine up, it degrades and burns off without giving you any high, but when you cook it with an alkali solution, it changes it's molecular make up so that instead of burning off when it's heated, it'll vapourize at around 90°C. Crack vapour would probably leave a residue, but it too does eventually burn off if you continue to heat it. If you have a gucked up crack pipe that you you want to clean out, hold it over a propane torch until the glass starts to glow, but not melt, and most of the residue just disappears.
     
  11. EdFromNY

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Thanks very much.
     

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