Cocaine Guide

What is cocaine?

Cocaine StructureCocaine is a strong neuro-stimulant drug that usually comes in the form of a white powder. People primarily use cocaine intranasally, intravenously, or by smoking it for recreational purposes. Cocaine is also (although rarely) used by healthcare professionals as an anesthetic to temporarily numb mucus membranes such as the lining of the mouth, nose, and throat before some medical procedures. When used illegally, users generally inhale cocaine nasally (snorting), smoke cocaine by purchasing it in the smokable form (crack cocaine), by dissolving it in water and other chemicals to create “freebase,” or to be injected directly into the bloodstream after dissolving it in water. Recreational cocaine affects its user’s perception of reality and invokes feelings of intense alertness, well-being, and euphoria. In the street, it is known by names such as blow, coke, powder, white, girl, snow, or “Yeyo”, which is also the nickname of two prominent Mexican drug lords. Cocaine can cause intense craving after the initial dose begins to wear off and users usually take frequent doses to maintain their high, often resulting in binges or “all-nighters.” Cocaine used to be referred to as the “rich man’s drug” due to the prevalence of its use in the middle to upper-middle-class communities, a stereotype that has been perpetuated in movies and television; however, the price of cocaine has fallen drastically since its heyday in the 1980s, leading people across all income levels to afford its use.

What type of drug is cocaine?

Cocaine works primarily on the dopaminergic system in the brain, but also acts as a serotonin–noradrenaline–dopamine reuptake inhibitor (SNDRI). It is a very powerful nervous system stimulant. Like all SNDRIs, cocaine inhibits the brains ability to “reuptake” or reabsorb excess “feel good” brain chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine, as well as noradrenaline (very similar to adrenaline) from the brain’s synapses, thus leading to their increased effect on the user. An excess of serotonin, noradrenaline, and dopamine in the brain will create an extremely powerful stimulant effect as well as intense euphoria.

Serotonin is most known for its roles in mood modulation and feelings of well-being; however it does a lot more than that. Serotonin also affects reward systems, mental functioning such as learning and memory, as well as many body functions like vasoconstriction.

Dopamine is a key brain chemical (neurotransmitter) in reward-motivated behavior. Dopamine signals to the brain that something is desirable, which then creates a strong influence or compulsion toward that action or outcome. Large releases of dopamine is what makes cocaine feel rewarding and promotes its compulsive use.

Noradrenaline acts much like adrenaline and mobilizes the brain and body for action. When released in the brain due to cocaine use, it increases arousal, alertness and attentiveness, and improves memory functions, as well as increases feelings of restlessness and anxiety.

These three brain chemicals make cocaine a very powerful stimulant. Stimulants act directly on the central nervous system and typically lead to increased energy levels, attentiveness, alertness, wakefulness, physical endurance, productivity and motivation, as well as a diminished need for eating and sleeping. It also produces physical changes such as increased heart rate, blood pressure, and arousal.

What is the difference between crack and cocaine?

Crack cocaine is an inexpensive form of smokable cocaine sold on the street. It has a more intense high compared to snorting cocaine. Crack is easy to identify due to its solid, soap-like chunks the size of pencil erasers. The name “crack” arose from the crackling sound the drug makes when it’s heated to create the smoke. Cocaine, on the other hand, comes in the form of mostly white, pearly powder and unlike cocaine, crack is not soluble in water.

Crack is typically created in home kitchens by “cooking” cocaine with various ingredients typically found in the home. By processing powder cocaine with these ingredients, small “rocks” of crack resembling chunks of soap or candle wax are produced. These “rocks” are then smoked in glass pipes which are usually purchased at “head shops” or can be home-made from various common materials.

Crack cocaine’s route of administration increases the speed and amount of the drug that enters the bloodstream, causing a much more potent and intense form of cocaine high. Specifically, compared to snorted cocaine, smoking crack allows far more cocaine to reach the brain far faster. This results in a shorter but much stronger high that causes more intense cravings and a stronger subsequent addiction.

Fishscale cocaine on the left and crack cocaine on the right.

Image above shows “fish-scale” cocaine on the left and crack cocaine on the right.

What is cocaine cut with?

Cocaine sold in the street is often mixed with any number of “cuts” to dilute and make more of it, usually for financial reasons. Some of the most common cocaine cuts include: local anesthetics such as benzocaine, lidocaine and procaine; synergistic stimulants such as caffeine, ephedrine, amphetamine, methamphetamine, and many more inert ingredients or mundane cuts such as cornstarch, sugars, creatine, inositol, baking soda, acetaminophen, aspirin, glucose and lactose. Certain non-stimulant pharmaceuticals are also used as cut to increase the potency of cocaine. Unfortunately, a new development secondary to the opioid epidemic is cutting cocaine with highly dangerous synthetic opioid cuts such as fentanyl and carfentanyl. Synthetic opioid cuts are the most dangerous of all as they carry the possibility of a lethal overdose in an opioid naïve cocaine user.

How is cocaine made? What is cocaine made of? What plant does cocaine come from?

Cocaine is made using a chemical refining process from the leaves of the coca plant, which is typically found and cultivated in the mountainous regions of South America, most commonly in countries of Columbia, Peru, and Bolivia. The coca plant has been used for over a thousand years by the indigenous people of South America, who chewed the plant for its mild stimulant effects. When the cocaine in the plant is isolated and processed, its potency increases dramatically.

Making cocaine from these leaves is a relatively simple three-step process. First, the leaves of the coca plant are harvested and made into “coca paste.” The coca paste is rendered into a cocaine base, which ultimately turns into cocaine hydro-chloride. The manufacturing process requires various chemicals such as kerosene, sulfuric acid, sodium carbonate, hydrochloric acid, potassium permanganate, and acetone. Some of these chemicals remain in the cocaine as byproducts of the poor standards used in the manufacturing processes.

What does cocaine do to you and what does cocaine feel like?

Cocaine stimulates the central nervous system by inhibiting the reuptake (or reabsorption) of the following important brain chemicals: serotonin, noradrenaline, and dopamine. This causes a drastic increase of the amount of these three brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) in the brain and leads to intense euphoria, increased energy, endurance, alertness, motivation and productivity, decreased need for food and sleep, as well as heightened feelings of competence and sexuality. Also common are physical changes such as increased heart rate, blood pressure, and arousal.

Cocaine users often describe feeling “on top of the world” and “invincible” while under the influence of cocaine. This can sometimes cause them to have an exaggerated view of their own abilities which may lead to risky or aggressive behaviors.

After the stimulating effects are finished, feelings such as lack of energy and focus, extreme tiredness and fatigue, depression, lethargy, confusion, and cravings for more cocaine usually follow. This is a period is commonly called the “crash” and its negative effects often provoke stimulant users into redosing.

How much cocaine is too much and what amount may cause an overdose that can kill you?

According to the EU’s drug monitoring organization, a cocaine overdose can happen with roughly 1.2 grams of pure cocaine; however, people who are sensitive to cocaine or who have various genetic components have died from doses far lower – as low as 30 milligrams of cocaine, only 2.5% of the dose considered typically lethal. Regular cocaine users who develop a high tolerance to cocaine have been known to survive up to 5 grams per day.

In most cocaine-related fatalities, another drug like an opioid or alcohol is also ingested. The addition of a downer or an opiate with the cocaine makes it very easy to misjudge the amount of cocaine being ingested. Cocaine users in the process of binging (using larger amounts of cocaine and over a longer period than usual) are also at a higher risk of overdose as it is easy to lose track of the amount consumed when dosing many times over an extended period of time.

How long does it take for cocaine to kick in and how long does a cocaine high and its effects last?

Cocaine affects the nervous system almost immediately. Depending on the method of use (snorting, injections, smoking, etc.), its time and intensity can vary. Injecting or smoking it produces a quicker and stronger but shorter-lasting high than snorting. The high can last 15 to 30 minutes when smoking or injecting it and 30 to 90 minutes when snorting. It has a rather short duration compared to common illicit drugs, which typically promotes the constant redosing of cocaine and often leads to binges.

Why is cocaine addictive?

Cocaine is addictive because of its effects on the brain’s neurotransmitters. It increases the levels of the natural chemical messenger dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a key brain chemical responsible for the control of reward and motivation. Put simply, dopamine is the chemical in our brain that makes us feel good. By flooding the brain with an essentially unnatural level of dopamine, cocaine commonly produces a euphoric high that strongly reinforces the drug-taking behavior. As the brain adapts to excess amounts of dopamine, its sensitivity to it decreases. Consequently, users need to increase the amount of cocaine taken to get the same high.

How addictive is cocaine?

According to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Science, 17% of people who try cocaine become dependent. In comparison, 23% who try heroin become dependent, and 15% who try alcohol. Cocaine is highly addictive, causing some users to go to extreme lengths to acquire more of the drug. There are many reports of users having their financial well-being severely affected due to the costly nature of their cocaine addiction. There are also reports of cocaine users who have to resort to crime and other illegal activities to fund their habit. Crack cocaine, in particular, has earned a reputation for destroying entire communities due to its highly addictive nature.

What does cocaine look, smell and taste like?

Cocaine usually comes in the form of a white or pearly white powder that is bitter to the taste and numbs the tongue and mouth. High potency cocaine tends to have a pearly white appearance, and because of its pearl like shine it’s sometimes referred to as “fish scale” cocaine. High potency cocaine tends to have a pearly white appearance, and because of its pearl like shine it’s sometimes referred to as “fish scale” cocaine. Cartels often compress their cocaine into solid rectangular forms known as “bricks” for packaging and transportation, because of this and a practice of dealers “re-rocking” cut cocaine to make it seem pure, cocaine can sometimes come clumped up in rocks or chunks. Prior to snorting such cocaine, users tend to break or “chop” up the clumps or rocks into fine powder and arrange it into snortable “lines” by using credit cards or razor blades. Cocaine has no smell unless processed. There are reports of cocaine smelling like nail polish remover, most likely because nail polish remover contains acetone and the smell can be a byproduct of its processing by the dealer or anyone else in the supply chain. Crack cocaine looks like soap or candle wax and has off-white color or waxy coloration. Cocaine is typically distributed in very small plastic bags.

Baggies filled with cocaine.

Image above shows how the cocaine sold on the streets is typically packaged for the end user.

How to tell if someone is on cocaine?

When someone is on cocaine, they usually have dilated pupils, may speak quickly, and appear restless or have trouble sitting still. On higher doses or after extended binges, cocaine users may also act anxious or even paranoid, being very vigilant of their surroundings and others around them. They may even experience hallucinations. In less extreme cases, a runny nose, constant sniffling and snorting, as well as repetitive touching of the nose can also be signs of cocaine use when combined with one or more other symptoms. Finally, possession of drug paraphernalia which can be used for snorting or chopping cocaine such as straws (often cut to size), rolled up money (sometimes used instead of straws), cards or razor blades (used to break up clumps and make “lines” of cocaine), when packed together as a “kit”, or with visible traces of white powder on them, or combined with physical and psychological symptoms listed above, can also be a strong indication of cocaine use.

What does cocaine do to your body, what are cocaine’s side effects?

Cocaine primarily acts on the brain’s neural pathways. It creates an excess amount of dopamine in the brain that leads to a euphoric high. Physically, cocaine use causes constricted blood vessels, increased blood pressure, fast and sometime irregular heartbeat and can lead to nausea, raised body temperature, as well as tremors with muscle twitch. Snorting it can cause nosebleeds, runny nose, and problems with swallowing. Smoking can cause heart problems, cough, asthma attacks, respiratory distress, and a higher risk of contracting infectious diseases like pneumonia.

Long-term cocaine use can negatively affect the general health of the user, as it can be hard on the heart. Long-term use can also cause serious damage to the nasal passages if snorted or cause abscesses, scarring, and collapsed veins if injected. Though many diseases can be transmitted just by sharing cocaine snorting devices, IV use carries a much higher risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis C, and bloodborne diseases. All routes of administration can cause severe dental health issues due to xerostomia (dry mouth). The dental health issues are intensified if cocaine is smoked or ingested by mouth due to its ability to reduce blood flow in oral soft tissues.

When did cocaine become illegal and what schedule is cocaine currently?

The Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914 outlawed the sale of coca products, previously found in coca-cola and other home remedies. After this, the Narcotic Drugs Import and Export Act of 1922 forbade the importation of cocaine and cocaine-containing products. With the passage of this law, cocaine was essentially prohibited in the US for any non-medical uses.  Currently in the United States, cocaine is a Schedule II drug.

How to detox and stop using cocaine?

Stopping cocaine use is difficult and needs a support system, often including a strong family or support network and professional. Long-term users would greatly benefit from a professional rehab program. Families of those addicted are urged to consider an intervention guided by a trained addiction professional who specializes in interventions.

How long does cocaine withdrawal last?

The daily dose and length of time cocaine was used will determine the time necessary for withdrawal effects to end, particularly the psychological aspects of withdrawal. Acute symptoms, which are usually deemed as the hardest part, typically last around 7-10 days. This period can be made much easier to handle through appropriate therapies, support, and medication. Post-acute withdrawals are different for every user, but significant relief can happen anywhere from 7 to 30 days after the start of recovery.

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