Cocaine is a stimulant. It directly affects the central nervous system by speeding up the activity of certain pathways in the brain.
Coke, “C”, Crack, Snow, Nose Candy, Blow, Toot and The Lady are the most common terms used in Australia at present.
Forms and Appearance
Cocaine is derived from the coca plant grown in South America. It is most commonly seen in Australia as a white powder with a sparkling appearance called cocaine hydrochloride. In this form, it is sniffed through the nose (‘snorted’) or injected.
Users sometimes chemically convert cocaine hydrochloride into free base cocaine using powerful solvents such as ether. The free base can be heated and ‘smoked’ (i.e. the vapour inhaled). However, the process is very risky because the solvents used are highly inflammable.
Crack cocaine is a free base preparation made by adding baking soda to a solution of cocaine hydrochloride and then heating the mixture. The residue is sold as crystals or in small lumps which are heated and the vapour inhaled.
Medical and Other Uses
Cocaine was formerly used as a local anaesthetic for eye, nose and throat surgery. However, it is now used only rarely.
People who sell cocaine often mix or ‘cut’ the powder with other substances to increase their profits. These substances can have unpleasant or harmful effects.
Cocaine has been combined with heroin (called ‘dynamite’, ‘speedball’ or ‘whizbang’); cocaine plus morphine is also called ‘whizbang’; a mixture of cocaine, heroin and amphetamine is called ‘zoom’.
Methods of Use
As described above, cocaine is ‘snorted’ into the nose or injected.
Effects of Use
The effects of cocaine will vary from person to person. They will depend on: how much cocaine is taken; the way in which cocaine is taken; the person’s size, weight and health; the person’s experience with cocaine over a period of time; whether it is taken on its own or in combination with other drugs; and whether the person is alone or with others.
In Australia, a 1993 national survey found that about 2 percent of people had tried cocaine at some time in their lives. One percent had used cocaine in the previous 12 months.
Immediate Effects can occur rapidly after a single dose and can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. They include:
- reduced appetite
- increased heart rate
- sexual arousal
- increased body temperature
- enlarged pupils of the eyes
- increased alertness and energy
- extreme feelings of well-being
- inability to judge risks
- unpredictability and aggressive behaviour
- increased excitability
- weight loss
- muscle twitching
- heart pain
- violent and/or aggressive behaviour
- loss of interest in sex
- loss of ambition and motivation
There are a range of other effects related to the method of taking the drug:
Snorting cocaine can lead to nosebleeds, sinusitis and tearing of the nasal wall.
Smoking free base cocaine (e.g. ‘crack’) can cause breathing difficulties, a chronic cough, chest pain and lung damage.
Injecting cocaine with used or dirty equipment, such as needles, increases the risk of becoming infected with HIV, hepatitis B and C, blood poisoning (septicaemia) and skin abscesses.
Long-term injection of cocaine can result in: blockage of blood vessels (caused by the substances sometimes ‘cut’ with cocaine) which can lead to major damage to body organs; inflamed blood vessels; and abscesses.
Tolerance and Dependence
People can develop a tolerance to the ‘feeling high’ effects of cocaine. They need higher doses of the drug to achieve the same effects as they used to get with smaller doses.
Some people can also become dependent on cocaine. The drug becomes central to their thoughts, emotions and activities.
Withdrawal symptoms occur when a dependent person stops using cocaine or cuts down on its use.
Withdrawal symptoms can include:
- deep depression
- suicidal feelings
- shaking fits
- long but disturbed sleep
- muscle pain and a craving for the drug
Medical assistance is advised when people are withdrawing from any drug.
The effects of an overdose of cocaine will vary from person to person. As little as 10mg (about one-tenth of the dose users commonly inhale) has been known to kill individuals who have a particularly strong reaction to cocaine.
An overdose of cocaine can produce the following effects:
- faster, irregular heartbeats
- lung failure; heart failure
- burst blood vessels in the brain
Cocaine psychosis may also occur as a result of either a single high dose of cocaine or a period of taking high doses of it. The symptoms include:
- hearing voices
- suspicion and fear of persecution