Cocaine and crack cocaine

Cocaine is a stimulant that comes from the leaves of the South American coca bush. The leaves are processed to form a white crystalline powder (cocaine hydrochloride). This is the form of cocaine that is snorted, or dissolved in water and injected.

Cocaine, in its powdered form, is sometimes mixed with things that look like it, such as sugars, cornstarch or talcum powder. Crack cocaine or "freebase" cocaine are smokeable forms of cocaine that look like crystals or rocks. These forms of cocaine are made by chemically changing cocaine powder.

Also known as: angie, blow, C, Charlie, coke, crack, flake, freebase, hard, Henry, nose candy, rock, snow, and stardust.

Get help!

Get help if you or someone you know is using illegal drugs. Illegal drugs can be addictive and can damage your mind and body, sometimes permanently. Using illegal drugs can also result in a fine, prison sentence, and criminal record.

Effects and health risks

The effects of using cocaine or any other illegal drug can be unpredictable. They can vary from person to person and can also vary from occasion to occasion. The way a person feels after taking cocaine depends on many factors including:

  • the user's age and weight
  • the user's mood, expectations, and environment
  • any medical or psychiatric conditions the user may have
  • the amount of cocaine taken (dose)
  • the way the cocaine is taken (snorting, injecting or smoking)
  • how often and for how long cocaine has been used
  • the use of other drugs, including alcohol, non-prescription, prescription, and street drugs

How quickly cocaine reaches the brain depends on how it is taken. When it is snorted, this can take up to five minutes. Cocaine reaches the brain faster when it is smoked or injected.

Short-term effects

Cocaine can produce euphoria (the "high") and can make a person feel mentally alert, energetic, and talkative. The senses of sight, sound, and touch may also be heightened. A person on cocaine may feel agitated and nervous or calm and in control.

However, these effects eventually wear off and are replaced by feelings of anxiety or by depression. Users may also experience intense cravings for the drug. To prolong the pleasurable effects and avoid withdrawal symptoms, some people may stay "high" by using the drug for hours or days at a time (known as "bingeing").

Short-term use of cocaine can produce many other effects:

  • dry mouth
  • dilation of pupils
  • rapid breathing
  • increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • exaggerated reflexes
  • reduced appetite
  • postponement of physical and mental fatigue
  • anxiety
  • paranoid thinking

In addition, a person could potentially experience:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • elevated body temperature and cold sweats
  • tremors (shaking) and muscle twitching
  • severe agitation
  • hallucinations
  • paranoid psychosis

Long-term health risks

Chronic, long-term use of cocaine can result in:

  • Erratic moods and behaviour. People using cocaine may become depressed, have mood swings, or become restless and excitable. Their behaviour may be erratic, bizarre, or violent.
  • Psychosis. Some people can become psychotic or paranoid, or experience hallucinations or  delusions.
  • Sleeping and eating problems. Heavy users may have trouble getting to sleep. They may also alternate between feelings of intense hunger and a lack of interest in food.
  • Impotence. Some users may experience sexual dysfunction.
  • Heart problems. Other medical complications of cocaine or crack use can include high blood pressure and fast or irregular heartbeat.
  • Nose and sinus problems. A person who regularly snorts cocaine may have a red, chapped, runny nose and experience frequent nose bleeds. A person may lose his/her sense of smell and develop sinus infections.
  • Breathing problems. Smoking crack cocaine is associated with a condition known as "crack lung" which is characterized by chest pain, pulmonary injury, and breathing difficulties.
  • Birth defects. Heavy use of cocaine by pregnant women is associated with reduced fetal weight and an increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, and fetal malformation. Newborns exposed to cocaine in the uterus may also experience abnormal sleep patterns, poor feeding, and irritability for several days or weeks after birth.

Some users may inject cocaine. In general, injecting drugs puts the user at risk for:

  • skin infections
  • blood poisoning (septicaemia)
  • infection in the lining of the heart (endocarditis)

Furthermore, sharing drug supplies (like needles, pipes, and spoons) can spread infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C.

Malnutrition, life on the street, untreated infectious diseases, and dependence on cocaine and other drugs all contribute to a decreased resistance to disease and poor health.

Overdose

An overdose of cocaine can be lethal because it may trigger an abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia), cardiac arrest (the heart stops), a stroke (there is a loss of blood circulation to the brain), seizures or respiratory arrest (breathing stops). There is no specific antidote that can reverse the effects of a cocaine overdose.

Important!

If you think that a person has overdosed on drugs, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Addiction and withdrawal

Cocaine and crack cocaine are known to be addictive. Chronic use leads to tolerance, physical dependence, and powerful psychological dependence.

Withdrawal symptoms may include fatigue, long but disturbed sleep, strong feelings of hunger, irritability, depression, and violent behaviour.

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