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What is cocaine?

Cocaine belongs to a group of drugs known as 'stimulants'. Stimulants speed up the messages going between the brain and the body.

Cocaine is extracted from leaves of the coca bush (Erythroxylum coca), which is native to South America. The coca leaf extract is then processed to create cocaine hydrochloride, freebase and crack.

The leaves of the coca bush have long been chewed and brewed into tea by indigenous people in South America for its stimulant and appetite suppressant properties.


Other names

Some of the common names for cocaine include C, coke, nose candy, snow, white lady, toot, Charlie, blow, white dust and stardust.

Freebase is also known as 'base', and crack is sometimes referred to as 'rock' or 'wash'.


What does cocaine look like?

The most common form of cocaine is cocaine hydrochloride. This is a white, crystalline powder with a bitter, numbing taste.

Cocaine hydrochloride can be further processed to produce cocaine base, known as freebase and crack. Freebase is a white powder, while crack generally comes in the form of crystals that range in colour from white or cream to transparent with a pink or yellow hue.

Cocaine hydrochloride is often mixed, or 'cut', with other substances such as lactose and glucose, to dilute it before being sold.


How is it used?

Cocaine hydrochloride is most commonly 'snorted'. It can also be injected. Some people rub it into the gums, where it is absorbed into the bloodstream. Others add it to a drink or food. Freebase and crack cocaine are usually smoked.


Effects of cocaine

Effects vary from person to person. They will depend on the size, weight and health of the person taking cocaine, whether they are used to taking the drug, whether other drugs are present in their body, and of course, the amount taken.

There is no safe level of drug use. Use of any drug always carries some risk—even medications can produce unwanted side effects. It is important to be careful when taking any type of drug.


Immediate effects

The effects of cocaine can last anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours, depending on how the cocaine is taken. When the immediate 'rush' of the cocaine has worn off, the person may experience a 'crash'.


Low to moderate doses  

  • Some of the effects that may be experienced after taking cocaine include:

  • immediate 'rush', feelings of euphoria

  • feelings of invincibility

  • a sense of wellbeing

  • increased talkativeness or quiet contemplation and rapture

  • increased confidence

  • feelings of great physical strength and mental capacity

  • increased libido

  • anxiety, agitation and panic

  • paranoia

  • unpredictable violent/aggressive behaviour

  • feeling more awake, reduced need for sleep

  • increased performance on simple tasks

  • enlarged (dilated) pupils

  • dry mouth

  • increased breathing rate

  • increased blood pressure and heart rate (after initial slowing)

  • reduced appetite

  • increased body temperature

  • increased strength and energy

  • indifference to pain and localised pain relief.


Higher doses  

A high dose of cocaine can cause a person to overdose. This means that a person has taken more cocaine than their body can cope with. Not knowing the strength or purity of the cocaine increases the risk of overdose. Injecting cocaine increases the risk of overdose due to large amounts of the drug entering the blood stream and quickly travelling to the brain.


Tolerance and dependence

There is evidence that after prolonged use, cocaine is highly addictive. People who use cocaine regularly can develop dependence and tolerance to it, which means they need to take larger amounts of cocaine to get the same effect.

Dependence on cocaine can be psychological, physical, or both. People who are dependent on cocaine find that using the drug becomes far more important than other activities in their life. They crave the drug and find it very difficult to stop using it.

People who are psychologically dependent on cocaine may find they feel an urge to use it when they are in specific surroundings or socialising with friends.

Physical dependence occurs when a person's body adapts to cocaine and gets used to functioning with the cocaine present.



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