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Article Summary

Cocaine Overview

What is cocaine?

Street names:

snow, powder lines, freebase, c, dust, crack, rock, coke, flake, blow

Cocaine is a very addictive stimulant drug. Stimulants make people feel more alert and energetic. Cocaine can also make people feel "high." Crack is cocaine in a form that can be smoked.

Cocaine comes from the leaves of the coca bush, which grows in the Andes Mountains in South America. Today, most of the world's coca is grown and made into cocaine in South America.

What does cocaine look like? How is it used?

Cocaine can be:

  • a powder (for snorting)
  • a liquid (for injecting)
  • crystals or chunks (for smoking)

White cocaine powder is sometimes "cut" (mixed) with things that look like it, or with other drugs. What may be added:

  • sugars
  • local anesthetics (drugs that numb part of the body)
  • caffeine
  • other unknown substances

True or False

1. Kids can't die from snorting cocaine.

2. More people die from using ecstasy than from using cocaine.

3. When someone wants to smuggle cocaine, they sometimes swallow a balloon filled with cocaine to hide it.

4. It's easy to know what a dealer looks like. ?


1. False. Cocaine can kill, even when it's snorted. Even people who have used cocaine once have died from it.

2. False. More people die from using cocaine.

3. True. This is called bodypacking. If the balloon bursts, the person can die of an overdose. If caught, the person will be arrested.

4. False. Dealers don't always look like bad guys in the movies or on TV. They can look just like people you see on the street or at school.

For at least 4,500 years, people in Peru and Bolivia have chewed coca leaves to make them feel less hungry and tired, when working hard without too much food at high altitudes.

In the 1880s, psychiatrist Sigmund Freud wrote scientific papers that praised cocaine as a treatment for many ailments, including depression, and alcohol and opioid addiction. ?After this, cocaine became widely and legally available in patent medicines and soft drinks.

Pure cocaine was first isolated from the leaves of the coca bush in 1860.

Cocaine and its effects

Is cocaine addictive?

Yes, cocaine is a very addictive drug.

Not everyone who uses cocaine becomes addicted. But if you do, it can be one of the hardest drugs to quit. It is also hard to stay off cocaine if you do quit, because the memory of the "high" feeling is so powerful.

People who become addicted to cocaine feel a strong need for the drug, even when they know it causes them problems. Getting and taking cocaine can become the most important thing in their lives.

Crack is the most addictive form of cocaine. But any form of cocaine can lead to addiction. It partly depends on how much you use, and how often you use it.

When you use cocaine, you just don't know what you're getting. There are a lot of substances that look like a white powder and testing kits are not accurate, so there is no way to know exactly what other substances are mixed in.

Powder cocaine can be changed into crystals called "free base" or "crack." These crystals can be smoked in a pipe or in cigarettes mixed with tobacco.

The chemicals used in making crack can catch fire easily, which adds to the danger.

If you mix alcohol or other drugs, it makes an overdose more likely.

When you use cocaine, you just don't know what you're getting. ?There are a lot of substances that look like white powder and testing kits are not accurate, so there is no way to know exactly what other substances are mixed in. ?Powder cocaine can be changed into crystals called "free base" or "crack." ?These crystals can be smoked in a pipe or mixed with tobacco in cigarettes.

How does cocaine make you feel?

How cocaine makes you feel depends on how much you use, how often you use and what form you use. It also depends on whether you have taken any alcohol or other drugs. Cocaine can make you feel:

  • energetic, confident, alert, talkative, excited and less sleepy
  • agitated, nervous, irritable, unable to relax or sleep
  • paranoid (e.g., imagining things, believing people want to harm you).

People who use cocaine regularly may get used to its effects. This means they need to take more and more of the drug to feel the same way. They may also become more sensitive to negative effects such as anxiety, psychosis (losing contact with reality) and seizures.

How do you feel after you have used cocaine?

When the cocaine high fades, people can have a big low (a "crash"). They may feel anxious, depressed, tired, hungry or even suicidal.

People may also crave more of the drug, and take more cocaine to come out of the crash. Some people stay high by using cocaine for hours or days ("bingeing").

Bingeing to stay high leads quickly to addiction.

How long does the feeling last?

Not long. Cocaine acts quickly, but the effects don't last long.

  • When snorted or injected, cocaine takes effect in minutes, and the effect may last up to one hour.
  • When smoked cocaine takes effect in seconds, and the effect lasts only five to 10 minutes.

The faster the cocaine gets to the brain the more addictive it is.

Users often combine with other drugs, especially alcohol and marijuana. Sometimes cocaine and heroin are injected together. This is called a "speedball."

The dangers and the law

Is cocaine dangerous?

Yes! Cocaine can be very dangerous, even if you use it just once.

  • A person can overdose on even a small amount of cocaine.
  • Cocaine can cause a heart attack or stroke, even in healthy people.
  • Snorting cocaine can cause sinus infections, loss of smell and nose bleeds. It can damage tissues in the nose forever and cause holes in the wall between the nostrils.
  • Smoking crack cocaine can hurt your lungs.
  • Injecting cocaine can cause infections from shared needles (e.g., AIDS, hepatitis). Injecting cocaine that has been cut with impure or unsanitary material can lead to complications and infections.
  • Using cocaine in pregnancy may hurt the baby. The mother is more likely to have a miscarriage, to have the baby born too early or to have a smaller baby.
  • Using cocaine while breast feeding can make the baby sick.
  • Cocaine use is linked with risk-taking and violence. It is also linked to problems with thinking, judgment, increased chance of getting hurt, and getting a sexually transmitted disease.
  • Using cocaine for a long time can lead to mental health problems, including psychosis, anxiety, depression and paranoia.
  • Long?term cocaine use can also cause weight loss, malnutrition, poor health, sexual problems (like difficulty getting an erection), and loss of friends and money.

Snorting cocaine can really mess up your nose. In fact, it can cause so much damage to the mucus membrane inside your nose that you could have a runny nose most of the time—or even worse, a hole in the middle of your nose! If this happened, you could need surgery.

For at least 4,500 years, people in Peru and Bolivia have chewed coca leaves to make them feel less hungry and tired, when working hard without much food at high altitudes.

Reducing risks and getting help

How can I reduce my risks?

  • Choose not to use cocaine!
  • Try to quit!
  • Don't get into a car with someone who is high.
  • Don't mix cocaine with other drugs (including alcohol and prescription drugs).

How can I tell if someone has overdosed and is in trouble?

These are the signs of cocaine overdose:

  • loss of consciousness or coma
  • faster breathing
  • seizures or uncontrollable twitching
  • overheating
  • racing or irregular heart beat
  • chest pain.

Know what to do!

Send for emergency medical help. Call 911 right away. This could be a life-or-death situation!

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