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Facts About Cocaine

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Most people recognize cocaine as an addictive, harmful substance. That said, many people have misconceptions about the drug. Let’s explore what you need to know.

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What Is Cocaine?

Cocaine is classified as a stimulant. Stimulants increase the speed of messaging between the brain and body, which makes people feel more confident, energetic, and alert. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) considers cocaine a Schedule II drug, which means it has a high potential for misuse, but doctors can administer it in rare cases.

Cocaine comes in two forms:

  1. Powdered, which is water-soluble hydrochloride salt
  2. Freebase or crack cocaine, which is the water-insoluble base

A Brief History of Cocaine

Cocaine dates to the ancient Incan era. Research shows that Incas chewed coca leaves to improve their breathing while living in high altitudes. 

German chemist, Albert Niemann, first manufactured cocaine in 1859. The drug gained popularity in the 1880s. The famous psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud, used cocaine himself. He touted it as a cure within the psychiatric community and wrote articles describing it as a magical substance.

In 1886 John Pemberton, the inventor of Coca-Cola, used coca leaves in his new soft drink. At the time, cocaine was legal. People didn’t recognize the harm of using it in smaller doses. Pemberton considered his drink medicinal. He believed it could cure headaches, stomach problems, and exhaustion.

Cocaine use progressed until the early 1900s. Eventually, hospitals began reporting cases of nasal damage associated with snorting. By 1912, the American government indicated 5,000 cocaine-reported deaths. The U.S. banned it in 1922.

Even though it was now illegal, cocaine use continued. In the 1970s cocaine sat center stage in the entertainment and business world. University students took the drug for increased focus and energy. In the late 1970s, Colombian traffickers began smuggling cocaine into the U.S. While the drug was once reserved for the wealthy, it began trickling into impoverished areas.

By the 1990s, cartels exported up to 800 tons of cocaine a year. By 2008, cocaine became the second-most trafficked illicit substance in the world.

Where Does Cocaine Originate?

Drug manufacturers produce cocaine by extracting the leaves of the coca plant. These plants thrive in mountain and jungle terrain, so they grow nearly exclusively in northern and western South America.

Today, Colombia is the leading producer of cocaine, as well as controlling almost all of the drug trafficking. Chile, Peru, and Bolivia also contribute to cocaine production.

How Is Cocaine Made?

Manufacturers soak coca leaves in gasoline and various chemicals to extract the base from the leaves. Such chemicals include:

  • Carbonate salt
  • Gasoline
  • Sulfuric acid
  • Ammonia
  • Diesel
  • Kerosene

They then pour this base into brick molds to remove the water. What’s left is a brick containing about 50% cocaine. Manufacturers then traffic and ship these bricks.

What Are the Street Names for Cocaine?

The common slang and street names for cocaine include:

  • Coke
  • Dust
  • Nose candy
  • Snow
  • Blow
  • Binge
  • Aunt Nora
  • Paradise
  • White
  • Toot
  • Charlie
  • Rock

How Do People Use Cocaine?

People can use cocaine in many ways, including:

  • Intranasally (snorting it up the nose)
  • Intravenously (dissolving it into water and injecting it into the skin)
  • Inhalation (smoking it by itself or with marijuana or tobacco)

What Does Cocaine Look Like?

Cocaine is a fine, white powder. Hues can vary from white to pink to beige. The hues change based on the different substance mixtures. At times, the texture can appear grainy. Crack cocaine looks like crystalline rocks.

What Does Cocaine Smell Like?

The smell of cocaine varies. Sometimes it smells sweet and flowery. Other times, it smells like gasoline, burnt rubber, or melting plastic. Most people can’t detect the odor unless they’re holding cocaine close to them.

What Does Cocaine Taste Like?

The way cocaine tastes depends on how manufacturers mix other substances with it and can vary from salty to sour to sweet. Talc, a common additive, tastes like baby powder. 

What Does Cocaine Feel Like?

Cocaine usually evokes a sense of euphoria coupled with enhanced alertness and energy. People often feel hyper-aware, and they may feel more confident and sexual. This feeling lasts about 10 to 30 minutes.

Users may binge on cocaine to maintain these heightened feelings. They may binge for several hours or days. The “comedown” from cocaine (cocaine withdrawal) can result in increased depression and anxiety. Users often feel exhausted both physically and emotionally.

How Does Cocaine Impact the Nervous System?

Cocaine changes how the brain responds to and uses dopamine. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter associated with how people feel pleasure. Cocaine accelerates dopamine accumulation. This causes the surge of euphoria users feel.

Chronic cocaine use can change the brain. Research shows that cocaine impacts glutamate neurotransmission. This can affect how the brain responds to stress, so some people may use cocaine to cope with stress.

What Are the Health Consequences of Using Cocaine?

Cocaine can cause permanent heart damage because it increases how the heart needs oxygen. It also decreases how the cardiovascular system supplies blood to the heart. Repeated use can result in blood vessels stiffening. This can cause aneurysms or coronary artery thrombosis. 

Cocaine is also associated with stroke. Research shows that people who use cocaine are greater than six times more likely to suffer from a stroke. If smoking crack cocaine, the risk rises by eight-fold.

Cocaine has been associated with other fatal health risks like:

  • Blood clots
  • Tears in the aorta

Overdose deaths involving cocaine rose from 3,822 in 1999 to 14,666 in 2018.

Getting Treatment for Cocaine Use

Cocaine use can worsen progressively. Many people find themselves wanting to quit but don’t feel like they can. If you’re addicted to cocaine, it’s essential to seek evidence-based treatment. Contact us today to get the help you need.

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Jenna Richer
Medically Reviewed by Jenna Richer, MSW, LCSW
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