Cocaine is a stimulant drug abused for its euphoric effects. While it serves a legitimate medical purpose as a topical anesthetic for surgeries, it is more commonly encountered as a powerful and addicting illegal drug.
Usually sold as a white powder or rock-like substance (crack cocaine), users will snort, smoke or inject cocaine to feel its energizing, euphoric effects. In an attempt to increase profits, dealers will often dilute cocaine with other substances such as talc, baking soda, cornstarch, or drugs such as methamphetamine and fentanyl.
Popular street names for cocaine include “coke,” “blow,” “crack,” “snow,” and “rock.”
Cocaine use remains a major problem in the United States. The National Institute on Drug Abuse shares the following statistics regarding cocaine use:
Cocaine comes in two main forms, powdered cocaine, also known as “cocaine hydrochloride,” and crack cocaine. Pure powdered cocaine is a white, crystalline powder that can be snorted and injected. It cannot be smoked in this form because it is inactivated by high temperatures such as exposure to a flame. To make the drug smokable, it must be converted into a form known as “crack.”
Crack cocaine is made by mixing cocaine powder, baking soda and water, then boiling it until a solid rock-like substance is formed.
The table below highlights the differences between powdered cocaine and crack cocaine.
Cost High costLow costPhysical appearanceWhite, crystalline powderBrittle, rock-likeRoute of administrationSnorted, injectedSmokedOnset of effectSnorted – 1-5 minutes
Injected – Immediate
Smoked – ImmediateDuration of effectSnorted – 15-30 minutes
Injected – 20-60 minutes
Smoked – 5-10 minutes
While all forms of cocaine are dangerous, crack cocaine’s low cost makes it particularly dangerous because it is more accessible. Due to its low price, ease of use and intense effects, crack is often considered to be more addicting than its powdered cocaine counterpart.
Most users choose to snort powdered cocaine, however it can be injected or smoked as well.
Cocaine works by stimulating our brain’s “reward pathway,” a primitive part of our brain responsible for reinforcing positive stimuli necessary for survival. For example, when we are hungry and eat food, our reward pathway “rewards” us for eating by releasing dopamine, leading to a pleasurable and satisfying feeling. Cocaine hijacks this system and enhances its effect, tricking our brains into rewarding us for cocaine use.
Cocaine abuse is associated with significant side effects. Short term effects of cocaine may include the following:
All amounts of cocaine can produce these effects, however the higher the dose, the more likely and severe these effects will be. Injecting and smoking will produce stronger effects that appear faster, while snorting will produce more mild effects that may taker longer to set in.
Long term effects of cocaine use include the following and will vary depending on how the drug is taken:
Since cocaine is often diluted with other ingredients, including dangerous drugs such as fentanyl, its true strength is nearly impossible to determine. This opens up the possibility of a dangerous overdose.
Overdose on cocaine is life-threatening and may involve the following symptoms:
No antidote for cocaine exists – treatment for overdose is often supportive and will involve treating the symptoms.
Cocaine is a powerfully addictive drug; users can become addicted even after a single use. Repeated use of the drug may lead to addiction.
Signs and symptoms of addiction may include the following:
When used repeatedly, tolerance will develop to the euphoric effects of cocaine, where more of the drug must be taken to achieve the same effects.
Long term use can cause a user to become dependent, where they require the drug to feel normal. If dependent, the user will suffer withdrawal symptoms if the drug is not taken.
Withdrawal symptoms of cocaine include:
There are no notable physical withdrawal symptoms, however this does not make cocaine easy to quit, as the drug craving associated with cocaine withdrawal can last months after quitting.
Since withdrawal from cocaine is not physically dangerous, addiction treatment does not require admittance to a treatment center or rehab, however a user may still benefit greatly from the support of a therapist specializing in substance use disorders.