Cocaine: everything you need to know
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What is Cocaine? A definition
Cocaine, or coke for short, is a strong, addictive, illicit stimulant drug. It’s made from the leaves of the coca plant found in South America. Locals to the area have chewed and ingested the coca plant’s leaves for thousands of years for the stimulating effects. But the effects of the cocaine used today are much stronger than those from leaves pulled directly from the plant.
The drug is known as a party or club drug due to its energizing and euphoric effects. Ingesting cocaine gives users a quick and immediate surge of energy and excitement. It also allows people to drink greater amounts for longer periods of time. That means cocaine goes hand in hand with the nightlife scene, especially in larger cities.
Effects of cocaine are short-lived, though, usually lasting between five minutes and half an hour. The short high leads users to binge on cocaine, meaning they use large amounts in a small time frame. Cocaine users multiply their chances for dangerous consequences when they binge use the drug.
The Drug Enforcement Administration classifies cocaine as a Schedule II substance. It’s recognized for its dangerously high potential for physical and psychological dependence and narrow acceptance for medical use.
What is Cocaine Made Of?
Cocaine is made from the leaves of the coca plants that are native to South America. Chewing the plant’s leaves on their own provides stimulating effects still popular with locals today. Scientists first isolated the active chemical, cocaine hydrochloride, from the plant’s leaves over 100 years ago.
Pure cocaine was popular in the early 1900s in a number of different formulas for illnesses. Surgeons also used cocaine as an anesthetic before the invention of local anesthesia. Coca Cola even used cocaine in their earliest versions of the soda! As research revealed the incredibly addictive nature of the drug, though, regulation over its widespread use settled in.
What Forms Does Cocaine Come In?
Cocaine comes in a few different forms. It is still available to doctors for some medical uses, like local anesthesia for smaller surgeries. Doctors don’t use the drug as often as they once did since there are more effective alternatives. But regulations from the DEA allow those who still prefer using it to do so.
The cocaine found on the streets is a different story. Again, there are two main forms of cocaine that people abuse: hydrochloride salt cocaine (which is water-soluble) and cocaine base (which is insoluble, also called freebase).
The water-soluble form of cocaine is the most commonly found form of the drug. It comes as a crystalline, white substance in small chunks or crushed down into a fine powder. Dealers often “cut” the drug (or dilute it) with other substances, such as flour, cornstarch, or baking soda. This helps increase their profits as they can sell more product with the fillers cut in.
People usually use cocaine by snorting the powder or rubbing it into their gums. It’s the easiest and quickest way to use it, especially while out partying for the night. Some users dissolve the drug into water and inject the mixture intravenously. This method provides much stronger effects but is a less common way to ingest it.
Cocaine base, or freebase cocaine, is made by processing cocaine with a substance like baking soda. They heat the mixture to remove the hydrochloride which leaves behind a smokable, rocklike substance. Freebase cocaine is referred to as crack cocaine or crack rocks due to the cracking sound it makes while users smoke it.
Crack cocaine is even more addictive than regular cocaine because it is a more potent substance. It starts as a cheaper alternative to the very expensive price tag of cocaine. Since it’s so addictive, though, crack use often spirals out of control quickly and becomes an incredibly expensive habit.
Chemistry of Cocaine
Cocaine works by affecting the brain’s chemistry and normal functioning. When a person ingests cocaine it interacts with their brain’s mesolimbic dopamine system. This natural “reward pathway” is stimulated by different things such as food, sex, or drugs like cocaine. In addition to the reward system, this area also affects emotions and motivation.
The human brain is built to regulate all types of processes including the release of dopamine. Normally when the brain releases a dopamine molecule, the molecule binds to a dopamine receptor. The receptor passes the message to feel excited or happy before another process takes over to recycle the dopamine molecule away.
Rather than allowing a person’s brain to regulate dopamine levels normally, cocaine completely hijacks this process. When someone ingests cocaine their brain releases a flood of dopamine molecules. Then the cocaine binds to the dopamine receptors and interrupts the brain’s ability to recycle its dopamine molecules.
Since the person’s brain isn’t removing any molecules from their receptors, it leads to a massive buildup of dopamine. This imbalance in brain chemistry caused by the dopamine buildup is what causes the pleasurable effects of cocaine.
Once their brain removes all of the dopamine the user is left with the feeling of the “crash.” They have a down or depressed mood caused by the sudden absence of their dopamine buildup. It takes some time but their brain chemistry eventually balances back out again. The more often they use cocaine and affect their brain and its natural chemistry, the longer lasting the impact.
Drugs are a hot button topic in the United States. Media outlets often make extreme claims about drug use as they clamor for clicks, interactions, and views. Sometimes their alarm is grounded in fact but other times they operate strictly on myths. There are a few different myths circulated about cocaine that simply aren’t true.
Sometimes news outlets or other forms of media refer to cocaine use in the United States as an epidemic. While there are other active drug epidemics like the opioid problem gripping the nation, a true cocaine epidemic is a myth. In reality, cocaine use has mostly declined since its peak in the 1980s. Only 2.2 percent of the population ages 12 and older reported using cocaine in 2017.
Others claim that cocaine use improves mental acuteness and performance. The stimulating effects of cocaine supposedly help people focus on the task at hand but this is also a myth. Cocaine actually has quite the opposite effect. It often causes overstimulation and makes it challenging to pay attention to a single task at a time.
Another myth is that recreational cocaine use is not dangerous. Most people who use cocaine use it only while out with friends and think they are still safe. Since the high is short-lived, though, people tend to binge on the drug when they use it. In addition to using large amounts, they also tend to drink heavily and mixing alcohol and cocaine is incredibly dangerous.
Street Names and Nicknames for Cocaine
While cocaine does have plenty of street names just like every other drug, people still often refer to it by its full name. If they don’t call it by its full name, “coke” the most common slang name people use. There are a few other nicknames for cocaine including:
Where Does Cocaine Come From?
Cocaine is one of the world’s oldest and strongest stimulants, made from extracting the active ingredient in a naturally-growing plant. It has seen various surges in popularity throughout the years since chemists first extracted it. All kinds of people used cocaine over the past century, from everyday laypeople to scientists, artists, and actors.
It isn’t as readily available to the public as it once was in the early 1900’s and for good reason. Coke has a different reputation today now that the dangerous aspects of the drug are better understood. Where does cocaine come from and how has it changed since it was introduced?
Where Does Cocaine Grow?
Cocaine is an active substance in the coca plant, native to South America. Chewing leaves from the coca plant causes stimulating and energizing effects. The Ancient Incas of the Andes mountains chewed the leaves thousands of years before even the birth of Christ. They helped relieve the effects of living in the thin air caused by the mountains’ high altitudes.
Some botanists believe the plant started in the Amazon rainforest then cultivation spread to other parts of South America. And the Incas weren’t the only ones to chew coca leaves for their stimulating effects. Natives throughout South America benefited from the energy boosts that coca leaves provide.
While the stimulating effects were helpful, coca was not a drug intended for abuse in the same way cocaine is used today. South American natives used the plant mindfully and intentionally. Many indigenous people incorporated the leaves of the coca plant into some of their cultural religious ceremonies as well.
Where Did Cocaine Originate?
Coca leaves weren’t necessarily seen as an addictive drug during their first few thousands of years of use. As the Catholic church made its way into South America around the 1500’s, though, they held different beliefs about the plant. Leaders of the Catholic church thought the coca leaf impacted their mission to spread Christianity.
They believed the coca leaves used in religious ceremonies in Peru threatened the message they wanted to share. Catholic bishops went as far as to ask that the Peruvian government outlaw coca use in 1551. The government in Peru refused to completely ban the plant but did restrict the size of land used to cultivate it.
This was the first attempt at restricting access to the stimulating effects of coca. While the Catholic church was mildly successful in limiting access, it didn’t stop the natives’ use of the plant. Then it took another nearly 300 years but chemists succeeded in creating an even more powerful stimulant from the coca plant.
When Was Cocaine Discovered?
Scientists were intrigued by the stimulating powers of the coca plant and wanted to learn more. In 1860, Albert Nieman, a chemist from Germany, isolated cocaine from coca leaves for the first time. While experimenting with the newly-isolated white powder, he realized the substance numbed his tongue.
This discovery led Carl Koller, an Austrian ophthalmologist, to use cocaine as an anesthetic during surgery. A once-excruciating cataract surgery was now bearable due to the numbing powers of cocaine. Not long after, the drug exploded in popularity for anesthetic use throughout the medical community.
Sigmund Freud, the renowned Austrian psychologist and psychoanalyst, also made use of cocaine. He described it as a “magical” substance helpful in curing depression and sexual dysfunction. Freud not only used cocaine himself but also prescribed it to those closest to him regularly.
Doctors soon learned about the lethal dose of cocaine as rates of accidental overdose shot up. Freud also had a patient who died from an overdose due to ingesting a prescribed dosage that was far too high. They started to realize the potential dangers of cocaine that came along with its helpful benefits.
When Did Cocaine Come to the US?
Cocaine started making its way into the United States just before the 1900’s. John Stith Pemberton was a pharmacist in America most known for his creation of the famous soft drink Coca-Cola. He originally crafted his concoction with a mix of sugar syrup and cocaine, first selling it in soda fountains in 1886. Bottled Coca-Cola started selling in 1899.
Pemberton’s energy-boosting, cocaine-laced soft drink only lasted until 1903 before removing the drug. This didn’t keep people from using it, though. Hollywood carried a pro-cocaine attitude along with the silent film industry. Then people discovered the quick-acting benefits of snorting cocaine around 1905.
By 1910, doctors saw multiple cases of patients coming into the hospital with nasal passage damage. Even further, about 5,000 people died of cocaine-related causes in a single year in 1912. The United States made the first move towards drug legislation in 1914 with the Harrison Narcotics Act, outlawing both the use and sale of products made from opium and coca.
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Cocaine’s reputation today is that of an expensive, high-end party drug. It’s notorious for being an upper that keeps people with enough money to pay for it awake and drinking throughout the night at bars and clubs.
It isn’t an affordable drug by most standards, especially because people tend to use cocaine in a binge fashion. Since the effects of the drug come on quickly but also diminish within half an hour, they use large amounts of it in a short period of time.
While it does keep many rich partygoers going throughout the night, cocaine isn’t only used as a club drug. Despite being known mainly as an illegal narcotic, it does have other uses, albeit on a smaller scale.
Would you believe some doctors still use cocaine for medical procedures today?
Does Cocaine Have Any Medical Uses?
The coca plant offered stimulating benefits for many South American natives throughout centuries. It wasn’t abused in the way that most of the cocaine used today is used illegally. Natives didn’t only use it for its stimulating effects, though; they also
The scientists who extracted the pure substance from the coca plant likely had no idea that use would turn into what it is today. Still, cocaine isn’t only used as an illicit narcotic drug. The majority of use might be illegal but it’s also still approved for use in medical procedures as an anesthetic drug.
History of Medical Cocaine Use
When scientists first isolated cocaine in the late 1800’s it wasn’t used only for its stimulating effects in the same way the coca plant was. Instead, scientists soon realized the incredible medical benefits of the isolated form of the drug.
The first scientist to isolate cocaine from the coca plant, Albert Nieman, noticed the drug’s numbing effects on his tongue. Nieman’s discovery led the ophthalmologist Carl Koller to use the drug as an anesthetic during eye surgeries.
The numbing effects of the drug that Neiman experienced also applied to the optical surgeries Koller conducted. Up until this point people who underwent cataract surgery usually had to do so without any anesthesia. Cocaine was a miracle drug for doctors like Koller.
He applied a cocaine solution to his patients’ eyes before operating on them and noticed they didn’t flinch when he applied a scalpel. Koller latched onto cocaine as an anesthetic immediately along with much of the rest of Europe along with America.
As rates of illicit cocaine use skyrocketed, though, the government had to regulate the availability of the drug. This led to its classification as a scheduled narcotic and its notoriety as a drug with a high potential for abuse. It was no longer as readily available as a medication compared to earlier in the century.
Use in Medicine Today
Cocaine use isn’t entirely illegal. It is a Schedule II drug which means the Drug Enforcement Administration recognizes its potential for abuse. But the DEA also recognizes the medical uses of cocaine, along with other drugs classified as Schedule II (Vicodin, Dilaudid, OxyContin, Adderall, Ritalin, fentanyl, etc.).
You can’t simply walk into a doctor’s office and ask for a cocaine prescription, though. Instead, this means that the DEA allows for cocaine use under certain circumstances for specific medical procedures or conditions. For example, there are some doctors who still choose to use cocaine in their treatments today as opposed to other anesthetics.
Cocaine is an incredibly effective topical medication, meaning it’s applied directly to the skin. It eliminates pain experienced during small surgeries which makes it a useful local anesthetic to this day. Some professionals use it for ear, nose, or throat operations or to relieve the pain associated with certain severe illnesses.
Cocaine as a Street Drug
Cocaine found on the street is far from the topical drug used in surgery rooms to this day. The street drug is a much less pure, much dirtier version of the originally isolated form of cocaine. Some manufacturers cut all types of useless and harmful substances in to increase their profits. Others cut their cocaine with cheaper amphetamines like Adderall or methamphetamine.
It’s known for its high price tag which makes it popular among the more well-to-do crowds. People often use cocaine during a night on the town to help keep them awake and drinking for longer than normal. The exciting effects of cocaine keep people wanting to do more and more of the drug.
Those with addictive personalities, tendencies, or a history of addiction find themselves hooked quickly. Coke is not an easy habit to maintain, especially because of the price tag that’s attached. Some people choose to switch to crack cocaine as an initially cheaper alternative. This usually doesn’t last long, though.
Crack cocaine is an even more addictive version of cocaine. What started as a cheaper way to get high quickly becomes the opposite. A crack habit can get expensive quickly, much quicker than if someone had only stuck to cocaine.
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Addiction to Cocaine
Despite its medicinal uses, cocaine is still primarily known for its use as an illicit drug. It is a highly addictive drug when used recreationally but it isn’t always easy to notice when someone has a cocaine addiction. There are two main differences between addicts and recreational users:
- Cocaine addicts crave the drug when they aren’t using it.
- Addicts continue using cocaine despite the consequences that may come with it.
Just because someone has an addiction, it doesn’t necessarily mean they use the drug every day. Some addicts might only get high on the weekends since cocaine is primarily used in a bige fashion. If a person craves the drug or uses it no matter what the consequence is, they are most likely an addict.
Cocaine addiction is a serious problem no matter how infrequently a person uses it. It leads to a number of health problems including placing incredible strain on the user’s heart. Quitting cocaine sooner rather than later is the single most important thing any addict can do.
U.S. Facts About Cocaine Addiction
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) shows the inconsistent rates of cocaine use over the past decade. While it seemed like use was declining after 2009, it spiked in 2014 and has trended back up since.
About 2.2 million people ages 12 and older in the United States, or 0.8 percent of the population, actively use cocaine. The highest rates of use are among the 18 to 25 year old population, with 1.9 percent of this age group reporting active use.
According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network, cocaine was involved in more than 500,000 of the 1.3 million drug-related emergency room visits in 2011. Additionally, cocaine overdoses claimed the lives of over 5,000 people in 2014, more than 13 people every day.
6 percent of people admitted to addiction treatment programs in 2013 attended due to cocaine use. Of those individuals, 68 percent were polydrug users, meaning they used other drugs in addition to cocaine.
Why is Cocaine Addictive?
Cocaine is a very powerful and addictive stimulant drug. It isn’t physically addictive in the same way that opiates or alcohol are. For example, when you quit drinking or using opiates, you experience awful physical withdrawal symptoms during the detox period.
While it might not lead to severe physical withdrawals, users still become dependent on cocaine in other ways. The NSDUH reported cocaine dependence in over 900,000 people in the United States in 2014.
Since the drug directly affects dopamine levels in the brain, many users depend on cocaine for a “pick-me-up” or a mood booster. It affects their brain’s natural reward system and reduces its sensitivity to the massive dopamine buildup the drug causes.
As their brain gets used to higher concentrations of dopamine, the person needs to use more to achieve the same result. Again, one of the most dangerous effects of cocaine is the drug’s impact on the heart.
Addicts often reach the point where they ingest dangerous amounts of cocaine at one time. Their tolerance and dependence keep them from realizing the impact of the drug on their heart. If they use too much at once, they could experience a stroke or cardiac arrest. This is why it’s important that addicts seek cocaine addiction treatment as soon as possible.
Where to Treat Cocaine Addiction?
Addiction treatment facilities exist nationwide to help people with their drug addictions and cocaine is no different. These facilities staff clinicians who specialize in working with individuals who struggle with drug addiction.
There are different levels of addiction treatment depending on the severity of use. When you look for a facility it’s important to consider which type of treatment will be most beneficial.
How to Treat Cocaine Addiction?
There are two main ways to treat any type of addiction: medication-assisted treatment and behavioral treatment. Some people benefit more from one method than the other but that doesn’t mean one type is better. Instead, research shows that a combination of the two often shows the best results.
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) uses medications to relieve withdrawal symptoms when a person first quits using drugs. The early stages of cocaine withdrawal are different than the symptoms experienced during opiate or alcohol withdrawal, though. Symptoms of cocaine withdrawal tend to be more psychological than physical.
Because of this, there are no medications officially approved by the FDA for use in treating cocaine withdrawals. Researchers are currently working on creating medications to help relieve symptoms during early recovery from cocaine addiction.
There are still some drugs that show promise for helping individuals in early recovery. Disulfiram is a medication used to treat people with alcohol use disorder that also works for those with cocaine addiction.
Scientists still don’t understand exactly how disulfiram works to treat cocaine addiction but they have a few ideas. They believe it has something to do with the way the medication impedes on the enzyme responsible for converting dopamine to norepinephrine.
Unfortunately not everyone sees success with disulfiram treatment. As more medications for cocaine addiction treatment make their way onto the market, people will have more options. Researchers hope to offer a solution for every person hoping to use meds to treat their addiction.
Behavioral treatment is the most popular way to treat cocaine addiction. Clinicians aim to reduce the harmful and destructive patterns of addiction in their clients’ lives through behavioral interventions.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is the most popular method for working with any individual seeking therapy. But dialectical behavior therapy is more commonly used when treating people who struggle with substance or alcohol use disorder.
Contingency management is another effective form of behavioral treatment for cocaine addiction. It is a motivational-based incentive program that offers rewards when clients stay clean and sober.
Clients earn points, vouchers, or chips for each clean urine analysis test they take. Then they can exchange their rewards for various items set up by each individual facility or treatment center. Oftentimes these items include things like gym memberships or gift cards to restaurants, things that encourage clients to continue staying clean.
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