Cocaine is a highly addictive drug of abuse. It is categorized as a stimulant and is currently a Schedule II substance. The form of cocaine that is commonly used is a white powder obtained from the leaves of the Erythroxylon Coca plant.
Cocaine goes by a long list of street names and slang terms, including:
The most common method of using powder cocaine is sniffing the powder into the nasal passages (snorting). It can also be injected intravenously, ingested orally or even rubbed on the user's gums. Powdered cocaine can also be smoked by sprinkling it on cigarettes or marijuana “joints.” The drug can also be smoked as crack cocaine after the powder has been processed into a rock form (freebase). Because smoking a substance allows it to reach the brain more quickly than other methods, smoking crack or freebase creates an intense and immediate high in about 10 to 15 seconds, making the drug even more addictive.
Cocaine is sometimes taken with other drugs, including tranquilizers, amphetamines, marijuana and heroin. Such combinations greatly increase the danger of using cocaine. In addition to the likelihood of developing a two-drug habit, one can easily create a mixture of narcotics that proves fatal.
Cocaine causes a short-lived, intense high that is immediately followed by the opposite—intense depression, edginess and a craving for more of the drug. People who use it often don’t eat or sleep properly. They can experience greatly increased heart rate, muscle spasms and convulsions. The drug can make people feel paranoid, angry, hostile and anxious—even when they aren’t high.
Regardless of the quantity or frequency, the use of cocaine increases the risk that the user will experience a heart attack, stroke, seizure or respiratory (breathing) failure, any of which can result in sudden death. Studies have shown that psychological and physiological changes typically associated with old age such as cognitive decline, brain atrophy and immunodeficiency are also seen in middle-aged cocaine-dependent individuals.
The immediate, intense cocaine high lasts about 15 to 30 minutes when snorting while effects from smoking last approximately 5 to 10 minutes; residual effects can continue for 1 to 2 hours, however. These effects include:
As tolerance to the drug increases, it becomes necessary to take greater and greater quantities to get the same high. Prolonged daily use causes sleep deprivation and loss of appetite. A person can become psychotic and begin to experience hallucinations.
As cocaine interferes with the way the brain processes chemicals, one needs more and more of the drug just to feel “normal.” As with most other drugs, people who become addicted to cocaine lose interest in other areas of life.
Coming down from the drug causes a depression so severe that a person will do almost anything to get the drug—even commit murder. And if they can’t get cocaine, the depression can get so intense that it can drive the addict to suicide.
Prolonged cocaine abuse can cause a number of other problems including:
Next to methamphetamine, cocaine creates the greatest psychological dependence of any drug. It stimulates key pleasure centers within the brain and causes extremely heightened euphoria.
A tolerance to cocaine develops quickly as the addict soon fails to achieve the same high experienced earlier from the same amount of the drug.
See also “Crack Cocaine” under Types of Addiction/Drugs.