The term “cocaine” is short for an alkaloid (a nitrogenous organic molecule that has a pharmacological effect on humansi) found in the coca plant, native to South America. This alkaloid is a psycho stimulant that increases dopamine given to the brain.1
Dopamine is a naturally occurring chemical in a person’s brain that controls the psychological reward system and is the body’s controller of pain and pleasure. When cocaine is used, it produces an abnormal amount of dopamine, overstimulating the brain and causing an intense, pleasurable reaction.
Street names for cocaine or cocaine slang include big c, blow, coke, flake, freebase, lady, nose candy, rock, snow, snowbirds, and white crack.2
The drug cocaine is a white powder that can be snorted, dissolved in water or injected. Crack cocaine can be smoked.2
Found in a plant native to South America, the unprocessed form of cocaine is the stimulant in the coca plant. As early as the sixth century, Peruvian Indians began chewing coca leaves or mixed with limejuice to combat cold, curb hunger, and to stay awake. However, the ancient use of chewing the plant in South American countries is not the same as cocaine, the drug.3
The alkaloid within coca plants, cocaine, was first isolated from the coca leaf in 1855 by German chemist Friedrich Gaedcke. A purification process was soon developed and first became the base ingredient for anesthesia in the late 1800s. Cocaine has very little medical use today. However, it is a Schedule II drug, which means that it has a high potential for abuse, but can be used by doctors for medical purposes.4
After cocaine is snorted, dissolved in water and drank or injected in a user’s vein’s, cocaine gets absorbed into the blood stream, reaching the brain and stimulates the nervous system.
Physical and psychological effects of cocaine vary depending on the person using it. All users experience some type of drug-induced short-term effect from cocaine. Depending on the amount of cocaine used over a specific period of time, there are various long-term effects. It is important to note that cocaine is a highly addictive drug.
- Increased energy
- Sense of “euphoria"
- Mental alertness 5
- Increased blood pressure
- Nose bleeds
- Constricted blood vessels
- Dilated pupils
- Increased energy
- Increased heart rate
- Decreased appetite
- Increased body temperature
As reported by The White House Office of Drug Control Policy, the DEA (U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration) reported that cocaine users who smoke or inject cocaine might be at a greater risk of stronger harm than from snorting cocaine.6 This is because cocaine smokers may particularly suffer from acute respiratory problems. Cocaine users who inject cocaine are at risk of transmitting or getting diseases from needles or injection equipment.6 Cocaine users who snort cocaine can get nosebleeds.
The extended use of cocaine is linked to a long list of long-term effects on cocaine users. The highly addictive properties of cocaine cause a person to become dependent on cocaine because of the need for these effects. Cocaine addicts therefore run the risk of major long-term effects on their body, mental capacity, and social well being.
- Heart disease
- Heart attacks
- Respiratory failure
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Blurred vision
- Chest pain
- Fever 7
- Auditory hallucinations
- Mood disturbance 7
Cocaine use causes an intense rush of joy, euphoria, pleasure, and energy. The effect lasts for about 20 to 30 minutes, depending on how much of the drug has been taken. When coming down from the high, the withdrawal symptoms are immediate. This is know as the “crash.” Not only does user desire more cocaine, withdrawal symptoms of cocaine also include:
- lack of pleasure
- increase appetite 8
*These withdrawal symptoms are due to the fact that the cocaine user’s brain is coming down from an intense rush of dopamine (chemical that gives pleasure to the brain). This increase of dopamine from the drug causes the intense feelings of happiness. Oppositely, when the user is coming down, he/she will naturally feel the opposite because he/she no longer has that amount of dopamine in his/her system.
2) “Cocaine/Crack.” The Partnership for a Drug-Free America. Date downloaded: June 21, 2010.
3) “Cocaine Abuse.” EmedicineHealth. Date downloaded: June 21, 2010.
4) “Cocaine.” U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Date downloaded: June 22, 2010.
5) “Cocaine Effects.” Cocaine Effects. Date downloaded: June 21, 2010.
6) “Health Effects.” Cocaine Facts & Figures. Office of National Drug Control Policy. Date downloaded: June 21, 2010.
7) “Cocaine Effects.” Cocaine Effects. Date downloaded: June 21, 2010.
8) “Cocaine withdrawal.” Medline Plus. Date downloaded: June 22, 2010.