Drug A - Z

Cocaine

Cocaine is a drug derived from the leaves of the coca plant which is found mainly in Peru and Bolivia. It is a stimulant because it speeds up the functions of the central nervous system – the messages going to and from the brain. It comes in the form of a white powder and has the scientific name cocaine hydrochloride.

Cocaine is inhaled (snorted) through the nose, or injected. It is also smoked through a process known as ‘freebasing’ – where the cocaine is converted to an alkaloid form. Cocaine hydrochloride cannot be smoked, since the drug is destroyed at high temperatures.

‘Crack’ is a very pure form of freebase cocaine sold in the form of small crystals or rocks. Crack is smoked in pipes or in cigarettes, mixed with tobacco or marijuana. Crack has rarely been seen in New Zealand.


The effects of any drug vary from person to person. It depends on many factors including an individual’s size, weight and health, how the drug is taken, how much is taken, whether the person is used to taking it, the person’s mood and whether other drugs are taken. The effects also depend on the environment in which the drug is used – for example, whether the person is alone, with others, or in a social setting. The quality and purity of the drug used will also influence its effects.
Immediate Effects
Many people have experienced the following effects shortly after taking cocaine:
• physiological arousal, including increased body temperature and heart rate
• feelings of well-being, exhilaration
• decreased hunger
• panic and anxiety
• poor concentration and judgement
• indifference to pain and fatigue
• feelings of great physical strength and mental capacity
• enlarged pupils
• sexual arousal
• unpredictable and/or violent behaviour.
However it’s used, the effects of cocaine peak after 15 to 30 minutes, and then diminish.

In greater quantities

Using large quantities of cocaine repeatedly over a period of hours can lead to:
• extreme agitation, anxiety
• paranoia and hallucinations
• dizziness, tremors
• nausea and vomiting
• unpredictable violent/aggressive behaviour
• loss of concentration and coordination
• loss of interest in sex
• loss of ambition and motivation
• heart pain / heart attack
• paranoid psychosis
• increased body temperature
• rapid, irregular and shallow breathing.

Long-term effects

People who have used cocaine over longer periods tend to take cocaine in high quantities – ‘binges’ interrupted by ‘crashes’.

A ‘binge’ is where the drug is taken repeatedly over several hours or days. The person may attempt to end the binge by taking a depressant drug such as alcohol, benzodiazepines or heroin. The binge is followed by the ‘crash’ – a period characterised by intense depression, lethargy and hunger.

The unpleasant effects of cocaine increase with more frequent, long-term use. This often results in the person discontinuing their use for a period of time. Most of the symptoms will dissipate once cocaine use ceases.

Overdose

The dosage and method of use that can cause cocaine overdose varies from person to person. The effects of overdose are very intense and, generally, short in nature. Although uncommon, deaths have been recorded from cocaine overdose due to seizures, heart attack, brain haemorrhage, kidney failure, stroke, and/or repeated convulsions.

Initial tolerance to cocaine develops rapidly with continual heavy use. After this initial level is reached, people who use cocaine don’t appear to develop tolerance for increasing amounts. Regular users may in fact develop a ‘reverse tolerance’, whereby they experience the effects of the drug more intensely. Tolerance to cocaine may not be obvious due to the tendency to mix cocaine with other drugs such as heroin and alcohol.

Psychological dependence occurs when using a drug becomes more important than other activities in a person’s life. Because of its powerful euphoric effects, cocaine users may develop a strong psychological dependence upon it. It can be difficult to resist the craving due to changes in the brain, even after long periods of abstinence, strong cravings can persist.

Although psychological dependence is more of a problem than physical withdrawal symptoms – low moods and feeling very rough soon after stopping can tempt people to take more cocaine.

Withdrawal
Withdrawal symptoms occur when a person dependent on a drug stops using it or significantly cuts down the amount they are using. Cocaine withdrawal generally occurs in three phases:

Crash, which describes symptoms experienced immediately after the person stops using cocaine – usually in the first two to four days.

Withdrawal, which can last up to ten weeks.

Extinction, which can last indefinitely, and includes symptoms of episodic cravings for cocaine, usually in response to conditioned cues. These cravings may surface months or years after the person has stopped using cocaine.

Cocaine is a Class A drug. The maximum penalty for importation/manufacture/supply is life imprisonment and for possession 6 months jail and/or $1000 fine.

It is illegal to drive a motor vehicle while under the influence of any drug, including cocaine. Breaking this law carries heavy penalties including disqualification from driving, fines and even imprisonment. It is advised that you do not drive after the consumption of any mood altering substance. You could put your own and other people’s lives at serious risk.

Like all drugs, cocaine may have the potential to cause harm to the unborn child and also harm to the baby whilst breastfeeding.

Due to this, it is recommended to not use any level of cocaine during pregnancy and whilst breastfeeding. See your doctor or other health professional if you are taking or planning to take any substance while pregnant or breastfeeding, including prescribed and over-the-counter medications.