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Drugs 101: Cocaine. Be like Clapton! Impress your friends!

Author: Philippe
Posted: 23 May 2004

Basics and History

Cocaine is a powerful central nervous system (CNS) stimulant that heightens alertness, inhibits appetite and the need for sleep, and provides intense feelings of pleasure. It is prepared from the leaf of the Erythroxylon coca bush, which grows primarily in Peru and Bolivia.

Pure cocaine was first extracted and identified by the German chemist Albert Niemann in the mid-19th century, and was introduced as a tonic/elixir in patent medicines to treat a wide variety of real or imagined illnesses. Later, it was used as a local anesthetic for eye, ear, and throat surgery and continues today to have limited employment in surgery. Currently, it has no other clinical application, having been largely replaced by synthetic local anesthetics such as lidocaine.

Because of its potent euphoric and energizing effects, many people in the late 19th century took cocaine, even though some physicians recognized that users quickly became dependent. In the 1880s, the psychiatrist Sigmund Freud created a sensation with a series of papers praising cocaine's potential to cure depression, alcoholism, and morphine addiction. Skepticism soon replaced this excitement, however, when documented reports of fatal cocaine poisoning, alarming mental disturbances, and cocaine addiction began to circulate. According to information collected in 1902, 92% of all cocaine sold in major cities in the United States was in the form of an ingredient in tonics and potions available from local pharmacies. In 1911, the Canadian government legally restricted cocaine use, and its popularity waned. The 1920s and '30s saw a marked decline in its use, especially after amphetimines became easily available. Cocaine's return to popularity, beginning in the late 1960s, coincided with the decreased use of amphetamines.


Why's it so pretty? Cocaine is generally sold on the street as a hydrochloride salt - a fine, white crystalline powder known as coke, C, snow, flake, or blow. Street dealers dilute it with inert (non-psychoactive) but similar-looking substances such as cornstarch, talcum powder, and sugar, or with active drugs such as procaine and benzocaine (used as local anesthetics), or other CNS stimulants such as amphetamines. Nevertheless, illicit cocaine has actually become purer over the years; according to RCMP figures, in 1988 its purity averaged about 75%. Cocaine in powder form is usually "snorted" into the nostrils, although it may also be rubbed onto the mucous lining of the mouth, rectum, or vagina. To experience cocaine's effects more quickly, and to heighten their intensity, users sometimes inject it.


The good, bad and ugly. The effects of any drug depend on several factors:

  • the amount taken at one time
  • the user's past drug experience
  • the manner in which the drug is taken
  • the circumstances under which the drug is taken (the place, the user's psychological and emotional stability the presence of other people, the simultaneous use of alcohol or other drugs, etc.)

    Cocaine's short-term effects appear soon after a single dose and disappear within a few minutes or hours. Taken in small amounts (up to 100 mg), cocaine usually makes the user feel euphoric, energetic, talkative, and mentally alert - especially to the sensations of sight, sound, and touch. It can also temporarily dispel the need for food and sleep. Paradoxically, it can make some people feel contemplative, anxious, or even panic-stricken. Some people find that the drug helps them perform simple physical and intellectual tasks more quickly; others experience just the opposite effect.

    Physical symptoms include accelerated heartbeat and breathing, and higher blood pressure and body temperature.

    Large amounts (several hundred milligrams or more) intensify users' "high," but may also lead to bizarre, erratic, and violent behavior. These users may experience tremors, vertigo, muscle twitches, paranoia, or, with repeated doses, a toxic reaction closely resembling amphetamine poisoning.

    Physical symptoms may include chest pain, nausea, blurred vision, fever, muscle spasms, convulsions, and coma. Death from a cocaine overdose can occur from convulsions, heart failure, or the depression of vital brain centers controlling respiration.

    With repeated administration over time, users experience the drug's long-term effects. Euphoria is gradually displaced by restlessness, extreme excitability, insomnia, and paranoia - and eventually hallucinations and delusions. These conditions, clinically identical to amphetamine psychosis and very similar to paranoid schizophrenia, disappear rapidly in most cases after cocaine use is ended.

    While many of the physical effects of heavy continuous use are essentially the same as those of short-term use, the heavy user may also suffer from mood swings, paranoia, loss of interest in sex, weight loss, and insomnia.

    Chronic cocaine snorting often causes stuffiness, runny nose, eczema around the nostrils, and a perforated nasal septum. Users who inject the drug risk not only overdosing but also infections from unsterile needles and hepatitis or AIDS from needles shared with others. Severe respiratory tract irritation has been noted in some heavy users of cocaine free base. Which is why snorting it seems to be the best option. Besides, it's more fun to put shit up your nose.

    Tolerance and dependence

    Tolerance to any drug exists when higher doses are necessary to achieve the same effects once reached with lower doses. But scientists have not observed tolerance to cocaine's stimulant effect: users may keep taking the original amount over extended periods and still experience the same euphoria. Yet some users frequently increase their dose to intensify and prolong the effects. Amounts up to 10g (10,000mg) have been reported.

    Some users, however, report that they become more sensitive to cocaine's anesthetic and convulsant effects even without increasing the amount. This theory of increased sensitivity has been put forward to explain some deaths that have occurred after apparently low doses.

    Psychological dependence exists when a drug is so central to a person's thoughts, emotions, and activities that it becomes a craving or compulsion. Among heavy cocaine users, an intense psychological dependence can occur; they suffer severe depression if the drug is unavailable, which lifts only when they take it again.

    Experiments with animals suggest that cocaine is perhaps the most powerful drug of all in producing psychological dependence. Rats and monkeys made dependent on cocaine will always strive hard to get more, and in fact monkeys with as much access to the drug as they want will do it until they die.

    Currently, researchers do not agree on what constitutes physical dependence on cocaine. When regular heavy users stop taking the drug, however, they experience what they term the "crash" shortly afterwards. And, in fact, even if you do it once you can expect to crash a little bit when the feeling is over.

    Overall, during abstinence, many users complain of sleep and eating disorders, depression, and anxiety, and the craving for cocaine often compels them to take it again. Treatment of the dependent cocaine user is therefore difficult, and the relapse rate is high. Nevertheless, some heavy users have been able to quit on their own.

    Parts of this article were borrowed from what appears to be a common-use research article spread around the web. Thanks go to the original author.

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