Testing human hair for drugs of abuse. IV. Environmental cocaine contamination and washing effects

Wen Ling Wang, Edward J. Cone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


Active cocaine use results in sequestration of parent drug in hair. In addition, hair has unique physicochemical properties that permit absorption of cocaine from the environment. When hair is tested for evidence of cocaine, it is important to consider whether the positive test resulted from active drug use or environmental contamination. In a series of laboratory experiments, it was found that exposure of 'cut' hair to cocaine vapor ('crack' smoke) and to aqueous solutions of cocaine hydrochloride resulted in significant contamination of hair samples. Similar results were obtained with two subjects who were exposed to cocaine vapor in an unventilated room. The amount of contamination adsorbed by hair depended upon both time and extent of exposure. Washing the hair samples with methanol removed >70% of the cocaine contaminant after cocaine vapor exposure, but was less effective (<50%) following contamination with aqueous cocaine. Shampoo treatment cycles (overnight soaking) progressively removed increasing amounts of cocaine from the contaminated hair, but residual cocaine remained after 10 cycles. Studies were also performed to determine the usefulness of benzoylecgonine as a marker of active cocaine administration. Small amounts of benzoylecgonine (ca. 1 ng/mg) were formed in hair as a result of environmental contamination with cocaine. Also, it was found that benzoylecgonine could be adsorbed from illicit cocaine contaminated with benzoylecgonine. It was concluded that positive hair test results should be interpreted cautiously due to the possibility of environmental contamination from cocaine and related constituents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39-51
Number of pages13
JournalForensic Science International
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Jan 5 1995


  • Benzoylecgonine
  • Cocaine
  • Contamination
  • Decontamination
  • Forensics
  • Hair analysis
  • Toxicology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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