Cocaine is a highly addictive and a naturally occurring anesthetic, or pain blocker.
It is extracted from the leaves of Erythroxylon coca (E. coca), also known as the coca scrub, a plant that grows in the Andean highlands of South America.
It is the most powerful stimulant of natural origin. When Coca-Cola was first produced, it contained 9 milligrams of cocaine per glass. In 1903, this ingredient was removed, but the drink still has coca flavoring.
In 1884, Karl Koller, an Austrian ophthalmologist, first used cocaine as an anesthetic during eye surgery. It was a popular and widely used anesthetic until the early 20th century.
As the medical profession came to realize that cocaine was addictive, safer anesthetics were developed. Cocaine, in its basic form, is no longer routinely used.
However, cocaine and its derivative, crack cocaine, are widely used as illegal recreational drugs.
Fast facts on cocaine
Here are some key points about cocaine. More detail is in the main article.
Cocaine can be smoked, injected, or snorted
Crack is a type of cocaine
Long-term cocaine use increases the risk of heart disease
Cocaine can make changes to the structure of the brain
Cocaine is a powdered drug processed from the leaves of the Erythroxylon coca plant.
As a recreational drug, cocaine is known as powder, snow, ski, soft, blow, slopes, coca, marching powder, benzoylmethylecgonine, and nose candy.
It is normally found as a white, crystalline powder or as an off-white, chunky substance.
In powder form, it usually consists of cocaine hydrochloride diluted with other substances, such as lidocaine, a local anesthetic, sugars (lactose), inositol, and mannitol.
Diluting the cocaine enables the seller to make more profit by “stretching” the amount of pure cocaine they have to sell.
Cocaine can be taken by:
Snorting or inhaling through the nose. It enters the bloodstream via the nasal tissues
Injecting, which releases it directly into the bloodstream
Smoking or inhaled into the lungs, where it rapidly enters the bloodstream
What is crack?
Crack is the street name for a type of cocaine that has had the hydrochloride removed, making it possible to smoke.
When the mixture is heated, it makes a crackling sound, hence the name. Crack producers make crack with baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) or ammonia and water, and it is heated to remove the hydrochloride.
The crack smoker receives large doses of cocaine. The effect is intense and virtually immediate, as with injected cocaine, but the “high” lasts only around 5 minutes.
Crack cocaine may be smoked and can lead to a shorter but more intense high.
Cocaine has a very powerful stimulating effect on the nervous system. It raises levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked to pleasure, movement, and the brain’s reward circuit.
Normally, neurons release dopamine in response to a pleasurable stimulus, such as the smell of good food. Once the dopamine has passed on its message, it returns inside the neuron, and the signal stops.
Cocaine stops the dopamine from getting back into the neuron, so it accumulates and continues to send the pleasurable message to the brain.
The excess dopamine gives the user a feeling of enhanced well-being, euphoria, alertness, motor activity, and energy.
The effects generally last between 15 and 30 minutes, but shorter with crack.
Cocaine and crack cocaine are illegal drugs. This is because they involve health risks.
Cocaine is a highly addictive drug.
Long-term use can gradually change the brain’s reward system, increasing the risk of addiction.
In occasional cocaine users, social or physical problems are rare, but scientists insist there is no safe amount of cocaine.