Basic Facts About Cocaine - What Is Cocaine?
Famous people who used cocaine regularly when the drug was more acceptable in society.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
King George V
Robert Louis Stevenson
It was also an active ingredient in the soft drink 'coca' - cola.
There's nothing new under the sun - even cocaine!
Cocaine? When you hear the name, it may well conjure up an image of chic, contemporary, rich folks, enjoying the drug at some exclusive party. However, cocaine is anything but modern. This drug goes back thousands of years and can be traced to the Incas of South America who used a plant called Coca, in which cocaine is stored. By chewing on the leaves, the Incas released the properties of the cocaine, acting not only as a pain relief but as a powerful stimulant for giving energy and endurance.
In Western society, so acceptable was the drug at one time, that Pope Leo XIII in the 19th century actually appeared on an advertising poster for 'Mariani Wine' that was loaded with cocaine. The manufacturer of this 'tonic' was given an award by the Pope because of its beneficial qualities - he is known to have went everywhere with a hip flask of the 'tonic'. It has, from that date, often been associated with the rich and famous. Even today many people have an image of cocaine being used only by the wealthy and celebrities.
This might have been the case a number of years ago, but today, the price of cocaine has dropped significantly and has come within the price range of less well off people.
The UK's National Health Service, National Treatment Agency for Substance Abuse, reported that increasing numbers of lower income people becoming cocaine users. In addition a significant number of this group were addicted to 'crack' cocaine. A UK Government report also revealed that the overall trend of cocaine addiction had increased by 17% in recent years.
Let's look then at some of the basic facts about this drug and why it's so addictive and potentially dangerous.
The main countries where cocaine comes from
Famous people who have died due to cocaine
John Belushi - due to a 'speedball' - a lethal mixture of cocaine and heroin
River Phoenix - due to a 'speedball'.
Hillel Slovak - due to 'speedball'
Chris Farley - due to speedball
The basic facts about cocaine
Here are some basic facts about cocaine taken from reports and articles issued by:
- UK Government - Home Affairs Committee Reports
- National Health Service UK
- Talk to Frank UK
- Drinkaware UK
- BBC Health & News
Most of the information is from British sources therefore some terms, statistics etc., might be different from other countries.
Cocaine uses in medicine:
Cocaine has quite a number of uses in medicine such as:
- Topical gel/paste or injection - known as a local anaesthetic - where it numbs the area to prevent pain being felt - for example during a minor medical procedure and dental procedures.
- It is often used in medical preparations during some types of surgery due to it's excellent vaso-constriction qualities - basically it reduces bleeding. It is mostly used in surgery of the ear, nose and throat.
The basics about using cocaine illegally:
- There are two forms of cocaine. A powder which is generally sniffed/snorted up the nose. The second form is known as 'crack' cocaine that comes in small lumps and smoked. Both forms of the drug can also be prepared to use in injection form.
- Powder cocaine is also known as - 'coke', 'blow', 'charlie', 'snow', 'percy', 'C', 'toot' and others.
- Crack Cocaine is also known as - 'rocks', 'stones' or 'base' and others.
- Frequently when cocaine is bought it's not pure cocaine that users are buying. Often the drug has been 'cut' which means it is diluted and bulked up by things such as sugar, baking soda, and starch. However, chemicals are also often used such as - procaine, amphetamine (speed) and many others. This makes the drug seller more money as the 'cocaine' goes further. Sometimes the drug has been cut numerous times with various substances and the end 'cocktail' might well be a mixture of everything and anything apart from cocaine.
- A UK Government report also stated that cocaine seized by police had been 'cut' using substances such as dog worming tablets, talcum powder, paracetamol and powdered bleach.
- Crack Cocaine is smoked and gives an effect much quicker than powder cocaine sniffed into the nose. This is because when processing the cocaine with baking powder and heat, this produces a substance known as methylbenzoylecgonine or freebase cocaine. This crosses the blood-brain barrier at super speed leading to a fast effect. Powder that is snorted enters the blood stream, then the liver and only then will it enter the brain.
- Crack cocaine effects last only about 10-15 minutes approximately, but powder snorted lasts roughly about 30 minutes. However, this can vary from person to person.
The facts about how cocaine affects the body
- Intense sense of euphoria, well being and energy and greater self confidence. During these periods people can act in irresponsible and even dangerous ways. Fatal accidents have also occurred due to being on a high from cocaine.
- Raised heart beat
- Loss of appetite
- Increase in body temperature
When the drug wears off the 'crash' comes very quickly and can lead to:
- Severe lowering of mood
- People report feeling generally unwell
- Agitation, irritability and paranoia
- Lack of pleasure
- This often influences them to take more cocaine in order to reverse these unpleasant feelings.
- Feelings of depression, anxiety and aggitation are among the main withdrawal symptoms.
When people are influenced to take more cocaine to make them feel better this is often when the road to addiction starts. However, addiction is not the only problem. The damage to the body can be severe. Let's have a look at what cocaine can actually do to you over a period of time.
What does cocaine do to the body when used regularly?
When a person takes cocaine on a regular basis there are severe health problems that can arise. What the future implications are will depend on how long and how much of the drug is taken, but also the individual's family and health history will also impact on the affects of the drug.
Health implications of cocaine
The health problems below are the main ones that have been identified:
- Panic attacks, anxiety.
- Paranoia and persecution delusions. These mental health issues with cocaine frequently lead to severe aggressive outbursts that the person is unable to control.
- Changes and damage to the brain can occur. In some cases people's personality has also been known to deteriorate due to drug addiction with cocaine.
- A significant increased risk of heart attack, strokes, epilepsy, respiratory problems.
- The side effects from withdrawal such as fatigue, loss of appetite, loss of libido and sense of well being. Regular users will experience 'washed-out' syndrome often going into a deep sleep for many hours or even days.
- Oral/mouth problems. Cocaine can cause a significant amount of disease and damage to the teeth and gums of regular users.
- People who become addicted and use cocaine long term often sustain severe damage to the nasal septum. Cocaine causes vasoconstriction - basically cutting off the blood supply to the nasal tissues. This can lead to necrosis - death of the tissues - requiring surgery to both remove part of the nose and in an attempt to rebuild it.
- Lung problems can also occurr to people who smoke cocaine.
- Skin conditions such as pruriginous skin rash, acne, skin infections and sores.
- Injection of cocaine can initially lead to ulceration of the site and in particular the veins. This can lead to gangrene and amputation of limbs is not uncommon. Injection of any drug obviously increases the chance of contracting blood borne infections such as HIV and hepatitis.
- Not only can a person become addicted to cocaine but the body also develops what is called 'tolerance'. This means that more and more of the drug is required in order to get the same 'hit' as previously.
- Mixing cocaine with alcohol produces a highly toxic substance called 'cocaethylene'. UK Government reports state that an increase in sudden deaths by 20% can be attributed to this lethal mixture.
Do you think that alcohol is a threat to the same extent as drugs like cocaine - in relation to affects on health, a danger to other people etc?
Cocaine use in the future?
It goes without saying that there is no one solution to the problem of drug use in general. People take drugs and/or alcohol initially because of the good feelings they create. There are many reasons in this day and age why this may be important to people. For example -
- Socially - gives them greater confidence and feelings of well-being.,
- Work - confidence, feelings of well being, energy, stamina.
- Recreation - gives them the ability to fully relax and they enjoy the feeling of euphoria the drug gives.
The list is endless. It's also important to remember that taking substances to give you a thrill is not a new thing, it's been with us for many centuries.
However, no matter if it's today or in the past the drug was taken, the effects of 'confidence', 'energy', 'sociability', 'euphoria' are false! These feelings are not produced through any positive success or achievement. When the drug wears off, the user comes back into reality with a crash and often feeling even more inadequate than they did before. This not only occurs with cocaine of course, but with any drugs and alcohol.
We also have the same old story about why allow alcohol but drugs remain illegal? There is no easy answer to that either. Those who only take drugs for recreational purposes and are able to control it at this level feel that some drugs at least could be legalised. Others will violently oppose this but at the same time will go out and take alcohol - also known to seriously affect health and be a danger to other people, especially if drinking and driving etc. On the other hand, there is a nasty culture that surrounds the dealing and selling of drugs that has a very negative effect on vulnerable areas of society in particular. With alcohol you go to a pub and enjoy a drink in familiar surroundings with family and friends. With drugs, it's usually a secretive pass time.
Is it our attitude towards drugs and alcohol that needs to change? Most things taken in moderation usually doesn't cause any harm. However, as seems to be the trend for some in our society, it's the excess that does the damage. Binge drug taking and drinking is a trend, to the point where any enjoyment a person is supposed to feel must be numbed by the glut of intake. All that's left is inebriated people who have lost all sense of judgement and reason. Problems also arise when the feel-good factor that drugs/alcohol give people is more appealing than the normal, mundane everyday view of life or themselves. This can start the journey to addiction.
We need to learn self-control. Not only for our own health but for other people who might well be at risk from those under the influence of cocaine, alcohol - or any other substance people feel they need to enjoy themselves or make their life more tolerable.
© 2012 Helen Murphy Howell