Cocaine is a very powerful and addictive stimulant, one that directly affects the brain. Although Cocaine was considered the it drug of the 1980s and 1990s in America, due to its widespread popularity, it has quite an extensive history. It is derived from Coca leaves of the Coca plant, which have been chewed and ingested for thousands of years. Found in the high mountain ranges of South America, chewers of the Coca leaves would exhibit increased breathing rates and oxygen intake, which helped them better perform their duties at high altitudes. When cocaine is purified, cocaine hydrochloride is formed. This pure form of cocaine was quite popular between 1850 and the early 1900s here in the United States, when it was added as the main ingredient in a variety of elixirs used to treat illnesses and ailments ranging from toothaches to depression.
Americans and their legislation eventually began to notice the negative side effects and dangers of cocaine, eventually adding it to the list of drugs to outlaw in The Dangerous Drug Act of 1920. Even though the negative effects of cocaine are widely known, it is still one of the most popular illegal drugs used today. In fact, according to a study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse in 2009, over 1 million emergency room visits that year were due to reactions from illicit drug use; cocaine was named as the primary drug in 422,896 of these visits, landing it in the number one spot.
Cocaine, the powerful stimulant that gives users a fast-acting and intense high, is most often sold on the streets under the names coke, snow, C, blow, or flake. It is generally diluted with inactive substances such as sugar, cornstarch or talcum powder, but can sometimes be found in combination with heroin, which is termed a speedball.
Two main types of cocaine:
First there is the Hydrochloride salt version of cocaine, which is the powdered form. This type of cocaine is seen in movies and ads when it is set up in line formation. This type of cocaine is snorted through the nose, or dissolved in water and injected in the veins. It generally takes longer to have an effect on its user than its counterpart, freebase cocaine. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates that over 1.5 million people over the age of 12 used cocaine each month in 2013.
The second form of cocaine is freebase, which is smokable and offers its users effects within just ten seconds. A very famous form of freebase is known as crack. Although crack is processed from powdered cocaine, it is mixed with heat, water, ammonia and baking soda. Crack is generally cheap to create and purchase, which accounts for its popularity. In fact, The National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates there are more than a half a million crack users in America.
Cocaine alters the chemical pathways in the brain of the user. Scientific studies suggest that cocaine specifically targets the section of the brain responsible for feelings of pleasure. In a healthy brain, dopamine is produced when someone experiences something rewarding. Once cocaine is introduced, the normal dopamine process is interrupted. The drug causes too much dopamine to reside in the space between cells. This causes an extreme state of euphoria, which lasts until the high wears off. The reason cocaine becomes so addictive is because users want to recreate that instant euphoric feeling, however, our brains adjust to ongoing cocaine usage. This means an addict will need more of the drug over time to reproduce that same euphoric effect, however, the body can only tolerate a certain amount of the drug before negative physical symptoms are felt. Let us take a closer look at the short and long-term side effects of cocaine:
Short-term effects of cocaine: Certain effects of cocaine are felt almost immediately and can last for a few minutes up to an hour. When used in small dosages, it can make the user feel alert, energetic, talkative and euphoric. The drug also lessens the need for sleep and food. How long the user will feel the drug’s high depends on route of administration. For example, while smoking the drug produces immediate effects, these effects only last for up to ten minutes. Snorting the drug produces effects slower than smoking, but these effects can last for 30 minutes or more. Short-term physiological effects include dilated pupils, increased heart rate and body temperature, constricted blood vessels and increased blood pressure. Large doses of cocaine can cause erratic and violent behavior in some users, in addition to anxiety, paranoia and tremors.
Severe medical complications can arise from cocaine, such as heart rhythm abnormalities, heart attacks, strokes, seizures, headaches, coma, GI complications, abdominal pain and nausea. Although not common, death has occurred in some users after their first time using the drug.
Long-term effects of cocaine: Chronic cocaine users suffer from a variety of long-term side effects such as loss of appetite, weight loss, malnourishment, decreased dopamine receptors leading to diminished sensitivity in that area of the brain, loss of sense of smell, issues with swallowing, nosebleeds, allergic reactions, respiratory failure, blood clots, etc. Long-term users tend to take cocaine in binges and higher doses as time goes on. This can cause increased restlessness, irrational behavior, and full-blown psychosis and hallucinations.
The signs of cocaine abuse are similar to other substance abuse addiction signs. Most drug addictions are recognizable by examining if the person has behavioral alterations, sudden impulsive decisions, or his or her physical appearance drastically fluctuates. Other signs to look for include:
If you suspect that you or someone you love may have an addiction to this dangerous substance, it is important that you seek treatment as soon as possible. What was once a recreational drug, only used on weekends, can quickly turn into a dangerous and potentially fatal disease.