WHAT IS COCAINE? A DEFINITION
Cocaine, or coke for short, is a strong, addictive, illicit stimulant drug. It’s made from the leaves of the coca plant found in South America. Locals to the area have chewed and ingested the coca plant’s leaves for thousands of years for the stimulating effects. But the effects of the cocaine used today are much stronger than those from leaves pulled directly from the plant.
Cocaine | Club Drug
The drug is known as a party or club drug due to its energizing and euphoric effects. Ingesting cocaine gives users a quick and immediate surge of energy and excitement. It also allows people to drink greater amounts for longer periods of time. That means cocaine goes hand in hand with the nightlife scene, especially in larger cities.
Effects of cocaine are short-lived, though, usually lasting between five minutes and half an hour. The short high leads users to binge on cocaine, meaning they use large amounts in a small time frame. Cocaine users multiply their chances for dangerous consequences when they binge use the drug.
The Drug Enforcement Administration classifies cocaine as a Schedule II substance. It’s recognized for its dangerously high potential for physical and psychological dependence and narrow acceptance for medical use.
WHAT IS COCAINE MADE OF?
Cocaine is made from the leaves of the coca plants that are native to South America. Chewing the plant’s leaves on their own provides stimulating effects still popular with locals today. Scientists first isolated the active chemical, cocaine hydrochloride, from the plant’s leaves over 100 years ago.
Pure cocaine was popular in the early 1900s in a number of different formulas for illnesses. Surgeons also used cocaine as an anesthetic before the invention of local anesthesia. Coca Cola even used cocaine in their earliest versions of the soda! As research revealed the incredibly addictive nature of the drug, though, regulation over its widespread use settled in.
WHAT FORMS DOES COCAINE COME IN?
Cocaine comes in a few different forms. It is still available to doctors for some medical uses, like local anesthesia for smaller surgeries. Doctors don’t use the drug as often as they once did since there are more effective alternatives. But regulations from the DEA allow those who still prefer using it to do so.
The cocaine found on the streets is a different story. Again, there are two main forms of cocaine that people abuse: hydrochloride salt cocaine (which is water-soluble) and cocaine base (which is insoluble, also called freebase).
The water-soluble form of cocaine is the most commonly found form of the drug. It comes as a crystalline, white substance in small chunks or crushed down into a fine powder. Dealers often “cut” the drug (or dilute it) with other substances, such as flour, cornstarch, or baking soda. This helps increase their profits as they can sell more product with the fillers cut in.
People usually use cocaine by snorting the powder or rubbing it into their gums. It’s the easiest and quickest way to use it, especially while out partying for the night. Some users dissolve the drug into water and inject the mixture intravenously. This method provides much stronger effects but is a less common way to ingest it.
Cocaine base, or freebase cocaine, is made by processing cocaine with a substance like baking soda. They heat the mixture to remove the hydrochloride which leaves behind a smokable, rocklike substance. Freebase cocaine is referred to as crack cocaine or crack rocks due to the cracking sound it makes while users smoke it.
Crack cocaine is even more addictive than regular cocaine because it is a more potent substance. It starts as a cheaper alternative to the very expensive price tag of cocaine. Since it’s so addictive, though, crack use often spirals out of control quickly and becomes an incredibly expensive habit.
CHEMISTRY OF COCAINE
Chemistry of Cocaine
Cocaine works by affecting the brain’s chemistry and normal functioning. When a person ingests cocaine it interacts with their brain’s mesolimbic dopamine system. This natural “reward pathway” is stimulated by different things such as food, sex, or drugs like cocaine. In addition to the reward system, this area also affects emotions and motivation.
The human brain is built to regulate all types of processes including the release of dopamine. Normally when the brain releases a dopamine molecule, the molecule binds to a dopamine receptor. The receptor passes the message to feel excited or happy before another process takes over to recycle the dopamine molecule away.
Rather than allowing a person’s brain to regulate dopamine levels normally, cocaine completely hijacks this process. When someone ingests cocaine their brain releases a flood of dopamine molecules. Then the cocaine binds to the dopamine receptors and interrupts the brain’s ability to recycle its dopamine molecules.
Since the person’s brain isn’t removing any molecules from their receptors, it leads to a massive buildup of dopamine. This imbalance in brain chemistry caused by the dopamine buildup is what causes the pleasurable effects of cocaine.
Once their brain removes all of the dopamine the user is left with the feeling of the “crash.” They have a down or depressed mood caused by the sudden absence of their dopamine buildup. It takes some time but their brain chemistry eventually balances back out again. The more often they use cocaine and affect their brain and its natural chemistry, the longer lasting the impact.
Drugs are a hot button topic in the United States. Media outlets often make extreme claims about drug use as they clamor for clicks, interactions, and views. Sometimes their alarm is grounded in fact but other times they operate strictly on myths. There are a few different myths circulated about cocaine that simply aren’t true.
Sometimes news outlets or other forms of media refer to cocaine use in the United States as an epidemic. While there are other active drug epidemics like the opioid problem gripping the nation, a true cocaine epidemic is a myth. In reality, cocaine use has mostly declined since its peak in the 1980s. Only 2.2 percent of the population ages 12 and older reported using cocaine in 2017.
Others claim that cocaine use improves mental acuteness and performance. The stimulating effects of cocaine supposedly help people focus on the task at hand but this is also a myth. Cocaine actually has quite the opposite effect. It often causes overstimulation and makes it challenging to pay attention to a single task at a time.
Another myth is that recreational cocaine use is not dangerous. Most people who use cocaine use it only while out with friends and think they are still safe. Since the high is short-lived, though, people tend to binge on the drug when they use it. In addition to using large amounts, they also tend to drink heavily and mixing alcohol and cocaine is incredibly dangerous.
STREET NAMES AND NICKNAMES FOR COCAINE
While cocaine does have plenty of street names just like every other drug, people still often refer to it by its full name. If they don’t call it by its full name, “coke” the most common slang name people use. There are a few other nicknames for cocaine including: