Cocaine is a stimulant that, when inhaled, snorted, or injected, makes its way to the brain through the bloodstream. Once in the brain, it interferes with the brain’s normal processes including the mesolimbic dopamine system, recognized as the pleasure center of the brain. This interference results in creating a euphoric sensation along with feelings of alertness, increased energy, and elevated heart rate.
Cocaine usually appears as a white, powdery substance and can be consumed by smoking, snorting, or injecting into a vein after being dissolved in water.
Though the highly addictive nature and harmful side effects of cocaine are widely known and studied, it still attracts millions of users in the US. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, there were an estimated 1.9 million active cocaine users in the United States in 2015.
Along with the euphoric sensation caused by the happiness-inducing chemical dopamine, a cocaine user will experience the following common effects:
The severity and length of time a user experiences these symptoms will largely be determined by the quantity, the potency or purity of the cocaine, and the method of consumption. Snorting cocaine will have effects lasting 30-45 minutes. Smoking or injecting cocaine will last 5-10 minutes, but with more intense effects.
Because of the short duration of cocaine’s effects when compared to other illicit drugs, users will usually dose often, in some cases a dozen or more times in one day. As with many illegal substances, prolonged cocaine abuse has extremely damaging side effects on the body. Cocaine negatively affects several vital organs including the heart, brain, kidney, liver, and lungs.
When taken in high doses, a user can overstimulate the body and brain to a lethal level resulting in heart attack, organ failure, or a stroke. Cocaine poses an elevated risk of overdose due to the large variation in the potency and purity of the substance. It is common for cocaine dealers to mix cocaine with other household or chemical substances to increase the volume and generate more sales. A user who is accustomed to receiving low-quality cocaine mixed with baking soda will use more of it to achieve a high. Acquiring a more purified product and consuming the same amount may lead to a lethal overdose.
Also, due to incompetence or malice, cocaine may be mixed with dangerous chemicals or substances, which can increase the risk of sudden death. Without specialized knowledge and equipment, it is impossible for a user to determine the purity or potency of their cocaine.
Cocaine addiction markers are like those of other illicit substances, though may be difficult to distinguish at times. Among these are:
Cocaine addiction contains both physiological and phycological elements. Frequent cocaine users will develop a dependency, and require the drug to feel normal. Once a user is dependent on the drug, it will become difficult for them to stop, due to the unpleasant effects of cocaine withdrawal, which become increasingly severe with extended use. Cocaine withdrawal symptoms include:
Cocaine’s reputation as a “party drug” makes it commonly used in conjunction with alcohol. When used together, cocaine and alcohol are incredibly dangerous. Studies show that the risk of sudden death due to heart attack or organ failure increases 20 times when these two substances are used together, and a cocaine overdose can occur at just one tenth the normal cocaine levels when alcohol is involved. The cocaine high can also effect the user’s ability to perceive the effects of the alcohol and drink more excessively, leading to alcohol poisoning among other alcohol related injuries.
Cocaine is sometimes paired with benzodiazepines (benzos) such as Xanax or Valium. Benzos and cocaine have vastly different effects, causing users to take them simultaneously under the assumption that the benzo will counteract some of the adverse side effects of the cocaine, or “take the edge off.” Some users will use benzos to help alleviate some of the common withdrawal symptoms of cocaine, such as restlessness or anxiety. Using these two drugs together leads to a significant increase in the chance of a lethal overdose and may enhance the negative side effects associated with each drug
Though it is incredibly dangerous to mix cocaine with any other illicit substance, opiates have proven the most fatal. Much like benzos, mixing opiates with cocaine is commonly an attempt to reduce some of the negative side effects or withdrawal symptoms of one of these substances by using the other. Combining these two substances greatly increases the risk of a fatal overdose, and complicates treatment.
Though these are the most common drugs to be used with cocaine, it is not uncommon for cocaine to be used with other illicit substances such as marijuana, MDMA or ecstasy, gamma-Hydroxybutyrate (GHB), ketamine, and other designer drugs.