Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant drug made from the leaves of the coca plant native to South America.
It is a highly addictive drug that ups your levels of alertness, attention, and energy.
You may hear it called a stimulant obtained primarily from the leaves of two coca species, Erythroxylum coca and Erythroxylum novogranatense.
Other names for it include; Coca, Coke, Crack, Crank, Flake, Rock, Snow, Soda Cot.
Although health care providers can use it for valid medical purposes,
such as local anesthesia for some surgeries, recreational cocaine use is illegal.
HOW PEOPLE USE COCAINE
People snort cocaine powder through the nose, or they rub it into their gums.
Others dissolve the powder 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.
Some people also smoke Crack by sprinkling it on marijuana or tobacco, and smoke it like a cigarette.
People who uses cocaine often takes it repeatedly, or in huge quantities to maintain their high.
HOW COCAINE WORKS WHEN IN YOUR BODY
The drug sends high levels of dopamine, a natural chemical messenger in your body, into the parts of your brain that control pleasure.
This buildup causes intense feelings of energy and alertness called a high.
With constant drug use, the reward circuit may adapt, becoming less sensitive to the drug.
As a result, people take stronger and more frequent doses in an attempt to feel the same high, and to obtain relief from withdrawal.
The consumption of this substance has effects to its consumers which may be short term or long term.
SHORT TERM EFFECTS
Short-term health effects of cocaine include:
- extreme happiness and energy
- Sexual arousal
- Decreased appetite
- 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 are 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.
People who use cocaine often may also have more serious side effects and health problems, like:
- constricted blood vessels
- dilated pupils
- Convulsions and seizures
- Heart disease, heart attack, and stroke
- Mood problems
- Sexual trouble
- Lung damage
- HIV or hepatitis if you inject it
- Bowel decay if you swallow it
- Loss of smell, nosebleeds, runny nose, and trouble swallowing, if you snort it
Some long-term health effects of cocaine depend on the method of use and include the following:
- snorting: loss of smell, nosebleeds, frequent runny nose, and problems with swallowing
- smoking: cough, asthma, respiratory distress, and higher risk of infections like pneumonia
- consuming by mouth: severe bowel decay from reduced blood flow
- needle injection: higher risk for contracting HIV, hepatitis C, and other bloodborne diseases, skin or soft tissue infections, as well as scarring or collapsed veins
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.
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 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.
An overdose occurs when a person uses enough of a drug to produce serious adverse effects, life-threatening symptoms, or death.
An overdose can be intentional or unintentional.
A cocaine overdose is more difficult to treat. Physical signs include:
- Increased sweating, body temperature, or heart rate
- Trouble breathing
- Chest pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Confusion, seizures, tremors
An overdose often leads to a stroke or heart attack.
An ER doctor will test for those conditions and try to treat them first.
They may also use medication to treat other complications you have.
mental signs of overdose may include the following:
How can a cocaine overdose be treated?
There is no specific medication that can reverse a cocaine overdose. Management involves supportive care and depends on the symptoms present. For instance, because cocaine overdose often leads to a heart attack, stroke, or seizure, first responders and emergency room doctors try to treat the overdose by treating these conditions, with the intent of:
- restoring blood flow to the heart (heart attack)
- restoring oxygen-rich blood supply to the affected part of the brain (stroke)
- stopping the seizure
How does cocaine use lead to addiction?
As with other drugs, repeated use of cocaine can cause long-term changes in the brain’s reward circuit and other brain systems, which may lead to addiction.
The reward circuit eventually adapts to the extra dopamine caused by the drug, becoming steadily less sensitive to it.
As a result, people take stronger and more frequent doses to feel the same high they did initially and to obtain relief from withdrawal.
Withdrawal symptoms include:
- increased appetite
- unpleasant dreams and insomnia
- slowed thinking
How can people get treatment for cocaine addiction?
Behavioral therapy may be used to treat cocaine addiction. Examples include:
- cognitive-behavioral therapy
- contingency management or motivational incentives—providing rewards to patients who remain substance free
- therapeutic communities—drug-free residences in which people in recovery from substance use disorders help each other to understand and change their behaviors
- community based recovery groups, such as 12-step programs
While there are no FDA-approved medications for the treatment of cocaine use disorder, NIDA supports a robust medication development pipeline in this area.