In 1986, an American music group by the name of General Kane released a song describing the painful and consuming nature of drug addiction. The fictional Nathan “Applejack” Lewis came from a loving, two-parent home, but after being exposed to drugs, his life was turned upside down. He stole and even prostituted his wife … and himself … to maintain his drug addiction. There is nothing glamorous about cocaine … in any form. There is no grey area or silver lining when it comes to cocaine usage. It is a dangerous, illegal drug that should be avoided at all costs. Let’s jump straight in and get to the facts.
What is Cocaine?
The DEA categorizes drugs into a number of categories according to the potency and potential for addiction. Cocaine is listed as a Schedule II drug, which is defined as a drug which has the potential for abuse and physical dependence.
Cocaine can appear as a fine, white, crystal powder or as a solid, rock crystal. It can be snorted through the nose, injected into the bloodstream via a needle, smoked, or rubbed into the gums to induce a high that involves feelings of increased energy and alertness. It is an extremely addictive and destructive drug. Cocaine increases the arousal activity in the brain, resulting in feelings of invincibility, loss of appetite, and sexual arousal.
Cocaine has many names. These names differ according to the user group or method of ingestion.
More common nicknames include:
Other names for cocaine that have been used include:
- Aunt Nora
- Nose Candy
How is cocaine used?
Cocaine is ingested in a number of ways. The white powder is snorted through the nose or rubbed into the gums. It is also dissolved and injected into the bloodstream using a needle. Another method of ingestion involves heating up the rock crystal version of the drug and breathing it into the lungs.
Crack vs. Powder Cocaine
When the rock crystal version of cocaine is smoked or inhaled into the lungs as a vapor, it is known as Crack (referring to the crackling sound that it makes while being heated). The key difference in crack and cocaine is the rock crystal form and the method of ingestion, (also known as “freebase cocaine”). Since these are essentially the same drug, please consider all of the facts shared here as descriptions of both forms.
Alcohol & Cocaine
Cocaine, as is the case with many other drugs, is not usually consumed solo. Cocaine dealers often combine cocaine the drug with powders such as talcum and cornstarch, and even flour, diluting the product, in order to increase profits. To enhance the potency, street dealers and users may mix cocaine with other stimulants such as amphetamine or synthetic opioids, including fentanyl.
One of the most common blends of cocaine is alcohol.
Many users drink alcohol, before, during or immediately after they use cocaine in order to enhance the high or feeling of euphoria. The danger here is that users aren’t usually aware of how much alcohol is being ingested, or vice versa, and can easily overdose or increase the chance of other adverse reactions.
Some people also sprinkle cocaine on cigarettes and cigars, mixing it with nicotine, marijuana, and other drugs while smoking it like a cigarette.
How it works
Cocaine sends high levels of dopamine, a natural chemical messenger in the body, into the part of the brain that controls pleasure and reward. Normally, dopamine is “recycled” and sent back out of the brain, but cocaine causes it to pile up in the brain, flooding the nerve cells and creating an intense feeling of energy and alertness.
Cocaine’s effects are immediate and short-lived. The length and intensity of the effects depends on the method of ingestion. Injecting and snorting cocaine produces a stronger and quicker high that doesn’t last as long as the other methods. The high from snorting lasts about 15 to 30 minutes and the high from smoking lasts about 5 to 10 minutes.
Some of the effects include:
- intense happiness
- decreased appetite
- increased agility
- extreme sensitivity to touch, sound, and sight
- paranoid feeling, extreme and unreasonable distrust of others
- bizarre, unpredictable, violent behaviors
Additional health effects include:
- constricted blood vessels
- dilated pupils
- raised body temperature and blood pressure
- fast or irregular heartbeat
- tremors and muscle twitches
An abuser can become addicted to cocaine after one use. Stronger, more frequent uses of cocaine can cause long-term changes to the chemistry of the brain.
Since cocaine increases the dopamine in the reward center of the brain, it causes the reward circuit to adapt to this high amount of dopamine and the brain to become less sensitive to the chemical response. Your body and mind begin to rely on the increased feeling of pleasure, which leads users to consume stronger doses in order to obtain the same high and to prevent withdrawal symptoms.
- poor memory
- 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
- slow reaction time
- parkinson’s disease
The table below shows some of the effects according to the method of use.
|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 (Rubbing on Gums)||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|
Additional effects of cocaine and other amphetamines include anxiety, depression, paranoia, and psychosis.
Signs of Use
Cocaine use has observable signs that can be easily recognized if you know what you are looking for.
Signs of cocaine use include:
- white powder around the nose or mouth
- burn marks on fingers or lips
- mood swings
- dilated pupils
- hoarse throat
- sniffling and or runny/bloody nose
- fast heartbeat
- nausea or stomach pain
Other signs of cocaine abuse include sudden financial troubles, including the loss of money, engaging in risky behaviors, decreased personal hygiene, and stealing or selling personal property.
Dangers of Abuse
Overuse of the individual ingredients used to make cocaine can lead to serious neuropsychological complications alone, and even more harsh reactions when combined.
Increasing use leads to addiction and the impulse to combine other illicit substances such as alcohol and opioids to maintain a high.
Additional dangers of using cocaine include:
- lost sense of smell
- reduced cognitive abilities such as decision making
- inflammation of nose tissues
- holes in roof of mouth
- lung damage
- nervous system disorders
Cocaine abuse can also cause significant damage to the reproductive, digestive and cardiovascular systems. These affects include infertility, malnourishment, infections and sexual dysfunction.
Withdrawal side effects
Quitting cocaine is uncomfortable. If someone stops taking the substance, they may experience symptoms of withdrawal.
Cocaine withdrawal symptoms include:
- chills or goosebumps
- faster heartbeat
- loss of appetite
- muscle aches
- nausea and vomiting
- runny nose
- sleep problems
- teary eyes
Cocaine use affects people of all ages and ethnicities, but it does vary across different groups, and it is currently on the rise in the U.S. Teens as young as 12 years old have admitted to using cocaine with nearly six million teens admitting to usage in 2017. An additional one million people a year admit to trying cocaine for the first time.
The highest cocaine use bracket is adults aged 18 to 25 and the second highest bracket is aged 26 to 34. Following this group, over 500,000 people over the age of 55 also abuse cocaine.
As is the case with a number of drugs, nearly twice as many men than women abuse cocaine. As a result, more men die of cocaine use than women.
Interestingly, while cocaine use is about the same across all ethnicities, at a rate of 1.2 to 2 percent of the population, African Americans have statistically been more likely to suffer from overdose death than any other group.
A cocaine overdose is a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate treatment to prevent death or further damage to the body’s organs and central nervous system.
In 2015, over 18,000 people per 100,000 abusers were admitted into the hospital as a result of cocaine overdose, adding up to nearly 600,000 hospitalizations in one year.
According to emergency room data, over ten percent of drug overdoses are attributed to cocaine.
As previously mentioned, the highest percentage of cocaine related overdose deaths occur in the African American community. In addition, it is reported that more overdoses occur in the northeast and southern United States, likely as a result of increased access to the drug.
Signs of cocaine overdose include:
- trouble breathing
- inability to keep eyes open, focus, speak, and even unconsciousness
- blue or gray skin
- darkened lips and fingernails
- gurgling noises from throat