Fact Sheet – Cocaine

What Is Cocaine?

Cocaine is a powerful stimulant drug made from the leaves of the coca plant. Powdered cocaine (cocaine hydrochloride, a salt) is known on the street as

  • Coke
  • Snow
  • Flake
  • Blow

Crack cocaine is cocaine that has been processed from cocaine hydrochloride into a rock crystal form that can be smoked. It gets its name from the cracking sound it makes when heated. Crack is sometimes called “rock” or “freebase.”

How Many People Use Cocaine?

The 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimated that nearly 34 million Americans have used cocaine at some time in their lives.

The same survey estimated the following:

  • About 2 million people in the United States currently use cocaine.
  • Some 2.5 percent of young people ages 12 to 17 reported that they had used cocaine at least one time.
  • Among young adults ages 18 to 25, 16 percent reported using cocaine at least one time.

What Are the Effects of Cocaine?

The immediate psychological effects of cocaine are similar to those of meth and include:

  • Euphoria.
  • Increased energy.
  • Increased talkativeness.
  • Increased mental alertness.
  • Increased sensitivity to sensations of sight, sound, and touch.
  • Increased confidence.
  • Increased feelings of sexual desire.

The immediate physical effects of cocaine include:

  • Constricted blood vessels.
  • Dilated pupils.
  • Increased temperature.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Increased blood pressure.
  • Decreased appetite.
  • Decreased sleep.

In rare instances, sudden death can occur with cocaine use, even the first time someone uses the drug. Drinking alcohol with cocaine increases this risk. The liver combines cocaine and alcohol and manufactures a third substance, cocaethylene. Cocaethylene intensifies cocaine’s euphoric effects while increasing the risk of sudden death.

Chronic psychological effects of cocaine use include:

  • Irritability.
  • Depression.
  • Increasing restlessness.
  • Paranoia.
  • Paranoid psychosis with auditory hallucinations.
  • Bizarre and/or violent behavior (with high doses)
  • Damaged ability to feel pleasure without the drug.
  • Exposure to HIV or the hepatitis C virus through reckless, unprotected sex.

Chronic physical effects of meth use include:

  • Disturbances in heart rhythm.
  • Heart attacks.
  • Chest pain.
  • Bronchitis and pneumonia.
  • Respiratory failure.
  • Strokes.
  • Seizures.
  • Headaches.

In addition, loss of appetite over time can lead to significant weight loss and malnutrition. As with meth, the way in which cocaine is used may cause particular problems.

People who regularly inject cocaine may experience:

  • Abscesses (infected sores) at injection sites.
  • Serious allergic reactions.
  • Exposure to HIV and hepatitis C virus.

Regularly snorting cocaine can lead to:

  • Loss of sense of smell.
  • Nosebleeds.
  • Holes in the septum, the cartilage between nostrils.
  • Problems with swallowing.
  • Hoarseness.
  • Overall irritation of the nasal septum leading to a chronically inflamed, runny nose.

Smoking crack cocaine can lead to the same problems as smoking meth:

  • Throat problems.
  • Burned lips.
  • Lung congestion.
  • Severe coughing.
  • Chronic lung disease.

What About Using Cocaine During Pregnancy?

Babies born to mothers who used cocaine during pregnancy may:

  • Be born prematurely.
  • Have low birth weights.
  • Have smaller heads.
  • Be shorter in length.

Babies also may be exposed to HIV or hepatitis if the mother is infected with these viruses. Foetal cocaine exposure does not seem to cause as serious and long-lasting problems as was once thought.

However, as cocaine-exposed children grow up, they may have subtle, yet significant, problems later in life in areas that are important for success in school, such as:

  • Paying attention to tasks.
  • Thinking things through.
  • Learning new information.

Cocaine Addiction

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