Other Drugs


What is cocaine?

Cocaine is an addictive stimulant drug made from the leaves of the coca plant. Although healthcare providers occasionally use it as a local anesthetic for medical purposes such as surgery, it is otherwise an illegal controlled substance. Cocaine is the second most trafficked illegal drug in the world.

Other names for cocaine include:

  • Blow

  • Coke

  • Crack

  • Rock

  • Snow

What does cocaine look like?

Cocaine looks like a fine, white, powder. Cocaine purchased on the street is frequently mixed with other substances including cornstarch, talcum powder, or flour. However, not all substances mixed with cocaine are neutral – cocaine purchased on the street is frequently mixed with amphetamine and other stimulant drugs.

How do people use cocaine?

Cocaine use frequently happens in a binge – repeatedly taking the drug in a short amount of time – to maintain the high. Cocaine is snorted, ingested, injected, or smoked.

Short-term effects

Cocaine causes a short high, typically below 1 hour. The length of the high depends on how it is used – the high from snorting lasts 15 – 30 minutes, while the high from smoking or injecting may be more intense but shorter, lasting 5 – 10 minutes. The high from using cocaine is followed by an intense period of depression, irritability, loss of appetite, and difficulty sleeping. Regardless of how much cocaine someone takes or how frequently they take it, using cocaine increases the risk of sudden heart attacks, strokes, seizures, and respiratory failure, which can result in death.

The most common physical symptoms include:

  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature

  • Convulsion

  • Muscle spasm

  • Nausea

  • Restlessness

The most common mental symptoms include:

  • Anger

  • Paranoia

  • Hostility

  • Anxiety

  • Mental symptoms can persist even once the physical high has worn off

Long-term effects

There are many long-term consequences of cocaine use, some of which depend on the administration method.

If snorted:

  • Loss of sense of smell
  • Nosebleeds
  • Frequent runny nose
  • Difficulty swallowing

If ingested or rubbed into gums:

  • Severe bowel decay

Needle injection:

  • Increased risk of infection
  • HIV
  • Hepatitis C
  • Abscess

General effects, regardless of administration method:

  • Irreversible damage to blood vessels of the heart and brain
  • Hypertension (increased risk of heart attacks and strokes)
  • Liver, kidney, and lung damage
  • Malnutrition
  • Hallucinations (auditory, tactile)
  • Sexual problems including infertility for both men and women
  • Disorientation, confusion, apathy
  • Mood disorders (depression, anxiety)
  • Psychosis

Public domain image: 
Häggström, Mikael (2014). "Medical gallery of Mikael Häggström 2014". WikiJournal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.008. ISSN 2002-4436. Public Domain.


Why do people use cocaine?

The human brain produces a neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) called dopamine in areas that control pleasure and movement. Under normal circumstances, the brain releases dopamine in response to potential rewards like food or sex. After dopamine is released, it is quickly broken down or recycled back into brain cells. Cocaine hijacks this system and prevents dopamine from being recycled, which causes it to build up in the brain. This intense buildup causes cocaine’s high, including feelings of pleasure and energy.

Note: almost all drugs of abuse affect the dopamine system.

What about crack cocaine?

Crack cocaine is the most potent form of cocaine and is typically 75 – 100% pure, which is both far stronger and riskier than snorting cocaine powder. Crack cocaine is typically smoked which allow for a more intense and faster high, but a much shorter high. Because of the intensity of the high from crack cocaine, addiction can develop much more quickly.

Can a person overdose?

Yes, a person can overdose on cocaine. Using too much cocaine can have a toxic reaction resulting in serious harmful sickness or even death. Overdose can occur unintentionally, and can occur even after the first use of cocaine. Using cocaine with alcohol at the same time is particularly risky and can lead to severe harm. The most common effects of overdose are cardiovascular, causing arrhythmia, heart attacks, and strokes, but can also lead to seizures.

How is an overdose treated?

Overdoses are treated by managing the conditions that overdose creates: heart attack, stroke, and seizure. This involves restoring blood flow to the heart or brain, or stopping an ongoing seizure.

How do I recognize a problem with cocaine?

Some danger signs are:

  • More frequent use

  • Needing more and more to get the same effect

  • Spending time thinking about using the drug

  • If you find it's hard to be happy without it

  • Spending more money than you have on it

  • Missing class or failing to finish assignments because of cocaine

  • Making new friends who do it and neglecting old friends who don't

  • Erratic or unpredictable behavior.

If you find that you can't stop using cocaine, then remember, there's help available. 

How do I help a friend who's having trouble with drugs or alcohol?

If you are concerned about a friend's drug or alcohol use, this page contains information about different ways to help them. 


If you or a friend are having trouble with drugs or alcohol, or just have questions, there is help available.

Related Links

Dance Safe  
Dance Safe is a harm-reduction web site centered on drugs found in nightclubs and raves. The site offers drug information, a risk assessment, ecstasy testing kits and e-news.

National Institute on Drug Abuse  
NIDA drug pages have research reports, statistics and information on addiction.

The Good Drugs Guide 
This British harm-reduction web site provides extensive information on cocaine, including the basics, dangers, mixing with other drugs and links.

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