Cocaine: Effects, Usage & Warnings

What is cocaine?

Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant drug made from the leaves of the coca plant native to South America. Although health care providers can use it for valid medical purposes, such as local anesthesia for some surgeries, recreational cocaine use is illegal.

As a street drug, cocaine looks like a fine, white, crystal powder. Street dealers often mix it with things like cornstarch, talcum powder, or flour to increase profits. They may also mix it with other drugs such as the stimulant amphetamine, or synthetic opioids, including fentanyl.

Adding synthetic opioids to cocaine is especially risky when people using cocaine don’t realize it contains this dangerous additive. Increasing numbers of overdose deaths among cocaine users might be related to this tampered cocaine.

How do people use cocaine?

People snort cocaine powder through the nose, or they rub it into their gums. Others dissolve the powder and inject it into the bloodstream. Some people inject a combination of cocaine and heroin, called a Speedball.

Another popular method of use is to smoke cocaine that has been processed to make a rock crystal (also called “freebase cocaine”). The crystal is heated to produce vapors that are inhaled into the lungs. This form of cocaine is called Crack, which refers to the crackling sound of the rock as it’s heated. Some people also smoke Crack by sprinkling it on marijuana or tobacco, and smoke it like a cigarette.

People who use cocaine often take it in binges—taking the drug repeatedly within a short time, at increasingly higher doses—to maintain their high.

What are the short-term effects of cocaine?

Short-term health effects of cocaine include:

  • Extreme happiness and energy
  • Mental alertness
  • Hypersensitivity to sight, sound, and touch
  • Irritability
  • Paranoia—extreme and unreasonable distrust of others

Some people find that cocaine helps them perform simple physical and mental tasks more quickly, although others experience the opposite effect. Large amounts of cocaine can lead to bizarre, unpredictable, and violent behavior.

Cocaine’s effects appear almost immediately and disappear within a few minutes to an hour. How long the effects last and how intense they are depend on the method of use. Injecting or smoking cocaine produces a quicker and stronger but shorter-lasting high than snorting. The high from snorting cocaine may last 15 to 30 minutes. The high from smoking may last 5 to 10 minutes.

What are the long-term effects of cocaine?

Some long-term health effects of cocaine depend on the method of use and include the following:

  • 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: 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

How does cocaine use lead to addiction?

As with other drugs, repeated use of cocaine can cause long-term changes in the brain’s reward circuit and other brain systems, which may lead to addiction. The reward circuit eventually adapts to the extra dopamine caused by the drug, becoming steadily less sensitive to it. As a result, people take stronger and more frequent doses to feel the same high they did initially and to obtain relief from withdrawal.

Withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Increased appetite
  • Unpleasant dreams and insomnia
  • Slowed thinking

How can people get treatment for cocaine addiction?

Behavioral therapy may be used to treat cocaine addiction. Examples include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Contingency management or motivational incentives—providing rewards to patients who remain substance free
  • Therapeutic communities—drug-free residences in which people in recovery from substance use disorders help each other to understand and change their behaviors
  • Community based recovery groups, such as 12-step programs

While no government-approved medicines are currently available to treat cocaine addiction, researchers are testing some treatments that have been used to treat other disorders, including:

  • Disulfiram (used to treat alcoholism)
  • Modanifil (used to treat narcolepsy—a disorder characterized by uncontrollable episodes of deep sleep)
  • Lorcaserin (used to treat obesity)
  • Buprenorphine (used to treat opioid addiction)

Source: NIDA. (2018, July 13). Cocaine. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/cocaine on 2019, Marc 62

* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.