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Cocaine is an illicit short-acting central nervous system stimulant drug that comes in white crystalline powder form, commonly used recreationally.
Cocaine is created from a paste extracted from the leaves of the coca bush found in South America. The ‘street drug’ is a mixture of this pure substance and other ingredients such as talcum powder, flour, laxatives, sugar and anaesthetics. These cutting agents are added to increase a dealer’s supply.
Cocaine, also known by many nicknames – blow, bump, blanca, coke, dust, flake, icing, line, pearl, snow, sneeze, sleigh ride, speedball, toot and white rock to name just a few – increases the release of neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, as well as exciting the central nervous system.
This can result in the effects of increased alertness, sociability, rapid heart rate, higher blood pressure, and sweating and reduces the need for sleep and food.
The drug can be injected, smoked, sniffed, or snorted and mixed with other drugs including the anaesthetic procaine and amphetamine.
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How much does cocaine cost?
A recent UNODC World Drug Report 2021 states that the United Kingdom had some of the highest cocaine prices worldwide in 2019 at £95 per gram while the United States wasn’t far behind at £90.
A gram of cocaine can be found for half that price in some parts of Europe where UNODC states it has a retail street price of £43-45 per gram.
Cocaine sold for illicit use can be found in three forms – in addition to the white powder the drug is commonly associated with – freebase cocaine, crack cocaine, and cocaine hydrochloride, the latter of which is used for medicinal purposes.
Freebase cocaine, also referred to as just ‘freebasing,’ is a form of the drug created when the cocaine powder has been converted into a substance that can be heated using a glass pipe to facilitate the inhalation of the vapours.
Freebase cocaine has a higher level of lipid solubility which causes the drug to enter the brain much more quickly than other forms of cocaine, leading to a faster, more intense high. Freebase cocaine is one of the purest forms of cocaine available.
Following the rapid and intense high from freebasing cocaine, a person will likely experience an equally intense crash which is characterised by anxiety, fatigue, irritability, depression, and paranoia.
Crack cocaine, also known as ‘crack’ is a pellet of freebase cocaine. It is formed when powdered cocaine is melted in a glass tube with water. The liquid is mixed with baking soda and cold water, then cut into small pieces which harden and are heated with a lighter or torch. Crack cocaine is most often vaporised in a glass pipe and inhaled but can also be injected.
The name ‘crack’ originates from the crackling sound that comes from the drug being heated but is also known by other names such as rock(s), base, candy, cookies, cleet or hard.
Because crack cocaine is smoked, rather than snorted through the nose, the drug reaches the brain more quickly than other forms of the drug and produces an intense and immediate short-lived high. Due to its potency, there is a high risk of fatal overdose when using crack cocaine.
Cocaine can be used as a local anaesthetic in the form of cocaine hydrochloride which is most commonly applied to the lining of the mouth, nose, and throat in preparation for certain surgeries. Although cocaine is effective in providing local anaesthetic effects, the risk of abuse prevents its widespread clinical use when other local anaesthetics are readily available.
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What constitutes cocaine abuse?
Cocaine is addictive and one-time use of the drug can quickly turn into a pattern of misuse, which may lead to cocaine addiction. The effects of cocaine are typically intense but short-lived which often result in you needing to take increasing amounts of the drug, more often, to experience the same high. This can cause the body to build up a tolerance and, as such, you could develop an addiction to cocaine.
Signs and symptoms of cocaine addiction vary from person to person depending on individual vulnerability and if used with other drugs. Abusing cocaine usually sees someone continuing the use of cocaine despite the negative consequences due to cocaine-induced craving. Negative consequences may include burn marks on the hands and lips, deterioration of hygiene habits, financial difficulties, and loss of interest in daily life.
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History of cocaine
The coca plant is one of the oldest cultivated plants in South America. For thousands of years, indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest and Andes Mountains have chewed coca leaves to energise themselves and as part of religious ceremonies.
The Catholic Church in South America saw the use of the coca leaf as undermining the spread of Christianity. In 1551 Catholic bishops urged the Peruvian government to prohibit the use of coca leading to restrictions being put on the amount of land used for coca cultivation.
European scientists first isolated cocaine from coca leaves in the 1850s. It started to be used medically when its anaesthetic effects were realised, and pharmaceutical companies began to market the drug for this use. However, the use of the drug for medical purposes quickly stopped due to fatalities from accidental overdoses during surgery and drug legislation began in the early 1900s, outlawing the sale and use of coca.
By the 1980s the use of cocaine in all its forms had reached epidemic levels, putting a huge strain on healthcare systems and it has now become one of the most misused illicit drugs globally.
Facts and Figures
According to a recent report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), 275 million people used illegal drugs between 2020 and 2021, while over 36 million suffered from drug use disorders. The report notes that cocaine supply chains to Europe are diversifying, pushing prices down and quality up showing there is an expansion of the cocaine market in the region, likely increasing the potential for harm caused by the drug.
The UNODC also states that there were 20 million users of cocaine globally in 2019 and the global quantity of the drug seized reached a record high of c.1,300 tonnes, 9.6% higher than in 2018.
The legal status of Cocaine
The legal status of cocaine differs from legal elements of cocaine in some countries to complete illegal status in others. While the recreational use of cocaine is illegal globally, some countries have legalised it for possession, personal use, transportation, and cultivation, while others have decriminalised the drug for some uses.
In the UK Cocaine was made illegal by the Dangerous Drugs Act 1920 and it is now classed as a Class A drug controlled by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. For possession, the punishment is up to 7 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both. Supply and production of cocaine carry punishments up to life in prison, an unlimited fine or both.
Medical use as a local anaesthetic is legal in the UK.
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Effects of untreated addiction
The misuse of cocaine can lead to several psychological, physical and behavioural symptoms. If you recognise the following behaviours in yourself, this may suggest that you have an untreated cocaine addiction:
- Need to take increasing amounts of the drug to feel the desired effects
- Feeling agitated, restless and depressed when stopping the use
- An inability to control how much you take
- Preoccupation with trying to acquire cocaine
- Borrowing or stealing money to purchase cocaine
- Being dishonest about your activities and associates
- Engaging in high-risk behaviours
- Depression, mood swings and irritability
- High blood pressure
- Persistent nosebleeds
- Loss of appetite
- Reduced need for sleep or insomnia
- Liver and kidney damage
- Heart attack
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