Cocaine & Crack
Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant drug made from the leaves of the coca plant native to South America. Cocaine looks like a fine, white, crystal powder. Street dealers often mix it with things like cornstarch, talcum powder, or flour to increase profits. They may also mix it with other drugs such as the stimulant amphetamine.
Popular nicknames for cocaine include Blow, Coke, Crack, Rock, and Snow.
How do people use cocaine?
People snort cocaine powder through the nose, or they rub it into their gums. Others dissolve the powder in water and inject it into the bloodstream. Some people inject a combination of cocaine and heroin, called a Speedball.
Another popular method of use is to smoke cocaine that has been processed to make a rock crystal (also called “freebase cocaine”). The crystal is heated to produce vapors that are inhaled into the lungs. This form of cocaine is called Crack, which refers to the crackling sound of the rock as it’s heated.
People who use cocaine often take it in binges—taking the drug repeatedly within a short time, at increasingly higher doses—to maintain their high.
How does cocaine affect the brain?
Cocaine increases levels of the natural chemical messenger dopamine in brain circuits controlling pleasure and movement.
Normally, the brain releases dopamine in these circuits in response to potential rewards, like the smell of good food. It then recycles back into the cell that released it, shutting off the signal between nerve cells. Cocaine prevents dopamine from recycling, causing excessive amounts to build up between nerve cells. This flood of dopamine ultimately disrupts normal brain communication and causes cocaine’s high.
Short-term health effects of cocaine include:
- extreme happiness and energy mental alertness
- hypersensitivity to sight, sound, and touch
- paranoia—extreme and unreasonable distrust of others
Cocaine’s effects appear almost immediately and disappear within a few minutes to an hour. How long the effects last and how intense they depend on the method of use. Injecting or smoking cocaine produces a quicker and stronger but shorter-lasting high than snorting. The high from snorting cocaine may last 15 to 30 minutes. The high from smoking may last 5 to 10 minutes.
What are the other health effects of cocaine use?
- constricted blood vessels dilated pupils
- raised body temperature and blood pressure
- faster heartbeat
- tremors and muscle twitches restlessness
Long-Term Effects include:
- snorting: loss of sense of smell, nosebleeds, frequent runny nose, and problems with swallowing.
- consuming by mouth: severe bowel decay from reduced blood flow.
- needle injection: higher risk for contracting HIV, hepatitis C, and other bloodborne diseases. However, even people involved with non-needle cocaine use place themselves at a risk for HIV because cocaine impairs judgment, which can lead to risky sexual behavior with infected partners (see “Cocaine, HIV, and Hepatitis“).
Other long-term effects of cocaine use include being malnourished, because cocaine decreases appetite, and movement disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, which may occur after many years of use. In addition, people report irritability and restlessness resulting from cocaine binges, and some also experience severe paranoia, in which they lose touch with reality and have auditory hallucinations—hearing noises that aren’t real.
Information from National Institute of Drug Abuse – www.drugabuse.gov