530.jpg bar Title: Cocaine | Fast Facts
Author: Staff
Publisher: Do It Now Foundation
Publication Date: March 2011
Catalog Number: 513

Overview: Cocaine is almost two drugs in one, blending stimulant and anesthetic effects in a single molecule. Derived from the leaves of the coca bush (Erythroxylum coca), which grows in Bolivia and Peru, powder cocaine is sniffed, injected, or converted into smokeable forms of the drug, called crack and freebase. The introduction of crack, which triggers an intense, brief high, caused cocaine use (and related problems) to surge during the 1980's and '90s.

Street Names: Blow, caine, coke, cola, freeze, snow (powder); base, rock (crack).

Actions/Effects: Cocaine is absorbed into the bloodstream through the mucous membranes of the nose, when sniffed; via the alveoli in the lungs, when smoked. In the brain, it pumps up the volume by increasing the activity of two main neurotransmitters, norepinephrine and dopamine. At low doses, its effects include feelings of excitement and alertness, combined with decreased appetite and fatigue. Physical effects include dilated pupils, constricted blood vessels, and elevated heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure. Higher doses (or use over a long period of time) can cause anxiety, paranoia, and toxic psychosis.

Duration: Depends on dose and mode of administration; typically 5-30 minutes, but can be (and often is) extended by repeat dosing.

Medical Uses: Once commonly used as a local anesthetic and as a treatment for depression, cocaine has been replaced almost entirely by less-toxic drugs. Today, it's used only as a topical anesthetic in the respiratory tract.

Risks/Side Effects: Cocaine's rush quickly fades, which adds to the risk of continuous use and toxic effects. Overdose can develop so quickly (regardless of how the drug is used) that users can die before help arrives. Overdose symptoms include delirium; rapid, irregular, shallow breathing; unconsciousness; and cardiac arrest.

Trends: Cocaine use was limited during much of the 20th Century, but exploded during the 1970's as the supply of other stimulant drugs declined. Prior to that time, cocaine was considered fairly harmless, due to its scarcity and high price. Problems skyrocketed with the appearance of freebase and crack in the 1980's.

Demographics: Cocaine use has fallen sharply since its peak during the 1980's. In 2009, the number of Americans admitting past-month use stood at 1.6 million less than a third of the 5,686,000 who reported such use in 1985.

This is one in a series of publications on drugs, behavior, and health by Do It Now Foundation.
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