What is it? Cocaine, a white powder, comes from the leaves of the coca plant. (Coca is not the same plant as cocoa, from which we get chocolate. Phew!) For thousands of years certain South American cultures have used coca leaves for religious ceremonies and for increasing energy and lessening hunger. The South American country of Colombia is the world's leading producer and distributor of this illegal and highly addictive drug. Because it is water soluble, people used to drink cocaine mixtures. (Yes, it is true, cocaine was one of the original ingredients in Coca Cola, but isn't in it any more.) Cocaine can also be injected into a user's veins (IV use) or sniffed up the the nose ("snorted"). The kind of cocaine that is smoked is called crack.
How does it make you feel? Cocaine users have reported that the first time they tried the drug they felt terrific. They got a feeling of confidence and satisfaction like they had done something that made them really proud of themselves. Normally that kind of self-satisfaction only comes from a lot of hard work. Part of the appeal of cocaine is that it gives people that powerful, high, energized feeling without any work at all! Cocaine users also report that those first feelings of euphoria are never repeated. They get high again, but not in the same way.
What does it do to your body? Cocaine causes unstable blood pressure, weakened blood vessels, and heart problems that can lead to heart attacks even in otherwise healthy young people. Just like all uppers, cocaine increases energy, blocks pain, suppresses appetite, and causes insomnia (sleep problems). With cocaine, however, users experience these effects much more intensely. Because your body burns it up faster than other drugs, the cocaine user needs more cocaine more often to get the same experience.
Snorting cocaine brings the drug to the brain within 3 to 5 minutes. Injecting it takes 15-30 seconds to be absorbed by the brain. Unlike some drugs that the body becomes more and more used to, repeated cocaine use makes people less and less able to deal with the toxic effects of the drug. Long term cocaine users often have a "wasted" look because they aren't eating or sleeping. Other major problems with IV users of cocaine (or any other drugs) is the risk of infections spread by dirty needles. That includes hepatitis and HIV/AIDS.
How easy is it to become "used to" the drug? All drugs are poison to your body. But because your body is so amazingly devoted to keeping you alive, it can become "tolerant" to having poison in it. Cocaine is the second most addictive drug (nicotine is the first). More than any other drug we know, cocaine has a hypnotizing effect on users. That means users keep using and using without conscious control of their actions. Also the "crash" (that feeling of coming down from a cocaine high) can be very depressing. For some people this sadness can be as intense as the high was and can last for days or weeks. The drug itself is much more expensive than other uppers. And that's the most common pitfall for cocaine users. They use up all their time and money on this drug. And they are left with nothing except the desire for more cocaine.
What is an overdose? Users of cocaine and crack get more sensitive to the negative effects of the drug rather than less sensitive. So the more they use the drug the more they experience the negative stuff. An overdose of cocaine can be caused by a very tiny amount of the drug (as little as 1/50th of a gram). Although it is not often fatal, a cocaine overdose can make a person feel like they are going to die.
What's withdrawal like? It really depends on how much cocaine a person has been using and for how long. Cocaine and crack users have been "running on empty" which means their bodies are squeezing out energy that isn't being replenished with food and sleep. When they stop using cocaine they collapse and can be extremely depressed for months.
Is it legal? No.
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last updated November 19, 2005
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