Corn in My Coffee, Lead in My Pot

Doctors at several hospitals in Leipzig, Germany, could not figure out the cause of a recent rash of lead poisoning. Was there an environmental disaster underway? They kept seeking the source and, after several weeks, as they write in the New England Journal of Medicine:

… we detected a common pattern: the patients were young, were unemployed or were students, had a history of smoking, and had body piercings. On questioning, all the patients eventually conceded that they were regular users of marijuana smoked in “joint” form or with the use of a water pipe.

Yes, it turns out that the people suffering from lead poisoning had smoked marijuana that had been laced with lead to increase its weight, presumably in order to increase the drug dealers’ profits. The Leipzig doctors estimate that the contaminated marijuana had a 10 percent lead content.

If marijuana were decriminalized, as several people advocated in a quorum we published here, such contaminations would probably cease. On the other hand — based on the Leipzig doctors’ observations of the lead-poisoning patients — body piercing would go through the roof.

This reminds me of an article I read some time back about scientists at the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Ill., who found that coffee imported from Brazil is often padded with foreign substances, including corn.

If the price of corn (and lead) continues to rise, then of course dealers in coffee and marijuana may turn to cheaper substitutes.

This practice works well for products sold by volume or weight but unfortunately, the commodity that I produce — writing — is not as easily padded. Although I guess that, in a pinch, I could lace my stuff with a few paragraphs of this.

I would love to hear from you about other products, whether illicit or not, that are habitually cut with foreign substances.

(Hat tip: Denise Grady)


Surely a body piercing that went through the roof would make it extremely hard to get in and out of buildings, and require significant modifications. The incidence of leaks would likely rise too, giving extra work to roofing contractors.

Andrew McG

Basmati rice is frequently adulterated with non-Basmati costing 30-50% as much:


Back when cotton subsidies in the EU were based on the weight of cotton produced (they are now given to each farmer AFAIK), farmers in Greece would spray the cotton (at least the cotton in the lower part of the truck) with water to increase its weight prior to the truck being weighed. When authorities started cracking down on wet cotton, the farmers went to local marble quarries (abundant here) and used white marble dust to weigh the cotton down...


Replying to post #28, plagiarism is the lazy stupid student's method of padding, the lazy but smart enough not to get caught way is to italicize, type in the pair of parentheses, and put footnotes/endnotes at the bottom.

Not only do you pad even more useless (or at least unoriginal) content, but you also eliminate liabilities (ie. getting an F, getting kicked out, etc).


Chiming in with the posts about people "cutting" for-recycling scrap, I'm guilty of that too. Back in grade school we had annual newspaper drives (to be sold as scrap to junk shops) and I'd cut them with glossy magazines with heavier paper. After winning the contest, I'd learn that the local junk shop didn't have the proper facilities to recycle glossy paper. Oops...


Bejus. Conspiracy theories abound. Air is not introduced to ice cream to rip off or confound consumers. It (the air) is an integral part of the product that allows the consumer to actually eat the ice cream. Try an experiment: Take milk, cream, sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Mix together, place in container, and freeze. Remove from freezer, grab spoon, and try to serve yourself up a portion. It will be impossible, as the mixture is now rock solid. The inclusion of miniscule air bubbles reduces (by design and without evil intentions) the volume of liquids so that the product will have a texture soft enough to consume.

Next up, I suppose some brainiac will bemoan the weight lost when potato chips are cooked, since it takes four pounds of raw potatoes to produce one pound of potato chips. OMG!1! RIP OFF!!1 WHERE'S MY OTHER THREE POUNDS OF POTATOES!!

You want to talk actual subterfuge, talk about the shrinkage of a half-gallon of ice cream to 1.75 quart containers, as is now standard. That's a true conspiracy.



The steamed vegetables at one of the University of Chicago's dining halls (I won't say which, but I will say it has been rated the 2nd best in the country. I beg to differ.) The other day they had two options: "peas & carrots" and "steamed vegetables". I ordered the vegetables, and was disappointed to discover that what they really meant was "peas & carrots - plus a piece of broccoli". Apparently broccoli is more expensive so they put significantly less of it in.
This happens repeatedly, and I am always disappointed as broccoli is my favorite vegetable... and there's always an enticing piece on top that never seems to get scooped onto my plate.


The standard can of tuna fish used to be 6 and 7/8th ounces. The last time I checked it had been reduced to either 6 ounces, or 6 and 1/8th.


Internet Sales Leads are also a "padded" commodity.

Many industries buy leads from internet marketers that advertize around the internet. The most common seems to be mortgage loans. Typically these leads are sold to four or more buyers who then compete for the customer's business ("when banks compete, you win"). As a buyer of internet leads, I can tell you that 10% to 15% are padding added by unscrupulous vendors. They do this for two reasons, 1) it's impossible to prove that it was intentioal, and 2) if caught, they just give you credit for another lead. But... if the buyer can't confirm it's a bogus lead (and instead just assumes it's someone that they can't contact, maybe having changed their mind) then the lead seller got away with it.


- Packaged trail mix. I'd be surprised if the manufacturers didn't actually count out 2 almonds, 3 peanuts and then just dump in sunflower seeds. Sheesh.
- Chicken with cashew nuts from every Chinese restaurant I've visited in the past 15 years. The dish has actually been chicken with a crap-load of celery and a couple of garnish cashews on top.
- Chocolate assortments. A few good caramel or nut ones get in, but there are a ton of the disgusting fruity ones that even my wife won't eat.
- Compilation albums (think Hits of the 80's) that have two songs you've heard and 10 that no one but the artist knows.
- Cable TV shows and movies (and blogs?) with commercial interruptions.
- Computers shipped with aol/yahoo/msn/trial software/etc.
- Websites with malware.


Some readers may say that this blog has become increasingly "laced" with additional content from other writers over the past 6-10 months.

I'm not saying that the other writers are lead to your marijuana (much thanks for the writings of Sudhir), but I'm finding it much harder to keep up these days.

That said, I'd rather have a smaller quantity of good marijuana than a large quantity of schwag...


Okay, you can all stop complaining about how food products have become smaller over the years and how you had to walk to school 12 miles every day through deep snow drifts because these things have nothing to do with products habitually cut with foreign substances!

Mr. Winston

Cows. They're fed corn until they fatten up so much that if they weren't slaughtered first, they'd die from over-eating.


Very interesting--especially the part about illegal drugs. I have read repeatedly that users often become ill or even die due to the added impurities to cocaine, heroin, LSD, etc. Decriminalization would not solve this, not without regulation. Wouldn't it be a more peaceful world if all drugs were decriminalized and regulated? All substances that Americans use should be regulated for safety. MAking certain drugs forbidden and unregulated has been a global disaster, both economically and health-wise.

Sam Carter

A great example of adulteration is adding air to ice cream. Adding air has two main benefits: price (ice cream is sold by volume and air is essentially free, if you ignore the extra time spent in whipping the freezing mixture), and the ability to market the ice cream as "diet" or "reduced fat". Since the same serving size has less calories (and more air), the manufacturer can truthfully claim that it is healthier.


Also, our main product was mussels. A lot of competitors would soak them in water before shipping them because they are sold by the pound and they suck in a ton of water as soon as they can. A good wholesaler sells mussels by the pound, but actually packs them by a size. We would ship ~12lb bags and sell them as 10lb bags because they would loose ~2lbs by the time they reached the restaurant.

Marc Robinson

1)What is plagiarism but the cutting of writing with foreign substances?
2)Also coins cut their metals with cheaper metals (officially sanctioned now, unlike in Gresham's Law days).
3) Builders have used cheaper substitutes (inferior stone, tile, insulation, pipe, concrete, wood, etc.) for millenia when they could get away with it.


These comments have been the most interesting I have ever read for blog comments. Everyone has a new product that I didn't even consider was being "cut" (a new term for me as well). I would like to see a website that collects information about this rather than just scattered articles or observations. Perhaps something like The Consumerist but not as conspiracy oriented.

Also, on the case of double-churned ice cream or whipped cream cheese, people buy that for the extra air because it creates a different texture that they might like (for example, more spreadable). It's when they start advertising that it's more healthy for you per serving that I start to wonder because a serving now contains less actual food.


I would say that adding air to "cut" a product into making it whipped or lighter is not a foreign substance. The same with water when it's necessary for packaging, like most canned goods. When you buy cotton candy, a bag is about a tablespoon of sugar and food coloring. I bet you wouldn't pay $5 for a packet of sugar, would you?
The scary part is when people add things to products without it being indicated on the label. Plus, this throws off the "nutrition facts" on the label, right?

Steven Peters

I'm taking a class on environmentally benign manufacturing. During our lecture on recycling, the professor was talking about the contamination of different waste streams. He mentioned data from the aluminum recycling industry, that they had to go to a lot of extra effort to remove lead from their aluminum can waste stream. They were apparently finding 5% lead in their aluminum can waste streams from people padding their recycling weight.

It was pretty annoying for them not just because they got some lead instead of aluminum but because separating the lead from the aluminum required extra energy and processing steps. So remember, putting lead in your recycling isn't just gaming the system, it's bad for the environment.