Cocaine: Effects and Uses

In our continuing series on illegal drugs, today we look at cocaine in all its available forms. Cocaine is derived from the leaves of the coca plant which is indigenous to South America. A young Sigmund Freud wrote of its properties and noted that it warded off hunger and sleep and increased powers of concentration.

Latin Americans chewed coca leaves for centuries to ward off hunger and fatigue and it was even an ingredient of Coca Cola until the 1920s. In small amounts, cocaine increases alertness, produces feelings of euphoria, raises heart rate and blood pressure and causes insomnia and loss of appetite. It can also produce temporary feelings of self-confidence, one of the drawcards for users of the drug.

The effects of the drug are short lived, and depending on the individual, another hit may be required after half an hour to maintain the desired effect. Being one of the stimulant family of drugs, cocaine speeds up the brain and the nervous system.

Cocaine comes in three main forms:

  1. Cocaine hydrochloride comes as a white powder and is the most commonly used form. It is snorted through the nostrils or injected. This form cannot be smoked.
  2. Freebase cocaine
    This is a chemically modified form of cocaine hydrochloride which can be smoked, thus increasing the speed at which the “high” is experienced.
  3. Crack cocaine
    Crack is a form of freebase cocaine sold in crystal form or “rocks”. It is usually smoked. Babies born to mothers who use crack cocaine are more irritable than other babies and may undergo long periods of high-pitched crying. Although they are often low birth weight babies, any long-term neurological effects seem to be minimal, unless the mother has been mixing cocaine with other drugs such as alcohol and nicotine. Damage once attributed to cocaine alone now seems likely to be a result of a cocktail of drugs.

Cocaine seems at first glance to be a dream come true. It provides the user with extra energy, an ability to think more clearly and creatively, and accomplish much more during the day without any side effects. Unfortunately dependence comes on slowly and insidiously, not usually becoming apparent for 2-5 year after initial use. This lulls many people into a false sense of security.

Next blog we will look at the side- and long-term effects of cocaine usage.

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