What is Cocaine?
Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant that directly affects the brain. Cocaine has been labeled the drug of the 1980s and ’90s, because of its extensive popularity and use during this period. However, cocaine is not a new drug. In fact, it is one of the oldest known drugs. The pure chemical, cocaine hydrochloride, has been an abused substance for more than 100 years, and coca leaves, the source of cocaine, have been ingested for thousands of years.
Pure cocaine was first extracted from the leaf of the Erythroxylon coca bush, which grows primarily in Peru and Bolivia, in the mid-19th century. In the early 1900s, it became the main stimulant drug used in most of the tonics/elixirs that were developed to treat a wide variety of illnesses. Today, cocaine is a Schedule II drug, meaning that it has high potential for abuse, but can be administered by a doctor for legitimate medical uses, such as a local anesthetic for some eye, ear, and throat surgeries.
There are basically two chemical forms of cocaine: the hydrochloride salt and the “freebase.” The hydrochloride salt, or powdered form of cocaine, dissolves in water and, when abused, can be taken intravenously (by vein) or intranasally (in the nose). Freebase refers to a compound that has not been neutralized by an acid to make the hydrochloride salt. The freebase form of cocaine is smokable.
Cocaine is generally sold on the street as a fine, white, crystalline powder, known as “coke,” “C,” “snow,” “flake,” or “blow.” Street dealers generally dilute it with such inert substances as cornstarch, talcum powder, and/or sugar, or with such active drugs as procaine (a chemically-related local anesthetic) or with such other stimulants as amphetamines.
Cocaine abuse and addiction continues to be a problem that plagues our nation. In 1997, for example, an estimated 1.5 million Americans age 12 and older were chronic cocaine users. Although this is an improvement over the 1985 estimate of 5.7 million users, we still have a substantial distance to go in reducing the use of this addictive stimulant. Science is helping. For example, we now know more about where and how cocaine acts in the brain, including how the drug produces its pleasurable effects and why it is so addictive.
Through the use of sophisticated technology, scientists can actually see the dynamic changes that occur in the brain as an individual takes the drug. They can observe the different brain changes that occur as a person experiences the “rush,” the “high,” and, finally, the craving of cocaine. They can also identify parts of the brain that become active when a cocaine addict sees or hears environmental stimuli that trigger the craving for cocaine. Because these types of studies pinpoint specific brain regions, they are critical to identifying targets for developing medications to treat cocaine addiction.
The principal routes of cocaine administration are oral, intranasal, intravenous, and inhalation. The slang terms for these routes are, respectively, “chewing,” “snorting,” “mainlining,” “injecting,” and “smoking” (including freebase and crack cocaine). Snorting is the process of inhaling cocaine powder through the nostrils, where it is absorbed into the bloodstream through the nasal tissues. Injecting releases the drug directly into the bloodstream, and heightens the intensity of its effects. Smoking involves the inhalation of cocaine vapor or smoke into the lungs, where absorption into the bloodstream is as rapid as by injection. The drug can also be rubbed onto mucous tissues. Some users combine cocaine powder or crack with heroin in a “speedball.”
Cocaine use ranges from occasional use to repeated or compulsive use, with a variety of patterns between these extremes. There is no safe way to use cocaine. Any route of administration can lead to absorption of toxic amounts of cocaine, leading to acute cardiovascular or cerebrovascular emergencies that could result in sudden death. Repeated cocaine use by any route of administration can produce addiction and other adverse health consequences.
Source: Parts reprinted from The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Crack cocaine is a strong central nervous system stimulant.
Crack cocaine remains a very serious drug problem in the United States and elsewhere. Cocaine is one of, if not, the most powerfully addictive drugs of them all. The term “crack” refers to the crackling sound heard when the substance is heated, presumably from the sodium bicarbonate that is used in the production of crack. Crack is almost always smoked. While nearly always smoked, there are reports of users injecting crack in a few cities. In some cases, when users can not find powder cocaine to inject, they inject crack instead.
Crack is the street name given to a freebase form of cocaine that has been processed from the powdered cocaine hydrochloride form to a smokable substance. Crack cocaine is processed with ammonia or sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and water, and heated to remove the hydrochloride. Crack rocks tend to be sold in sizes of approximately 0.1 to 0.2 grams, which sell for approximately $10 and $20, respectively.
Crack cocaine is a highly addictive and powerful stimulant that is derived from powdered cocaine using a conversion process. Crack is the term for the smokable form of cocaine. Crack is cocaine that has been processed from cocaine hydrochloride to a free base for smoking. Crack typically is available in small rock form. This form of cocaine comes in a rock crystal to be heated and its vapors smoked. Crack cocaine is processed with ammonia or sodium bicarbonate, baking soda, and water. It is then heated to remove the hydrochloride producing a form of cocaine that can be smoked. Crack cocaine is cocaine that has not been neutralized by an acid to make the hydrochloride salt. The term freebase makes reference to the fact it no longer contains (hydrochloride) acid, a base element. Crack is produced by dissolving powdered cocaine in a mixture of water and ammonia or sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). The mixture is boiled until a solid substance forms.
The solid is removed from the liquid, dried, and then broken into the chunks (rocks) and sold as crack cocaine. Crack rocks are white or off-white and vary in size and shape.
Crack emerged as a drug of abuse in the mid-1980s. It is abused because it produces an immediate high and is easy and inexpensive to produce. Smoking crack cocaine delivers large quantities of the drug to the lungs, producing an immediate and intense euphoric effect, comparable to intravenous injection, but it does not last long. Because crack is smoked, the user experiences a high in less than 10 seconds. The effects of smoking crack are felt almost immediately after smoking and are very intense. For example, the high from smoking cocaine may last from 5 to 10 minutes, while the high from snorting the drug can last for 15 to 20 minutes.
An added danger of cocaine use is when cocaine and alcohol are consumed at the same time. When these substances are mixed, the human liver combines cocaine and alcohol and manufactures a third substance, coca ethylene. This intensifies cocaine’s euphoric effects, while also possibly increasing the risk of sudden death. Most cocaine-related deaths are a result of cardiac arrest or seizures followed by respiratory arrest. Compulsive cocaine use seems to develop more rapidly when the substance is smoked rather than snorted. A tolerance to the cocaine high may be developed and many addicts report that they fail to achieve as much pleasure as they did from their first cocaine exposure.
Smoking crack cocaine can also cause particularly aggressive paranoid behavior in users. Physical effects of using crack cocaine include constricted blood vessels and increased temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. Users may also experience feelings of restlessness, irritability and anxiety. Evidence suggests that users who smoke cocaine may be at even greater risk of causing harm to themselves than those who snort the substance. Cocaine smokers may suffer from acute respiratory problems including coughing, shortness of breath, and severe chest pains with lung trauma and bleeding.
Source: Parts reprinted from The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)