- How To Identify Cocaine Without a Health Test
- What Is Cocaine?
- What Schedule of Drug is Cocaine and Crack?
- What Does Cocaine Look ?
- Popular Cocaine Cutting Agents
- What Does Cocaine Smell ?
- What Is Cocaine Addiction?
- Side Effects of Cocaine
- More Cocaine Side Effects
- Cocaine Identification FAQs
- You Are Not Alone. Serenity Lane Is Here To Help With Addiction Treatment for Cocaine
- Cocaine Crack
- What is it?
- Where does it come from?
- What does it look ?
- Who uses it?
- How does it make you feel?
- How long does the feeling last?
- Is it addictive?
- Is it dangerous?
- What are the long-term effects of using it?
- Where can I find more information?
- Crack Cocaine Fast Facts
- How is it produced?
- How is crack abused?
- Who uses crack?
- What are the risks?
- What is it called?
- Is crack cocaine illegal?
- Other products of interest:
- Contact Us
- Cocaine DrugFacts | National Institute on Drug Abuse
- How do people use cocaine?
- How does cocaine affect the brain?
- Short-Term Effects
- What are the other health effects of cocaine use?
- Long-Term Effects
- Can a person overdose on cocaine?
- How can a cocaine overdose be treated?
- How does cocaine use lead to addiction?
- How can people get treatment for cocaine addiction?
- Learn More
- Cocaine (Crack) Addiction
- What is crack?
- What's so bad about cocaine and crack?
- What are the signs that someone is becoming addicted or is already addicted to cocaine?
- Are any prescription drugs available to treat cocaine addiction?
- Are there treatments to rapidly reverse the effects of an overdose of cocaine?
How To Identify Cocaine Without a Health Test
Tony Montana once said “say hello to my little friend” and while we know he wasn’t actually talking about cocaine, a large driving force of the movie Scarface was drug use.
Scarface isn’t the first—or only—movie to touch on cocaine and cocaine use. In fact, the list of movies that include or directly potray cocaine use is quite long. Some of these movies include blockbusters : Sleepless, Bad Lieutenant, L4YER CAKE, Super Fly, Goodfellas, Pulp Fiction and so many more.
Cocaine has been used as a staple in Hollywood to underpin the gangster lifestyle in these types of blockbusters. So it probably comes as no surprise that cocaine is one of those substances that we have heard about time and time again. And, according to a survey presented by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), over 15% of American adults have tried cocaine.
Keep in mind that trying a substance once does not mean there is an addiction nor will it immediately lead to addiction, but it does show us that cocaine is a widely known substance in our communities.
A lot of us may still think of cocaine—or coke—as the drug of the 1980s and 1990s but, it turns out it is still more prevalent today than most of us realize. Within Oregon, as of 2019, we ranked #4 in the country for cocaine use. Finding out that someone has an addiction to cocaine can be tricky and often it requires cocaine rehab.
So, how do we know if someone is using cocaine and how can we tell what it looks ?
What Is Cocaine?
Cocaine is an addictive drug that is said to “up” levels of alertness, attention, and energy. It belongs to a class of substances known as stimulants. It’s made from the coca plant, which is native to South America.
Cocaine may have been super popular in the 80s and 90s but its history dates back much further. In fact, cocaine being used as a chemical can be traced back over thousands of years. In South American countries Peru and Colombia, coca leaves (made up of erythroxylon coca) were chewed for their effects.
What Schedule of Drug is Cocaine and Crack?
Within the last 100 years, these naturally occurring plant-based chemicals were purified into what is known as cocaine hydrochloride. Today, cocaine is technically considered what is known as a Schedule II drug.
A “schedule” when referring to medications and drugs is considered a level of how regulated the drug is. For example, Schedule I is the most tightly regulated and those drugs are not considered for use in a medical sense; these are often illegal at both the federal and state levels here in the United States. A Schedule II drug is a regulated drug that can have medical uses.
Research has since found that cocaine is addictive especially with repeated use.
It also has many names, known as street names. These other names for it include:
What Does Cocaine Look ?
It can also come in different forms. The most common in the United States and in American pop culture is a fine, white powder.
This type of cocaine is generally diluted it with inert substances, which are substances that do not add to the high or effects of the cocaine, such as:
- Talcum powder
Popular Cocaine Cutting Agents
- Procaine (a local anesthetic, something that numbs a small location)
- Amphetamine (another stimulant)
- Heroin—in what is known as a “speedball.”
Cocaine can also be made into a solid rock crystal. This is often known as crack cocaine, rock, or simply crack.
This name came from the sound that is made when this type of cocaine is heated up, which is necessary for use.
Most often though, cocaine is snorted in the form of the white powder into the nose. Sometimes it is also rubbed onto gums or dissolved in water and injected with a needle.
What Does Cocaine Smell ?
Many people wonder if there is a unique smell associated with cocaine and that seems a natural curiosity since it is known to be snorted.
Some people have suggested that cocaine smells paint or gasoline where others have said it has an ozone quality which can be described as “smelling electricity”. This can further be described as the smell after lightning strikes nearby.
Usually, it is not recommended to smell cocaine to check if it is cocaine at all, as it may cause a reaction upon smelling.
The way cocaine works when snorted is that as soon as it enters the nose, the drug will connect with the mucous membranes in the nose.
This allows the cocaine to immediately start to cause a reaction and start working to produce feelings of a high or euphoric effect.
It is common to see people checking if cocaine is real or “good” via rubbing it on the gums. This is because it will not immediately cause a reaction but cocaine is known to be a local anesthetic we saw above. It will start to cause numbness in the gums quickly and can be determined to be cocaine.
We do not recommend that you test out any unknown substances via ingestion or inhalation. Putting unknown substances into the bloodstream either via membranes in the nose or membranes in the mouth can be very dangerous.
What Is Cocaine Addiction?
Cocaine addiction is the chemical and emotional dependency on the substance. These dependencies can come with serious side effects. These side effects could be from use or from withdrawal.
Side Effects of Cocaine
- Extreme sensitivity to touch, sound, and sight
- Intense happiness
- Paranoid feeling
- Decreased appetite
More Cocaine Side Effects
- Convulsions and seizures
- Heart disease, heart attack, and stroke
- Mood problems
- Sexual trouble
- Lung damage
- HIV or hepatitis if you inject it
- Bowel decay if you swallow it
- Loss of smell, nosebleeds, runny nose, and trouble swallowing, if you snort it
Cocaine may lead someone to have strong cravings for the drug and the high it brings. But the more you use cocaine, the more your brain will adapt to it which leads to dependency and tolerance. This means that a stronger dose will be needed to feel the same high.
Stronger, more frequent doses can also cause long-term changes in brain chemistry. The body and mind begin to rely on the substance for those feelings. This can make it harder to think, sleep, and recall things. This can lead to a dangerous addiction or overdose. One of the most dangerous aspects of use is when mixing cocaine with alcohol or other drugs.
Cocaine Identification FAQs
- What does cocaine smell ?
If you read our section above, you know that cocaine is touted to smell paint, gasoline or “electricity”. Some other descriptions of the smell include: earthy, or salt. Many people describe the smell differently and in general, upon inhalation of cocaine, it will start to react in your body so it can be hard to both describe or explain.
It also has led to the attempts of finding out if cocaine is considered pure by other methods.
- What does pure cocaine look ?
This is a question that is quite common. It can be hard to tell if cocaine is considered pure simply by looks since it can easily be cut or mixed with substances that look similar. Some of these include things baby powder, flour, or sugar in some instances and even other drugs or illegal substances.
It can be tricky to know if what you have is pure or not by looking or by any other methods that are readily available. This is part of what makes use so dangerous as you may not know what is in what you are going to ingest, inhale, or inject into your body.
Cocaine use and addiction can be a lot for anyone to handle whether they are the one using or a loved one is using. That is why we are here to help.
You Are Not Alone. Serenity Lane Is Here To Help With Addiction Treatment for Cocaine
Serenity Lane has been a trusted community provider of addiction treatment services since 1973. Our care services combine 46 years of experience with a medically-informed, multidisciplinary care plan. We treat the whole patient, encourage family involvement, and will create a care plan matched to your individual needs.
You can learn more about our cocaine addiction treatment by calling us at 800-543-9905.
blow, C, coke, crack, flake, freebase, rock, snow
What is it?
Pure cocaine was first isolated from the leaves of the coca bush in 1860. Researchers soon discovered that cocaine numbs whatever tissues it touches, leading to its use as a local anesthetic. Today, we mostly use synthetic anesthetics, rather than cocaine.
In the 1880s, psychiatrist Sigmund Freud wrote scientific papers that praised cocaine as a treatment for many ailments, including depression and alcohol and opioid addiction. After this, cocaine became widely and legally available in patent medicines and soft drinks.
As cocaine use increased, people began to discover its dangers. In 1911, Canada passed laws restricting the importation, manufacture, sale and possession of cocaine. The use of cocaine declined until the 1970s, when it became known for its high cost, and for the rich and glamorous people who used it. Cheaper “crack” cocaine became available in the 1980s.
Where does it come from?
Cocaine is extracted from the leaves of the Erythroxylum (coca) bush, which grows on the slopes of the Andes Mountains in South America. For at least 4,500 years, people in Peru and Bolivia have chewed coca leaves to lessen hunger and fatigue. Today, most of the world’s supply of coca is grown and refined into cocaine in Colombia. Criminal networks control the lucrative cocaine trade.
What does it look ?
Cocaine hydrochloride—the form in which cocaine is snorted or injected—is a white crystalline powder. It is sometimes “cut,” or mixed, with things that look it, such as cornstarch or talcum powder, or with other drugs, such as local anesthetics or amphetamines.
The base form of cocaine can be chemically processed to produce forms of cocaine that can be smoked. These forms, known as “freebase” and “crack,” look crystals or rocks.
Cocaine is often used with other drugs, especially alcohol and cannabis. Cocaine and heroin, mixed and dissolved for injection, is called a “speedball.”
Who uses it?
A 2009 survey of Ontario students in grades 7 to 12 reported that 2.6 per cent had used cocaine and 1.1 per cent had used crack at least once in the past year.
A 2007 survey of Ontario adults reported that:
- 1.7 per cent had used cocaine in the past year.
- 7.1 per cent had used cocaine at least once in their lifetime.
How does it make you feel?
How cocaine makes you feel depends on:
- how much you use
- how often and how long you use it
- how you use it (by injection, orally, etc.)
- your mood, expectation and environment
- your age
- whether you have certain medical or psychiatric conditions
- whether you’ve taken any alcohol or other drugs (illegal, prescription, over-the-counter or herbal).
Cocaine makes people feel energetic, talkative, alert and euphoric. They feel more aware of their senses: sound, touch, sight and sexuality seem heightened. Hunger and the need for sleep are reduced. Although cocaine is a stimulant, some people find it calming, and feel increased self-control, confidence and ease with others. Other people may feel nervous and agitated, and can’t relax.
Taking high doses of cocaine for a long time can lead to:
- panic attacks
- psychotic symptoms, such as paranoia (feeling overly suspicious, jealous or persecuted), hallucinations (seeing, hearing, smelling, etc., things that aren’t real) and delusions (false beliefs)
- erratic, bizarre and sometimes violent behaviour.
With regular use, people may become tolerant to the euphoric effects of cocaine. This means they need to take more and more of the drug to get the same desired effect.
At the same time, people who use the drug regularly may also become more sensitive to its negative effects, such as anxiety, psychosis (hallucinations, loss of contact with reality) and seizures.
Cocaine also makes the heart beat faster, and raises blood pressure and body temperature.
How long does the feeling last?
Intranasal use, or “snorting,” takes effect within a few minutes, and lasts about 15 to 30 minutes.
- Injecting produces a “rush” that is felt within 30–45 seconds, and lasts 10 to 20 minutes.
- Smoking causes a high within seconds, but it lasts only five to 10 minutes.
When the cocaine high fades, the person may begin to feel anxious and depressed, and have intense craving for more of the drug. Some people stay high by “bingeing,” or continually using the drug, for hours or days.
Is it addictive?
It can be.
Not everyone who uses cocaine becomes addicted, but if they do, it can be one of the hardest drug habits to break.
People who become addicted to cocaine lose control over their use of the drug. They feel a strong need for cocaine, even when they know it causes them medical, psychological and social problems. Getting and taking cocaine can become the most important thing in their lives.
Smoking crack, with its rapid, intense and short-lived effects, is the most addictive. However, any method of taking cocaine can lead to addiction. The amount of cocaine used, and how often people use the drug, has an effect on whether people get addicted.
Cocaine causes people to “crash” when they stop using it. When they crash, their mood swings rapidly from feeling high to feeling distressed. This brings powerful cravings for more of the drug. Bingeing to stay high leads quickly to addiction.
Symptoms of cocaine withdrawal can include exhaustion, extended and restless sleep or sleeplessness, hunger, irritability, depression, suicidal thoughts and intense cravings for more of the drug. The memory of cocaine euphoria is powerful, and brings a strong risk of relapse to drug use.
Is it dangerous?
While many people use cocaine on occasion without harm, the drug can be very dangerous, whether it’s used once or often.
- Cocaine causes the blood vessels to thicken and constrict, reducing the flow of oxygen to the heart. At the same time, cocaine causes the heart muscle to work harder, which can lead to heart attack or stroke, even in healthy people.
- Cocaine raises blood pressure, which can cause weakened blood vessels in the brain to burst.
- A person can overdose on even a small amount of cocaine. Overdose can cause seizures and heart failure. It can cause breathing to become weak or stop altogether. There is no antidote to cocaine overdose.
- When cocaine is used with alcohol, the liver produces cocaethylene, a powerful compound that increases the risk of sudden death beyond the risk of using cocaine alone.
What are the long-term effects of using it?
Cocaine increases the same chemicals in the brain that make people feel good when they eat, drink or have sex. Regular cocaine use can cause lasting changes in this “reward system” of the brain, which may lead to addiction. Craving and psychiatric symptoms may continue even after drug use stops.
Regular long-term use of cocaine is associated with many serious health and behaviour problems. For example:
- Snorting cocaine can cause sinus infections and loss of smell. It can damage tissues in the nose and cause holes in the bony separation between the nostrils inside the nose.
- Smoking cocaine can damage the lungs and cause “crack lung.” Symptoms include severe chest pains, breathing problems and fever. Crack lung can be fatal.
- Injection can cause infections from used needles or impurities in the drug. Sharing needles can also cause hepatitis or HIV infection.
- Cocaine use in pregnancy may increase risk of miscarriage and premature delivery. It also increases the chance that the baby will be born underweight.
- Because women who use cocaine during pregnancy often also use alcohol, nicotine and other drugs, we do not fully know the extent of the effects of cocaine use on the baby.
- Cocaine use while breastfeeding transmits cocaine to the nursing child. This exposes the baby to all the effects and risks of cocaine use.
- Cocaine use is linked with risk-taking and violent behaviours. It is also linked to poor concentration and judgment, increasing risk of injury and sexually transmitted disease.
- Chronic use can cause severe psychiatric symptoms, including psychosis, anxiety, depression and paranoia.
- Chronic use can also cause weight loss, malnutrition, poor health, sexual problems, infertility and loss of social and financial supports.
Copyright © 2003, 2010 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
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Crack Cocaine Fast Facts
Crack cocaine is a highly addictive and powerful stimulant that is derived from powdered cocaine using a simple conversion process. Crack emerged as a drug of abuse in the mid-1980s. It is abused because it produces an immediate high and because it is easy and inexpensive to produce—rendering it readily available and affordable.
How is it produced?
Crack is produced by dissolving powdered cocaine in a mixture of water and ammonia or sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). The mixture is boiled until a solid substance forms. The solid is removed from the liquid, dried, and then broken into the chunks (rocks) that are sold as crack cocaine.
How is crack abused?
Crack is nearly always smoked. Smoking crack cocaine delivers large quantities of the drug to the lungs, producing an immediate and intense euphoric effect.
Who uses crack?
Individuals of all ages use crack cocaine—data reported in the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse indicate that an estimated 6,222,000 U.S.
residents aged 12 and older used crack at least once in their lifetime.
The survey also revealed that hundreds of thousands of teenagers and young adults use crack cocaine—150,000 individuals aged 12 to 17 and 1,003,000 individuals aged 18 to 25 used the drug at least once.
Crack cocaine use among high school students is a particular problem. Nearly 4 percent of high school seniors in the United States used the drug at least once in their lifetime, and more than 1 percent used the drug in the past month, according to the University of Michigan's Monitoring the Future Survey.
What are the risks?
Cocaine, in any form, is a powerfully addictive drug, and addiction seems to develop more quickly when the drug is smoked—as crack is—than snorted—as powdered cocaine typically is.
In addition to the usual risks associated with cocaine use (constricted blood vessels; increased temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure; and risk of cardiac arrest and seizure), crack users may experience acute respiratory problems, including coughing, shortness of breath, and lung trauma and bleeding. Crack cocaine smoking also can cause aggressive and paranoid behavior.
What is it called?
Street Terms for Crack Cocaine
Is crack cocaine illegal?
Yes, crack cocaine is illegal. Crack cocaine is a Schedule II substance under the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule II drugs, which include PCP and methamphetamine, have a high potential for abuse. Abuse of these drugs may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.
Other products of interest:
Check out Fast Facts on:
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- Huffing—The Abuse of Inhalants
- Prescription Drug Abuse and Youth
- Drugs, Youth, and the Internet
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Cocaine DrugFacts | National Institute on Drug Abuse
Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant drug made from the leaves of the coca plant native to South America. Although health care providers can use it for valid medical purposes, such as local anesthesia for some surgeries, recreational cocaine use is illegal. As a street drug, cocaine looks a fine, white, crystal powder.
Street dealers often mix it with things cornstarch, talcum powder, or flour to increase profits. They may also mix it with other drugs such as the stimulant amphetamine, or synthetic opioids, including fentanyl. Adding synthetic opioids to cocaine is especially risky when people using cocaine don’t realize it contains this dangerous additive.
Increasing numbers of overdose deaths among cocaine users might be related to this tampered cocaine.
How do people use cocaine?
People snort cocaine powder through the nose, or they rub it into their gums. Others dissolve the powder and inject it into the bloodstream. Some people inject a combination of cocaine and heroin, called a Speedball.
Another popular method of use is to smoke cocaine that has been processed to make a rock crystal (also called «freebase cocaine»). The crystal is heated to produce vapors that are inhaled into the lungs.
This form of cocaine is called Crack, which refers to the crackling sound of the rock as it's heated. Some people also smoke Crack by sprinkling it on marijuana or tobacco, and smoke it a cigarette.
People who use cocaine often take it in binges—taking the drug repeatedly within a short time, at increasingly higher doses—to maintain their high.
How does cocaine affect the brain?
Cocaine increases levels of the natural chemical messenger dopamine in brain circuits related to the control of movement and reward.
Normally, dopamine recycles back into the cell that released it, shutting off the signal between nerve cells. However, cocaine prevents dopamine from being recycled, causing large amounts to build up in the space between two nerve cells, stopping their normal communication.
This flood of dopamine in the brain’s reward circuit strongly reinforces drug-taking behaviors. With continued drug use, the reward circuit may adapt, becoming less sensitive to the drug.
As a result, people take stronger and more frequent doses in an attempt to feel the same high, and to obtain relief from withdrawal.
Short-term health effects of cocaine include:
- extreme happiness and energy
- mental alertness
- hypersensitivity to sight, sound, and touch
- paranoia—extreme and unreasonable distrust of others
Some people find that cocaine helps them perform simple physical and mental tasks more quickly, although others experience the opposite effect. Large amounts of cocaine can lead to bizarre, unpredictable, and violent behavior.
Cocaine's effects appear almost immediately and disappear within a few minutes to an hour. How long the effects last and how intense they are depend on the method of use. Injecting or smoking cocaine produces a quicker and stronger but shorter-lasting high than snorting. The high from snorting cocaine may last 15 to 30 minutes. The high from smoking may last 5 to 10 minutes.
What are the other health effects of cocaine use?
Other health effects of cocaine use include:
- constricted blood vessels
- dilated pupils
- raised body temperature and blood pressure
- fast or irregular heartbeat
- tremors and muscle twitches
Some long-term health effects of cocaine depend on the method of use and include the following:
- snorting: loss of smell, nosebleeds, frequent runny nose, and problems with swallowing
- smoking: cough, asthma, respiratory distress, and higher risk of infections pneumonia
- consuming by mouth: severe bowel decay from reduced blood flow
- needle injection: higher risk for contracting HIV, hepatitis C, and other bloodborne diseases, skin or soft tissue infections, as well as scarring or collapsed veins
However, even people involved with non-needle cocaine use place themselves at a risk for HIV because cocaine impairs judgment, which can lead to risky sexual behavior with infected partners (see «Cocaine, HIV, and Hepatitis» textbox).
Studies have shown that cocaine use speeds up HIV infection. According to research, cocaine impairs immune cell function and promotes reproduction of the HIV virus.
Research also suggests that people who use cocaine and are infected with HIV may be more susceptible to contracting other viruses, such as hepatitis C, a virus that affects the liver.
Read more about the connection between cocaine and these diseases in NIDA's Cocaine Research Report.
Other long-term effects of cocaine use include being malnourished, because cocaine decreases appetite, and movement disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, which may occur after many years of use.
In addition, people report irritability and restlessness from cocaine binges, and some also experience severe paranoia, in which they lose touch with reality and have auditory hallucinations—hearing noises that aren't real.
Can a person overdose on cocaine?
Yes, a person can overdose on cocaine. An overdose occurs when a person uses enough of a drug to produce serious adverse effects, life-threatening symptoms, or death. An overdose can be intentional or unintentional.
Death from overdose can occur on the first use of cocaine or unexpectedly thereafter. Many people who use cocaine also drink alcohol at the same time, which is particularly risky and can lead to overdose. Others mix cocaine with heroin, another dangerous—and deadly—combination.
Some of the most frequent and severe health consequences of overdose are irregular heart rhythm, heart attacks, seizures, and strokes. Other symptoms of cocaine overdose include difficulty breathing, high blood pressure, high body temperature, hallucinations, and extreme agitation or anxiety.
How can a cocaine overdose be treated?
There is no specific medication that can reverse a cocaine overdose. Management involves supportive care and depends on the symptoms present. For instance, because cocaine overdose often leads to a heart attack, stroke, or seizure, first responders and emergency room doctors try to treat the overdose by treating these conditions, with the intent of:
- restoring blood flow to the heart (heart attack)
- restoring oxygen-rich blood supply to the affected part of the brain (stroke)
- stopping the seizure
How does cocaine use lead to addiction?
As with other drugs, repeated use of cocaine can cause long-term changes in the brain’s reward circuit and other brain systems, which may lead to addiction.
The reward circuit eventually adapts to the extra dopamine caused by the drug, becoming steadily less sensitive to it.
As a result, people take stronger and more frequent doses to feel the same high they did initially and to obtain relief from withdrawal.
Withdrawal symptoms include:
- increased appetite
- unpleasant dreams and insomnia
- slowed thinking
How can people get treatment for cocaine addiction?
Behavioral therapy may be used to treat cocaine addiction. Examples include:
- cognitive-behavioral therapy
- contingency management or motivational incentives—providing rewards to patients who remain substance free
- therapeutic communities—drug-free residences in which people in recovery from substance use disorders help each other to understand and change their behaviors
- community based recovery groups, such as 12-step programs
While there are no FDA-approved medications for the treatment of cocaine use disorder, NIDA supports a robust medication development pipeline in this area.
- Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant drug made from the leaves of the coca plant native to South America.
- Street dealers often mix it with things cornstarch, talcum powder, or flour to increase profits.
- They may also mix it with other drugs such as the stimulant amphetamine or the synthetic opioid fentanyl.
- People snort cocaine powder through the nose or rub it into their gums. Others dissolve the powder and inject it into the bloodstream, or inject a combination of cocaine and heroin, called a Speedball. Another popular method of use is to smoke Crack cocaine.
- Cocaine increases levels of the natural chemical messenger dopamine in brain circuits related to the control of movement and reward.
- A person can overdose on cocaine, which can lead to death.
- Behavioral therapy may be used to treat cocaine addiction.
- While there are no FDA-approved medications for the treatment of cocaine use disorder, NIDA supports a robust medication development pipeline in this area.
For more information about cocaine, visit our:
For more information about drug use and HIV/AIDS, visit our webpage, Drug Use and Viral Infections (HIV, Hepatitis).
This publication is available for your use and may be reproduced in its entirety without permission from NIDA. Citation of the source is appreciated, using the following language: Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Cocaine (Crack) Addiction
Cocaine and crack are dangerous, addictive drugs that can lead to serious side effects including sudden cardiac death, brain seizures, heart attack and stroke. No drugs are approved to rapidly reverse the cocaine overdose itself or to treat cocaine addiction. Counseling is the mainstay of treatment.
Cocaine (Crack) Addiction
Cocaine is a stimulant drug that is made from the leaves of a coca plant and comes in the form of a white powder or a “rock.” Street names for powdered cocaine include snow, nose candy, coke, Big C, flake and blow. People snort cocaine through their nose, rub it into their gums, or dissolve it and inject it with a needle into their veins.
Powdered cocaine can also be smoked via a process called “freebasing.”
Drug dealers mix cocaine with other substances so they can have more of the drug to sell.
These “fillers” make the drug even more dangerous because the user does not know how much cocaine he or she is taking or what fillers may have been used.
Commonly used fillers include cornstarch or flour or other drugs – such as amphetamines or fentanyl – which can add harmful, and even fatal, side effects to an already unsafe drug.
What is crack?
Crack is cocaine that has been processed so that it can be smoked. It also goes by the street name “rock.” Crack looks small pieces or shavings of soap, but has a hard, sharp feel. Crack is usually smoked by heating it in a glass pipe, but it can also be mixed into a marijuana “joint” or a tobacco cigarette.
When a person smokes crack (or powder via freebase) cocaine, the drug reaches the brain more rapidly and in higher peak doses than when it is snorted in powder form. The user feels an intense “rush” followed by a “crash” that can produce a strong craving for more of the drug.
What's so bad about cocaine and crack?
Cocaine and crack are dangerous for many reasons. Cocaine and crack use can lead to serious side effects – some life-threatening – including:
- Sudden cardiac death.
- Brain seizures.
- Irregular heartbeat/increased heart rate.
- Increased blood pressure.
- Heart attack.
- Violent actions.
- Loss of ability to perform sexually.
- Addiction, even after one try.
In a person who is addicted, his or her cocaine use becomes an obsession and strong urge that can cause:
- Loss of control over his or her life.
- A willingness to do anything to get more cocaine.
- Spending a tremendous amount of money on his or her habit.
- A loss of interest in friends, family, and social activities.
- A need to take the drug just to feel “normal.»
Cocaine causes an intense flood of chemicals in the brain’s “pleasure” or “reward” pathway—essentially short-circuiting what would normally only be stimulated, or roused, by pleasurable life events. Repeated overloading of this brain circuit by cocaine causes changes in the brain in which nothing seems pleasurable without the drug.
The chemicals released in the brain by cocaine also play a role in maintaining normal feelings of happiness. Reduced levels of these chemicals (as during a cocaine “crash”) can cause intense feelings of depression. The addict will try to avoid these negative feelings by using more of the drug as soon as these symptoms arise.
These actions can ultimately lead to changes in other parts of the brain that result in drug use becoming an obsession and compulsion— an itch that must be scratched no matter what the outcome. This is why addicts will continue to use the drug despite all of the negative consequences. The obsession with the drug is also referred to as a craving.
In the case of cocaine, addicts also report an intense motivation to try to obtain the “high” that they experienced the first time they ever used, but the intensity of that first experience is impossible to ever achieve through repeated use.
What are the signs that someone is becoming addicted or is already addicted to cocaine?
A person who is becoming addicted or is addicted to cocaine will show signs including:
- Periods of severe depression.
- Weight loss.
- Not taking care of personal hygiene or appearance.
- Constant runny nose.
- Frequent upper respiratory infections.
- Changes in sleep patterns.
- Loss of interest in friends, family, and social activities.
- Loss of interest in food, sex, or other pleasures.
- Hearing voices that aren’t there, or feeling paranoid.
- Becoming more angry, impatient, or nervous.
- Experiencing hallucinations.
- Unable to explain having large sums of money.
- Offering sex for money to get drugs.
There are many health side effects of cocaine use. Long-term side effects, how cocaine is used, include:
- From snorting: nosebleeds, running nose, loss of smell, hole in the nasal septum (the wall dividing the two sides of the nose), hole in the roof of the mouth, swallowing problems.
- From injecting: increased risk of IV-related viruses, such as hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS, from sharing needles; vein collapse or scarring; heart valve, skin and soft tissue infections.
- From smoking: cough, irregular breathing, asthma, increased risk of lung infections including pneumonia and bronchitis.
- From absorption through gums in themouth: mouth sores (ulcers) on the gums and the underlying bone, receding gums, chronic gingivitis (inflammation of the gum tissue), dry mouth, tooth decay.
Other general long-term effects include:
- Severe weight loss and malnourishment.
- Movement disorders similar to Parkinson’s disease.
- Intestinal death and rupture due to constricted blood vessels/lack of oxygen to the intestinal tract.
Recovery often begins with “detox,” the body's physical withdrawal from cocaine. Physical symptoms of withdrawal can begin within a few hours and last up to seven days. The inability to enjoy normal pleasure may take longer to recover.
Withdrawal symptoms include:
As soon at the patient can begin therapy, he or she enters the next phase of addiction treatment. This involves group participation, counseling, and, often, psychiatric evaluation and treatment.
The goal of counseling (also called psychotherapy or “talk therapy”) is to help the addict understand the effects of cocaine use, face the issues that lead to drug use, and learn ways to stay away from cocaine.
Another therapy strategy uses incentives to motivate by providing rewards to people who remain drug free. This therapeutic approach is also called contingency management.
Group participation usually involves the “12-step” process that is common to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. If the addict also suffers from a psychiatric issue, such as depression or bipolar disorder, such issues also need to be treated or else they will probably lead the person to go back to using drugs.
Are any prescription drugs available to treat cocaine addiction?
No medications are currently approved specifically to treat cocaine addiction. Researchers are studying the use of medications approved for other conditions to treat cocaine addiction.
The medications showing the most promise are psychostimulants, modafinil, bupropion, topiramate and disulfiram.
However, due to small study size and inconsistent results, there is no strong support for any individual drug at this time.
A cocaine vaccine is in early testing stage. The hope of this vaccine is to reduce the risk of relapse and the return to cocaine use. The vaccine works by stimulating the production of cocaine-specific antibodies.
These antibodies bind to cocaine, preventing it from crossing the blood-brain barrier and stimulating the pleasure center. So far, studies in humans have shown mixed results. Some patients with high levels of antibodies were better in abstaining from cocaine.
However, other studies showed no difference in ability to abstain between those with higher levels of antibodies versus those who received a placebo vaccine.
Are there treatments to rapidly reverse the effects of an overdose of cocaine?
No drugs are currently available to rapidly reverse the cocaine overdose itself. However, emergency care would treat the life-threatening side effects – the stroke, seizures, and heart attack – that the overdose may have caused.
Yes. Serious side effects, including seizures, stroke, heart attacks and irregular heartbeats, can happen even with a single use of cocaine. If enough cocaine is taken or if the cocaine is combined with heroin, fentanyl, or other stimulants or opioids, someone could have life-threatening side effects or even die.
Most drug users deny that they have a problem, and push family and friends away. You may feel helpless, frustrated, and unable to cope. You can get help by contacting a local drug abuse treatment center. You should also do the following:
- Establish appropriate limits and rules with your loved one who may be addicted.
- Don’t change your actions to suit the needs of the user.
- Don’t cover up for the user when he or she fails to meet responsibilities at work, school, or home.
- Don’t make excuses for the addict’s drug use.
- Don’t lend money.
- Encourage the user to seek help.
- Get additional information and help from Al-Anon or Nar-Anon.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/11/2019.