Once upon a time, a significant amount of the ketamine sold on the
black market in Toronto was veterinary K that had been redirected from
the controlled legitimate medical market. In recent years, however, K
demand has consistently outpaced supply, resulting in
irregularly-produced K coming to market and increasingly showing up at
street level in heavily-cut batches.
Street / party K is now often cut multiple times in different ways by different people as it journeys down to end-users.
This article is about how to spot cut K, how to identify common cuts, and how to attempt to remove as much cut as possible in order to be able to have a better understanding of and control over what you're putting into your body.
"Veterinary" ketamine that has been crystallized (dried) from liquid will typically solidify as long crystal shards (which can vary in length/girth), ranging from entirely-intact shards to smashed and broken pieces depending on how much they've been handled and whether they're from the top or bottom of your source's bag.
Typically, most uncut crystalline K "should" look like this (but often no longer does - see below):
Nowadays in Toronto, conventional shards are scarce in many circles, and "pebbles", "cubes" (some small like table salt, some larger like bath salts), and even massive single-piece chunks are commonly encountered at street and party level.
These differences are due to variations in how batches are synthesized and crystallized, and may sometimes be due to cuts that are added to liquid K before it is crystallized ("rerocking"), but for the purposes of this article any and all of these different types are simply going to be considered "K".
This article is about the extra stuff you may get sold in your baggie that is 100% _not_ K, the unwanted bulking cuts that can be added by any person who gets their hands on the K between the producer and the final customer.
When a cut is selected, it is generally chosen to visually match the type of K in terms of shape and is almost always smaller than the ketamine crystals as being larger would call attention to the cut as a primary component of the batch. Heavier cuts are preferred when a scale is being used to weigh the drug, while lighter ("fluffier") cuts are preferred when the desired result is to fill up a container like a vial or a bag.
More towards the bottom we will discuss specific methods for attempting to separate out cuts, but first let's take a look at some common cuts that you may encounter:
Specific common cut details:
MSM or Methylsulfonylmethane is possibly the most common cut
found in street K in Toronto at the moment. It's sold as a supplement
for the treatment and prevention of arthritis. Given this, it may be
one of the better adulterants as far as impact on your body goes,
however Health Canada obviously hasn't been expecting people to be
snorting or injecting the stuff when they approve it for retail.
MSM's appearance is sharp-edged, small crystal fragments, a little like partially-formed snowflakes or tiny bits of diamond/glass. (The inset in the above photo is magnified to show detail.) MSM is usually heavier than the K in a batch, and its weight and small size cause it to sift to the bottom of bags.
Unlike K, which crushes to a soft powder, MSM crystals are resistant to crushing and just crush down into smaller crystal fragments. This is helpful in identifying it, but this also makes it particularly prone to irritating sinus passageways.
If you taste-test MSM, you'll primarily notice a cooling sensation on the tongue, backed by a lighter "earthy" soil-like taste.
MSM is one of the easiest cuts to remove using the basic separation techniques described further down.
MSG or Monosodium glutamate shares more resemblance to ketamine
shards than almost any other substance. The crystals form almost
identically to shardy K, and even a trained eye may have difficulty
differentiating the two, even side-by-side.
MSG is generally only encountered as a cut when the K itself is in this conventional shardy form, and so obviously it hasn't been very common lately.
MSG comes in a range of sizes:
One way to visually differentiate MSG from K is the "dual-shard" formation that commonly shows up in MSG (the appearance of two shards "stuck together"), while this is uncommon for ketamine shards.
However, this dual-shard formation is not always going to be present with MSG depending on how it has been manufactured and sorted:
Shardy K cut with MSG can be very difficult to separate using the methods described below, but it is still extremely easy to identify the batch as cut with MSG because of the powerful "Chinese food" taste.
If your drip tastes like wonton noodle soup broth when it goes down the back of your throat, you're dealing with MSG.
Table salt and/or sugar both come in a range of sizes and shapes,
but are essentially small-sized cubes. Sugar is usually finer and
lighter, while salt is heavier but larger - in both cases, they're
likely to sift to the bottom of a bag. Both are obviously very easy to
notice with a taste-test, even if you're tasting the different parts of
the mixture at once.
These cuts are most common when the person doing the cutting is rushing, lazy, careless or inexperienced. If your dealer really needs to go by the McDonald's condiment counter and then hit the bathroom stall on their own before they'll sort you out, you should immediately be checking for this kind of cut.
Salt in particular is irritating to the nose and throat, and salt interferes with absorption of the active drug itself by dehydrating your cells, weakening the effects even beyond how much it's diluting the bag. If you're consistently finding yourself stuck with something like this, it's a good sign that you need to rethink your supplier because they're clearly not even bothering to work hard on screwing you around and obviously haven't got your best interests at heart.
Luckily, like MSM, the shape and weight differences between these cuts and most types of K makes them fairly easy to separate as well.
This image is, of course, a close-up, but you should notice the range of sizes present even though this is all the same type of salt. You may see batches that have obviously salt-sized/shaped crystals, but then additional smaller ones that don't match - they can still be the same thing (though they could be a second cut.)
Coarse sea salt and/or epsom (bath) salts are generally uncommon
as their use requires that the K be rather large. Sea salt chunks are
rougher and rounder while epsom salts are very much cubes. K the size
and shape of epsom salts has been increasingly common lately, so you may
encounter this. These are naturally clear-white but could also be
While easy to identify if you remove an individual salt crystal and taste it (or do a burn test - salt does not combust at all and will remain regardless of what the other components change into), if epsom-sized cube-shaped K is cut with epsom salts, there may be no simple way to separate the two.
Unidentified fine powders could be anything, from crushed vitamins to random medication to talcum powder to flour to, well, yeah, anything. You're best off refusing anything that comes looking like this, because there's no really good way of telling what you're dealing with and whether it might be dangerous before you do it (although the water dissolution and burn tests described below can give you some clues, and a taste-test may help you decide if the powder is actually just crushed K.)
Nonetheless, if you're dealing with a bag of K crystals mixed with fine powder, the physical separation technique described below should be able to do a fairly good job of separating the two.
Talcum powder is worth a special mention. It's extremely uncommon to find as a cut, but it can happen. It'll be obvious to anyone doing a bump when they're hit with that "baby powder" smell, and if you happen to encounter this you should stop using that batch right away - inhalation of talc in this form can cause specific types of lung disease... and again, this is a lazy/sloppy cut that indicates a completely reckless attitude on the part of the person doing it, a definite warning sign that you should avoid anything coming from that source.
Steps for assessing & separating a batch:
- Initial visual examination
- Initial taste examination
- Weight and/or physical separation into differently-appearing components
- Separate component taste-testing
1. Initial visual examination: Take a look at the mixed batch. Good lighting will help, a back-light may help (such as a cell phone), and if you have the chance actually dumping the whole thing out onto a clean surface will definitely let you get a better idea of what you're dealing with. You should be examining it to see how uniformly consistent the component pieces are - if they're all basically the same size and shape, you may be dealing with a fairly clean batch. If more than one type of thing is present, the odds are very low that it's a mixture of different types of K. In particular note whether all the components are crystalline or whether any are powder, and check whether any parts seem heavier than others as they move around in a bag or container by seeing whether they seem to fall faster than the rest.
2. Initial taste examination: Get a dab on your pinky finger and put it to the tip of your tongue. Odds are this won't be the best experience you ever have, but it can tell you a lot that your eyes just can't. Ketamine variants can have slightly differing tastes, but the basic K taste is pretty much the same as getting hairspray in your mouth - a distinct semi-sour/semi-chemically/semi-metallic blend of flavour that will trigger most living beings' repulsion reflex. Salt will taste like salt, sugar like sugar, MSG like generic Chinese soup broth. MSM has the taste of soil, but the taste isn't dominant with MSM, instead what you're looking for is the cold sensation that is produced as it melts on your tongue. You may taste a mix and only taste the strong K element, but if you pay attention you might simultaneously feel this cooling sensation and realize that it's been mixed with MSM.
3. Weight and/or physical separation into differently-appearing components: Of these two methods, physical separation is simpler and quicker but weight separation can be used in more cases and requires less special tools to improvise.
Physical separation simply refers to separating the components based on differences in their physical size and shape. This is most easily done with a fine metal strainer (sieve), the type of which can be picked up cheaply at any kitchen supply store, dollar store or even many convenience stores. It requires that you're either trying to keep the smallest or the largest parts of the mixture, but the procedure is simply that you dump the mix into the strainer and tap the side repeatedly until everything that will fall through has. Ta-da, MSM underneath on the bottom, large K cubes still on top in the strainer! (or whatever the case may be).
Weight separation is done by relying more on the differences
in the weight of the components than on their size or shape. It can
therefore be used in cases where the cut and K may be virtually
identical in appearance, and can even work to some extent sorting MSG
from shardy K.
To perform a basic weight separation, you'll need a surface you can pick up that's at least the size of a CD jewelcase (in fact, I recommend you use a CD jewelcase because it's likely available and its hollow structure lets you tap it more effectively). Hold the jewelcase over a table, flyer, etc to catch spill-off. Dump a pile of your mixture in the middle (horizontally) of the case near the far side from you, then pick up that far side so the case surface slopes down towards you, with the far side 1 to 2 inches up.
Now tap the side of the jewelcase over and over, just enough to cause the vibrations to shake the pile. You'll start to see the different parts of the mixture sliding apart and down towards you, and you should see that certain parts are falling faster than others. If everything is falling quickly, you're holding it at too high of an angle. Tapping is also best done with a solid object like a pen, marker or fingernail rather than a soft fingertip.
If you put out a large pile, you may need to use a card to pull off what has separated out and then rebuild the pile at the top of the case and start again, repeating this until you've gotten a satisfactory amount of cut separated from K.
4. Separate component taste-testing: Now that you've turned your one pile into two piles, you might want to try a small taste of what you suspect to be the cut on its own in order to confirm your suspicions of it. Then take the cut, bag it up and give it back to your dealer - let them know that you're not a sucker and you expect honesty, quality and respect or you'll be going elsewhere.
Burn-testing: Many dealers will use this themselves to assess
purity of new batches. You can burn-test a mixture or separate
components. To do this, take a scrap of aluminum foil, place a very
small amount on it (like the size a grain of rice or two) and then heat
the underside with a lighter. Don't inhale the fumes - everything from
the foil to the cut to the K itself will be giving off something toxic,
and ketamine isn't really a smokeable drug anyway.
What will happen is the substance(s) will sizzle, melt and then burn off. Pure K will leave you with an deep inky red stain, while most other things will burn black or some other colour. Salt will not burn at all since it is not a hydrocarbon, so if at the end you see a spot of the desired red colour with some cubes still sitting in the middle of it, you're dealing with a salt cut. Take note though, sugar will produce almost the same colour as K when burned like this!
Water-dissolution testing: Most people who snort K would never
think to do this, but everyone who injects it will naturally go through
this step. Anyone can do it with a cooker even if they have no
intention whatsoever of injecting the result, and cookers are available
without needles from outreach centres like the Queen West Health Centre (Bathurst & Queen) and The Works.
You put an amount of your mixture into the cooker, add water and heat it from below with a lighter. The heat is necessary as K itself is not perfectly soluble in cold water. What you should be watching for first of all is whether any fizzing occurs when you first mix with the water, or whether any components of the mix float to the surface. Then, after heating, check to see if anything proves to be non-water-soluble and remains a solid. Any of these things are warning signs that an uncommon and potentially harmful cut could be present and you should think about avoiding using this batch entirely.
Further discussions on less common cuts and more complex ways of purifying ketamine can be found at Bluelight.