Cocaine is a powerful stimulant derived from the coca plant. It can make you feel very alert, confident, emotionally fulfilled and full of energy. It has strong psychologically addictive properties and can be very harmful to your health. It is the second most used drug in Britain after cannabis.
Chemically, it is cocaine hydrochloride, the white granular powder form, which is usually snorted in lines or dabbed (there is also crack; a purer and more addictive form which is sold as small rocks and usually smoked using a pipe). Powder cocaine is frequently cut with various other white powder products like lidocaine (an anaesthetic) caffeine, milk powder and baking soda.
Deaths from cocaine have risen from 112 in 2011 to 320 in 2015. Most deaths are heart-related: cocaine is a powerful stimulant that significantly impacts your central nervous system and can put excessive strain on your heart.
It was reported in 2016 that there was a significant increase in user-level cocaine purity in 2015 (up from 37% in 2014 to 45% in 2015), which may partly explain the increase in deaths (see below).
It has been reported there are effectively two markets for different types of drug user: one based on purity and another on price, with more wealthy users getting the better quality.
Also known as: coke, Charlie, snow, sniff.
Stimulants like coke, speed or mephedrone all get the heart racing. Cocaine generally gives a sense of euphoria and wellbeing. It also suppresses the appetite very effectively. It lasts about 15-30 minutes so is often taken repeatedly often with alcohol. People often stay up to the early hours while using cocaine.
A very occasional user should suffer few of the seriously bad effects of cocaine – but it is always risky for the heart to take any stimulant. Short-term effects associated with cocaine use include: an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, less oxygen being supplied to your cardiovascular system, irregular heartbeat, a weaking of your heart muscle and a thickening of the arteries (atherosclerosis).
Prolonged use can affect not only your heart health but also your mental capacity. Long-term cocaine users may become paranoid or delusional or, in some extreme cases, develop a kind of psychosis. Combining cocaine with alcohol can form a third substance, cocaethylene, which is even more damaging to the heart than cocaine.
Cocaine affects the central nervous system and makes the heart beat much faster than normal, so many of the health risks relate to the heart: elevated blood pressure, risk of developing heart disease and risk of heart attack. Snorting powder cocaine damages the membrane in the nose, which over time can collapse completely. Heavy users often sniff a lot, scratch their skin, especially on the face, and may suffer weight loss and insomnia.
Cocaine use encourages repeat dosing to restore the initial high. All stimulants badly disrupt sleep patterns and the ability to function. It can affect your family, friends, work and studies. Prolonged use can lead to paranoia, anxiety and even psychotic episodes.
Those who take cocaine may feel depressed for a day or two after a ‘big night’. Taking a drug like alcohol or valium to overcome the depressed feeling would be unwise: consuming depressant substances will only make you feel lower, and could lead to feeling dependent on drugs to cope with negative feelings or situations.
Developing a cocaine dependence or addiction is likely if cocaine is used frequently. It is hard to say exactly when someone is getting dependent, but a sure sign is if they start selling cocaine to friends to pay for some of their own use.
Don’t let cocaine become a regular habit. Take long breaks between sessions. It is damaging to your body to go on long alcohol and cocaine sessions, particularly the heart. It is even more damaging to take downers in those circumstances as there could be a bad reaction with the alcohol, leading to your nervous system becoming so seriously suppressed that you fall unconsciousness.
When snorting lines, don’t share bank notes or straws. You may not think there is a risk but a significant amount of Blood Borne Viruses (BBVs) like Hepatitis C are passed on in this way. Mixing with other drugs, like ketamine, can be very unpredictable and dangerous, particularly if both are high in purity.
Cocaine is illegal to possess and supply. It is a Class A drug. Possession with a small amount may lead to a court appearance and a fine but prison is unlikely. The police may choose to caution you – be aware that a caution still means a criminal record. If you have enough to supply a few grams to friends you may be charged with possession with intent to supply – it depends on the circumstances of the case, but conviction may lead to fine, community service or even imprisonment.
If you are convicted of dealing cocaine and making money out if, you will probably be imprisoned, with the length of sentence depending on the amount.
Does a joint laced with cocaine give the same effect as crack?
Crack cocaine is made from cocaine powder – heated and processed with baking soda or ammonia to make crack rocks. Rocks and powder produce different sensations when they are heated. For instance, a joint laced with cocaine will give a relaxed sensation rather than a ‘crack high,’ which is a short burst of euphoria. Both drugs can make people anxious or paranoid.
Is it dangerous to drink alcohol and take coke?
Regular use of cocaine and alcohol creates a third chemical called cocaethylene which damages the cardiovascular system.
Is cocaine purer these days?
Over the years cocaine purity has varied hugely – these days it is quite common to find potency around 60-65%. There is a two-tier drug market where people pay upwards of £100 for fish scale cocaine (that is uncut) or £50 for a gram of cocaine cut with a bulking agent: glucose, levamisole, benzocaine, lidocaine and caffeine are the most common.
Did You Know…?
In 2015, 320 people died from cocaine use.