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Cocaine use and its effects

Cocaine, or cocaine hydrochloride, is a purified extract from the leaves of the coca shrub, a plant that grows in the Andes region of South America. Cocaine was once regarded as the “caviar of street drugs” and became popular as the recreational drug of choice for the rich and famous. During the 1990s, the price of cocaine dropped sharply. This also coincided with a deterioration in the purity of the drug available on the streets. Nevertheless, the UK, along with Spain, still has the highest levels of cocaine use in Europe.

How does cocaine work?

Smoking or injecting cocaine has almost instantaneous effects. Snorting cocaine through the nose allows rapid absorption through nasal tissues making it nearly as fast-acting. Cocaine quickly enters the bloodstream and travels to the brain where it interferes with neurotransmitters, which allow nerves to communicate with each other. The resulting blockage and chemical build up result in euphoria, or the powerful sensation of being 'high'.

Main types of cocaine

Powdered cocaine

This is the white powdered (hydrochloride salt form) form of cocaine, also known as “blow” or “coke”. It dissolves in water and can be snorted, injected, swallowed or applied to oral, vaginal or rectal mucous membranes, or mixed with alcohol.

Crack cocaine

Also known as “crack” or “rock”, this is the “freebase” form of the drug that separates the cocaine base from the hydrochloride, producing small, peanut sized rocks. The result is an intense, short-acting drug that can be smoked.

Cocaine use in the UK

Use is illegal in the UK and both cocaine and crack are controlled as Class A drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

Powdered cocaine is the second most commonly used drug after cannabis.

Possession of cocaine carries a maximum penalty of up to 7 years in prison and a fine. Supplying cocaine carries a penalty of life imprisonment plus a fine.

Effects of cocaine use

Cocaine and crack are both short-acting stimulant drugs. Cocaine's immediate effects wear off in 30 minutes to 2 hours. Smoking or injecting cocaine results in a faster and shorter high, compared to snorting it. With crack, the effects come on even quicker when smoking but are not as long lasting.

General effects that cocaine users commonly experience include:

  • A sense of being more alert or energetic
  • A sense of being physically strong
  • A sense of having greater mental capacity

Cocaine primarily has a powerful effect on the brain and the central nervous system. Psychiatric effects include:

  • Euphoria
  • Increased energy, excitement and sociability
  • Increased confidence, talkativeness and laughter
  • Decreased hunger and fatigue
  • Delusional sense of power and competence
  • Increased emotional instability
  • Restlessness, irritability and apprehension
  • Paranoia, mania, psychosis or hallucinations

As cocaine travels through the blood it can trigger strong effects on the rest of the body including:

WebMD Medical Reference

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