What is cocaine?

Cocaine comes from the leaves of the tropical coca plant. Cocaine hydrochloride (coke, snow, blow) is a central nervous system stimulant that interferes with the re-absorption of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and movement. It's a double-acting drug - a powerful stimulant that speeds up your central nervous system and an aesthetic that numbs whatever it touches, such as the inside of your nose.

But it is also a chemical not natural to the human body and never prepared in clean, certified laboratories. Instead, cocaine is put together by criminal minds in dark, ratty, dirty, homemade rough-shacks. The risk is aggravated as consumers take it in uncontrolled circumstances putting their health at considerable risk, which can include death in either the psychological reaction or in the results of choices and actions taken while under the influence.

Cocaine is usually sold as white, crystalline powder that is inhaled ("snorted") from spoons or through straws. It can be injected and, in some forms smoked.

Injecting the drug produces a powerful, fast response that peaks in minutes and disappears within an hour.

Freebase and crack are both smokable forms of cocaine and carry a kick similar to injecting the drug. Freebase gives an intense high lasting 2 to 5 minutes, which quickly fades into a restless desire for more of the drug. Crack - rock-like chunks of impure freebase - also jolts your body with a short rush of energy.

What does cocaine do to my body?

Basically, cocaine overworks your body and brain. It sends the body into overdrive - boosting your heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature.

cocaine

Its action in the brain can make you feel alert, energetic, more sociable, confident, and in control. This feeling can be so powerful and pleasurable that many users immediately want more drug. For others, it isn't like that at all: they feel withdrawn, anxious, or even panic-stricken.

More of the drug makes the pleasure - or panic - stronger. Eventually, if you use cocaine often and long enough, the "high" gives way to paranoia (suspecting "enemies" everywhere), hallucinations (seeing and hearing "things"), and an unwell feeling because you can't sleep and don't feel like eating.

Is cocaine dangerous?

For may who use it once in a while, cocaine isn't a health problem. But for some occasional users, and for those who use it frequently - especially if they inject or smoke it - it can get to be a serious problem. Here's why:

  • Damage to the heart tissue and rapid heartbeat can cause heart failure and sudden death even though you are otherwise healthy.
  • A cocaine-triggered rise in blood pressure can explode weakened blood vessels in the brain, causing a stroke.
  • It's easy to overdoes on crack, freebase, or injected cocaine - even on small amounts of the drug. You can die from convulsions, heart failure, or the depression of vital brain centres that control breathing.
  • Those who inject cocaine also run the risk of infections from dirty needles and impurities in the drug, and of hepatitis or AIDS if they share needles with others.
  • Those who smoke cocaine risk damaging their entire breathing system.
  • Finally, as with other stimulant drugs, heavy or long-term use can simply cause the body o burn itself out. Insomnia, weight loss, and malnutrition are among the first signs of a serious problem.

Can you become addicted to cocaine?

Yes.

It is true that fewer than one in ten people who have ever tried cocaine continue to use it once a week or more. However, some regular users, chasing a longer and stronger high, keep increasing their dose. For those who do get hooked, cocaine seems to be one of the hardest drug habits to shake.

Regular, heavy users find that when the high fades, it is followed by a low as the central nervous system rebounds and works more slowly than normal. It's called the "crash" - a nagging depression that sends many users back for more of the drug.


  • Duhaime.org wishes to thank the Addiction Research Foundation, Toronto, Canada (now the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)), for permitting the use of this copyrighted material.
  • Postage stamp is a courtesy of the Kenneth Plummer Stamp Collection, with thanks to his son Brian for the use thereof.