Tracing the geographical origin of cocaine

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Cocaine carries a chemical fingerprint from the region where the coca was grown.


Here we show that cocaine originating from different geographic regions in South America can be identified by its isotope-ratio signature. The distinct carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotope-ratio combinations allow the country of origin to be determined for the principal coca-growing regions along the Andean Ridge. By combining this information with detectable differences in the patterns of the trace alkaloids truxilline and trimethoxycocaine, we correctly identified the source of 96% of 200 cocaine samples.

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Figure 1: Identification of geographic regions in South America where coca is commonly grown.


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Correspondence to James R. Ehleringer.

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