bag of pink cocaine

Pink Cocaine Isn’t What You Think It Is

This trendy club drug inspired a new music scene, but what the heck is in it?

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Updated January 23, 2024

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Over the past decade, a seemingly new drug has swept Latin America and made inroads in Europe and the United States. “Pink cocaine”—also known as “tusi,” “tucibi,” “venus,” or “nexus”—is, unsurprisingly, invariably pink, and usually has a slightly sweet aroma. Prized for perpetuating a “feel good” vibe, it’s increasingly popular at nightclubs, music festivals, and anywhere people like to party. It has spawned its own culture, inspiring makers of Latin music from Argentina to Miami, and even given rise to a new generation of “neo-narco” traffickers, according to Vice

Yet calling pink cocaine a “new drug” is perhaps disingenuous. Although specific information on its composition remains limited, preliminary testing has found it to be an ever-changing cocktail of stimulants, opioids, and psychoactive compounds that can exert a wide range of effects. Users and harm reduction specialists say it usually feels like a light stimulant (comparable to weak cocaine or ecstasy) that can cause euphoria, “sexy” feelings, and psychedelic effects or visuals that sometimes tip over into “bad trip” territory. The effects are unpredictable because the cocktail’s composition varies greatly across regions and batches.

As with most illicit drugs, users of pink cocaine navigate the tension between the enjoyable high they seek from the drug, and the very serious risks that it carries. Here, we do our best to dispel some of the mystique around pink cocaine by unpacking its composition, properties, culture, and risks. 

What is Pink Cocaine (Tusi)? Hint: It’s Not Cocaine 

The most important thing to know about pink cocaine is that it is not cocaine. Nor is it 2C-B (or any other drug from the 2C family), despite commonly being referred to as “tusi” or “tucibi”—words that sound strikingly similar to the names of these compounds when spoken aloud. It may, in some cases, feel like cocaine or a 2C psychedelic, but it’s safe to say that it is never identical to either. 

READ: Andrew Weil Says There’s No Such Thing as a Good or Bad Drug

Put simply, pink cocaine/tusi is a cocktail of multiple drugs, one known to differ widely from region to region, dealer to dealer, and even batch to batch. As it remains an emerging phenomenon, little comprehensive research exists to quantify the most common trends in the drug’s composition; however, studies that tested powders sold as pink cocaine or tusi in Chile, Colombia, and Spain found them to contain substances including ketamine, MDMA, methamphetamine, meth, cocaine, opioids, a ketamine precursor, and a range of novel psychedelics like synthetic cathinones (aka “bath salts”). These studies rarely detect the presence of 2C-B.

“It is not a substance but a cocktail or mixture of stimulant and depressant substances,” says Carolina Ahumada, a sociologist and harm reduction expert who works with the group Proyecto de Atención en Fiestas (or “Party Awareness Project”) in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where “tusi” is quite prevalent. “As it is a mixture, each dealer has his own recipe, and you will never know for sure what you are consuming.”

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Within the United States, an analysis of 19 pink powders submitted to and tested by DrugsData found that 95 percent contained ketamine. 63 percent contained MDMA, 53 percent contained caffeine, and 16 percent had methamphetamine. Cocaine, MDA, Oxycodone, DMT, Tramadol, and a few other substances were found in less than 11 percent of powders tested. No 2C series compounds were detected in this analysis.1 Pink cocaine or tusi also typically contains food coloring or flavored jelly powder, which impart its famous pink color and sweet taste.

graph displaying substances found in tuci pink cocaine test
Figure 1. Contents of pink powder submissions labeled as tusi or 2C-B in the US, 2019–2022 . Drugs detected within the 19 pink powder tusi/2C-B submissions to DrugsData between 2019 and 2022. The ketamine precursor is 1-[(2-chlorophenyl)(methylimino)methyl]cyclopentanol. MDMA = 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine; MDA = 3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine; bk-EBDB = β-keto-1,3-benzodioxolyl-N-ethylbutanamine (eutylone); DMT = N, N-dimethyltryptamine. | Joseph J. Palamar & Alberto Salomone. (2023) Trends and correlates of discordant reporting of drug use among nightclub/festival attendees, 2019–2022Clinical Toxicology 61:9, pages 665-673.

Why is Pink Cocaine Pink? 

The drug cocktail’s pink color and sweet aroma or flavor are the result of it being dyed pink with food coloring or flavored jelly powder, both of which have been found in analyses of powders sold pink cocaine or tusi.

Researchers believe that the cocktail’s pink color and sweetness are likely an intentional branding strategy, much like the names it is given. Joseph Palamar, a drugs researcher and professor of public health at New York University who published a 2023 paper on tusi and pink cocaine, notes that “2C-B has become increasingly popular in recent years.” Still, people may not know the difference between 2C/2C-B and tusi/tucibi. Since 2C drugs are relatively rare and sometimes expensive, tusi could be sold as a cheap and readily available alternative. 

Similarly, “pink cocaine” might sound appealing to someone seeking real cocaine. Still, the nickname is “deceptive,” says Palamar, given that the drug is far more likely to contain ketamine than cocaine. “If someone drunk at a bar gets offered ‘pink cocaine’ to reverse the effects of alcohol, they may be in for an unpleasant surprise,” says Palamar, since “ketamine and alcohol don’t typically go very well together. The user’s next trip to the bathroom won’t be to do another line, but rather to puke.”

“Ketamine and alcohol don’t typically go very well together. The user’s next trip to the bathroom won’t be to do another line but rather to puke.”

The Origins and Revival of 2C-B 

Tusi is often mistaken for 2C-B, but in most cases, the substances couldn’t be more different. 2C-B is a novel psychedelic invented by biochemist and psychopharmacologist Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin in 1974. Like the dozens of compounds in the 2C series, it is classified as a phenethylamine, distinguishing it from LSD and psilocybin, which are both tryptamines. 2C-B induces brief psychedelic experiences, a contrast to classical psychedelics, which can sometimes produce trips that last six hours or more. The research chemical may amplify sights, sounds, and touch. It can invoke psychedelic visuals and unique bodily sensations, inspiring feelings of euphoria or arousal.

“It is, in my opinion, one of the most graceful, erotic, sensual, introspective compounds I have ever invented,” Shulgin wrote in 2003. “For most people, it is a short-lived and comfortable psychedelic with neither toxic side effects nor next-day hangover.”

These properties have long made 2C-B popular at parties, raves, and music festivals. “2C-B has been around for decades,” says Palamar. “I first heard of people using this drug in New York City in the early 2000s. People seem to enjoy the effects, which users often compare to feeling a combination of ecstasy and LSD. There are many 2C compounds, but experienced psychonauts tend to prefer 2C-B.”

READ: Inside the Chemistry Lab Where the MDMA Godfather Synthesized Novel Psychedelics

The popularity of 2C-B seems to have grown across the past two decades, with detection in US drug seizures increasing from 2006 to 2015 and seeing an uptick in 2019, according to research compiled in Palmar’s study. Additionally, “last-month” use of 2C series drugs increased from 0.2 percent in 2017 to 2.1 percent in 2022 among nightclub attendees in New York City.

“The increasing demand for 2C series drugs… created an opportunity for illicit manufacturers to create and market a cheaper copycat version of the drug,” Palamar wrote in his study, referring to pink cocaine or tusi. As noted above, calling the pink drug cocktail “tusi” or “tucibi” confuses people, perhaps intentionally, into thinking they are buying 2C-B or a 2C drug when, in fact, they are not.

Is the Tusi Drug Having a Moment?

Tusi, or pink cocaine, is thought to have originated in Colombia in the early 2010s, spread by narco-traffickers. Since then, it has become quite prominent across Latin America. Depending on the composition and local perceptions of the drug, it can vary from being a cheap and abundant alternative to cocaine or 2C-B to a drug that is quite expensive and favored by the upper classes. 

The pink cocktail has begun to make inroads in the US, documented by submissions to DrugsData that have mostly come from Florida and California.2 (Although, “this doesn’t necessarily mean the drug is more prevalent in these states, says Palamar. “I’m not aware of any epidemiology studies that focus on Tusi.”)

Safety Note

Fentanyl test strips and other components of a drug testing kit can reduce (though not eliminate) the chance of ingesting deadly compounds in any drug you take. A lethal dose of fentanyl is two milligrams, the size equivalent to just a few grains of sand.

The drug has spawned its own culture. In Medellin, Colombia, a capital of Latin music production, there has emerged a style of electronic music style called “guaracha”—also known as zapateo or aleteo, and unconnected to the traditional guaracha of Cuba—” where you specifically find references to tusi in the lyrics and party contexts,” says Ahumada of Buenos Aires. “Its use crosses all of the rave spectrum,” she adds.

Pink Cocaine: Effects and Harm Reduction

I first encountered pink cocaine under the name “tusi” at a queer music festival in Mexico. As I noted in a review of the festival, its prevalence in the crowd seemed to inspire a steamy and open-minded, yet not too “druggy” vibe (unlike the ketamine “zombie” effect). A friend in Mexico who has more experience with the drug—and asked to speak anonymously—says they prize tusi for being “simply fun”—similar to mixing cocaine and ketamine, but “not as wavy. It doesn’t get so overwhelming.”

“You can do bumps all night, and it will give you a rush, but you come back down to yourself relatively quickly,” says the friend. “It makes me feel sexy and really in my body. I enjoy dancing on tusi.” There are downsides, however. “It’s not very consistent. It depends who you get it from, and obviously, there’s a concern that you never really know what’s in it.”

“Know first and foremost that it is not 2C-B and that it is not a substance but a cocktail or mixture of stimulant and depressant substances,” says Ahumada. 

Ahumada’s group in Argentina surveyed social media users about tusi. Their followers answered that the effects they felt when consuming it included a mixture of psychedelic effects, visuals, and euphoria—” similar to ecstasy,” she says. “Many also said that they had entered a kind of k-hole without knowing it because the mixture [usually] has ketamine, and when consuming too much, it caused a bad trip.”

Because of this drug cocktail’s unpredictable range of effects, harm reduction measures are key. “Know first and foremost that it is not 2C-B and that it is not a substance but a cocktail or mixture of stimulant and depressant substances,” says Ahumada. Accordingly, Ahumada and her group recommend starting with a low dose and waiting to see how your body reacts. They say you should not mix tusi or pink cocaine with other substances, including alcohol, since it is nearly impossible to know what contraindications might arise. 

pink cocaine powder
Tusi drug via Reddit

They also offer advice that is relevant for any drug you might try, particularly those with psychedelic effects: “Do it in the company of people you trust and in an environment you consider safe. Keep yourself well hydrated.”

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Palamar suggests: “You need to know what’s in the Tusi you’re using.” In truth, however, ascertaining the exact chemical makeup of a powder sold as tusi or pink cocaine would require sophisticated lab testing nearly impossible to do at home, but which institutions like DrugsData offer for a fee.

Perhaps most pressingly, Palamar worries that the deadly substance fentanyl will eventually make its way into batches of tusi or pink cocaine. A task force in California has already seized 4.4 pounds of pink powder that contained both ketamine and despropionyl fentanyl, a precursor to the deadly drug thought to be relatively inactive. Fentanyl test strips and other components of a drug testing kit can significantly reduce (though not eliminate) the chance of ingesting deadly compounds in any drug you take. A lethal dose of fentanyl is two milligrams, the size equivalent to just a few grains of sand.

Was this article on Pink Cocaine (Tusi) helpful? Deepen your learning here.

At-home test kits are available for a variety of substances. These test kits can help you tell whether or not you’ve got what you intended to get. Learn more about drug checking here.

Understanding consent is an integral part of psychedelic harm reduction. Leia Friedwoman walks you through the FRIES method in her article for DoubleBlind.

Most people still access psychedelic guides in underground contexts. So, how do you know you’ve found a trustworthy source? Author Michelle Janikian walks you through how to vet your psychedelic guide.

For more harm reduction information, visit DanceSafe.

Footnotes

  1. Palmer, 2023 ↩︎
  2. Palmer, 2023 ↩︎

References

Palamar J. J. (2023). Tusi: a new ketamine concoction complicating the drug landscape. The American journal of drug and alcohol abuse49(5), 546–550. https://doi.org/10.1080/00952990.2023.2207716

Shulgin, A. T., & Shulgin, A. (2013). Pihkal: a chemical love story (First edition.). Transform Press.

Vice News High Society. (2022). The Pink “Cocaine” Wave. High Society. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOjAlLoXOhQ&ab_channel=VICE

Disclaimer

Without testing, it’s impossible to know exactly what’s in any given batch of pink cocaine (tusi). Further, mixing and matching intoxicating substances increases risk of contraindications and harm. Consume at your own risk.

This article is intended for harm reduction purposes and should not be used in place of medical advice. DoubleBlind does not advocate participating in illicit activities. Always consult your local drug laws before engaging with any unregulated substance.

In the event of an emergency, please dial local emergency services. For emergency services related to substance abuse in the US, please dial the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline at +1 (800) 662-4357.

DoubleBlind Magazine does not encourage or condone any illegal activities, including but not limited to the use of illegal substances. We do not provide mental health, clinical, or medical services. We are not a substitute for medical, psychological, or psychiatric diagnosis, treatment, or advice. If you are in a crisis or if you or any other person may be in danger or experiencing a mental health emergency, immediately call 911 or your local emergency resources. If you are considering suicide, please call 988 to connect with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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