Published October 12, 2018
Cocaine is a dangerous, addictive, recreational drug known for its properties as a stimulant. Cocaine affects the reward pathway of the brain, increasing dopamine and serotonin, resulting in a brief sense of pleasure and euphoria. Cocaine is second only to marijuana in terms of popularity among illegal drugs and is responsible for approximately 8% of all inpatient admissions to substance abuse treatment programs.
Cocaine is made from the leaves of the coca plant commonly found in South America. It was once used as an anesthetic and numbing agent. It was available in pharmacies and was even an ingredient in some beverages in the 1800s, hence Coca-Cola. Cocaine surged in popularity in the United States during the 1980s, when it was used as a party drug. Cocaine use was popular among models, business executives, attorneys, and other professionals.
Crack, a less expensive processed form of cocaine, began to spread throughout inner cities and other economically depressed urban areas. Crack is chemically altered with additives, but delivers a similar high as unprocessed cocaine powder. Unlike unprocessed cocaine, which is usually snorted, crack is commonly smoked using a small glass pipe.
The majority of cocaine in the United States is circulated by powerful drug cartels based in Central and South America, illegally sold by distributors. Cocaine is lucrative, costing relatively little to produce and selling at a high price on the streets.
Many cocaine users become addicted after only one use of the drug. The initial high lasts from 15 to 30 minutes. Cocaine is a stimulant, or an upper, and is known to increase energy, serotonin, and dopamine, causing users to feel a quick rush of intense euphoria. Cocaine is often taken in conjunction with other drugs, such as heroin, in a dangerous drug cocktail known as a speedball. The stimulant effects of the cocaine counter the sedative effects of the heroin. Speedballing is notoriously dangerous due to the way it impacts the cardiovascular system, resulting in high rates of accidental overdose, usually caused by cardiac arrest.
Cocaine users may experience hallucinations and behave erratically after short-term use of the drug. There are some “functional users” of the drug who are able to use cocaine while still maintaining employment and display somewhat normal behaviour, albeit briefly. Some famous intellectuals throughout history, such as Sigmund Freud, have used cocaine for its stimulant properties and increased alertness.
Cocaine is particularly harmful to the cardiovascular system as it causes a sudden, dramatic increase in heart rate. Long-term use can result in tissue decay and permanent damage to the veins. Accidental overdoses are common among cocaine users, particularly when laced or mixed with other drugs such as heroin or fentanyl. Cocaine is also hazardous to users to have high blood pressure or other pre-existing conditions. Users who inject cocaine are at a greater risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis, and other
diseases. Long-term use of cocaine has also been linked to Parkinson’s Disease, according to the NIDA. Cocaine also causes seizures when taken with alcohol.
Cocaine addiction is typically treated through cognitive behavioural therapy in conjunction with a detox program. While detoxing, patients commonly experience withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, fatigue, insomnia, and depression. These symptoms are sometimes managed with medication in inpatient facilities. Behavioural counselling is believed to be a key factor in recovery and sobriety, including individual and group therapy and support groups.