Cocaine is a crystalline tropane alkaloid that is obtained from the leaves of the coca plant.
It is a stimulant of the central nervous system and an appetite suppressant, creating what has been described as a euphoric sense of happiness and increased energy.
Cocaine can be psychologically addictive, and its possession, cultivation, and distribution is illegal for non-medicinal and non-government sanctioned purposes in virtually all parts of the world.
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In the United States, the development of “crack” cocaine introduced the substance to a generally poorer inner-city market. Cocaine has also become much more popular in the last few years in the UK.
Cocaine use is prevalent across all socioeconomic strata, including age, demographics, economic, social, political, religious, and livelihood.
Cocaine in its various forms comes in second only to cannabis as the most popular illegal recreational drug in the United States, and is number one in street value sold each year.
The estimated U.S. cocaine market exceeds $35 billion in street value annually, exceeding revenues by corporations such as AT&T and Starbucks.
Cocaine’s status as a club drug shows its immense popularity among the “party crowd.” Cocaine’s high revenues may be due to the drug’s psychologically addictive nature, which makes the cessation of use very difficult.
See our crack cocaine page.
As the name implies, “freebase” is the base form of cocaine, as opposed to the salt form of cocaine hydrochloride. Whereas cocaine hydrochloride is extremely soluble in water, cocaine base is insoluble in water and is therefore not suitable for drinking, snorting or injecting.
Smoking freebase is preferred by many users because the cocaine is absorbed immediately into blood via the lungs, where it reaches the brain in about five seconds. The rush is much more intense than sniffing the same amount of cocaine nasally, but the effects do not last as long.
The peak of the freebase rush is over almost as soon as the user exhales the vapor, but the high typically lasts 5-10 minutes afterward.
What makes freebasing particularly dangerous is that users typically don’t wait that long for their next hit and will continue to smoke freebase until none is left.
Cocaine sulfate is produced by macerating coca leaves along with water that has been acidulated with sulfuric acid, or a naphtha-based solvent, like kerosene or benzene. After the cocaine is extracted, the water is evaporated to yield a pasty mass of impure cocaine sulfate.
In South America, it is commonly smoked along with tobacco, and is known as pasta, basuco, basa, pitillo, paco or simply paste. It is also gaining popularity as a cheap drug (.30-.70 U.S. cents per “hit” or dose) in Argentina.
Users who ingest cocaine typically chew the coca leaves in their mouths much like chewing tobacco. Coca leaves typically are mixed with an alkaline substance (such as lime) and chewed into a wad that is retained in the mouth between gum and cheek and sucked of its juices. The juices are absorbed slowly by the mucous membrane of the inner cheek and by the gastro-intestinal tract when swallowed.
Alternatively, coca leaves can be infused in liquid and consumed like tea.
Ingesting coca leaves generally is an inefficient means of administering cocaine. Because cocaine is hydrolyzed (rendered inactive) in the acidic stomach, it is not readily absorbed. Only when mixed with a highly alkaline substance (such as lime) can it be absorbed into the bloodstream through the stomach.
Contrary to popular belief, both ingestion and insufflation result in approximately the same proportion of the drug being absorbed: 30 to 60 percent.
Snorting (also known as “sniffing,” or “blowing”) is the most common method of ingestion of recreational powder cocaine in the Western world.
Snorting cocaine produces maximum physiological effects within 40 minutes and maximum psychotropic effects within 20 minutes, which is similar to ingestion of cocaine. Physiological and psychotropic effects from nasally insufflated cocaine are sustained for approximately 60 minutes after the peak effects are attained. Van Dyke, et al.
Contrary to widespread belief, cocaine is not actually inhaled using this method; rather the drug coats and is absorbed through the mucous membranes lining the sinuses.
Prior to insufflation, cocaine powder must be divided into very fine particles. Cocaine of high purity breaks into fine dust very easily, except when it is moist (not well stored) and forms “chunks,” which reduce the efficiency of nasal absorption.
Rolled up banknotes, hollowed-out pens, cut straws, pointed ends of keys, and specialized spoons are often used to insufflate cocaine. Such devices are often referred to as “tooters” by users.
The cocaine typically is poured onto a flat, hard surface (such as a mirror) and divided into “lines” (usually with a razor blade, credit card or driver’s license card), which are then insufflated. One line is generally considered to be a single dose and is typically 35mg-100mg.
Drug injection provides the highest blood levels of drug in the shortest amount of time.
Upon injection, cocaine reaches the brain in a matter of seconds, and the exhilarating rush that follows can be so intense that it induces some users to vomit uncontrollably. The euphoria passes quickly.
An injected mixture of cocaine and heroin, known as “speedball” or “moonrock”, is a particularly popular and dangerous combination, as the converse effects of the drugs actually complement each other, but may also mask the symptoms of an overdose.
It has been responsible for numerous deaths, particularly in and around Los Angeles, including celebrities such as River Phoenix, Chris Farley and Layne Staley.
Smoking freebase or crack cocaine is most often accomplished using a pipe made from a small glass tube about one quarter-inch (about 6 mm) in diameter and on the average, four inches long.
These are sometimes called “stems”, “horns”, “blasters” and “straight shooters,” readily available in convenience stores or smoke shops.
An alternate method is to use a small length of a radio antenna or similar metal tube.
A popular (usually pejorative) term for crack pipes is “glass dick.”
The “rock” is placed at the end of the pipe closest to the filter and the other end of the pipe is placed in the mouth. A flame from a cigarette lighter or handheld torch is then held under the rock. As the rock is heated, it melts and burns away to vapor, which the user inhales as smoke.
The effects, felt almost immediately after smoking, are very intense and do not last long usually five to fifteen minutes.
When smoked, cocaine is sometimes combined with other drugs, such as cannabis; often rolled into a joint or blunt.
This combination is known as “primo”, “hype”, “shake and bake”,a “turbo” “SnowCaps”, “B-151er”, a “cocoapuff”, a “dirty” a “woo”, or “geeking.”
Cocaine can also be taken by oral methods. One method of achieving a cocaine high is to rub the powder along the gum line, which renders the gums and teeth numb: hence the colloquial name of “numbies” for this type of administration.
This is commonly done with the small amounts of cocaine remaining on a surface after insufflation.
Another oral method is to wrap up some cocaine in rolling paper and swallow it. This is called a “speed bomb”.
Since 1999, Colombia is the world’s leading producer of cocaine. Three-quarters of the world’s annual yield of cocaine is produced there, both from cocaine base imported from Peru (primarily the Huallaga Valley) and Bolivia, and from locally grown coca.
Coca grown for traditional purposes by indigenous communities, a use which is still present and is permitted by Colombian laws, only makes up a small fragment of total coca production, most of which is used for the illegal drug trade.
The production, the distribution and the sale of cocaine products is restricted (and illegal in most contexts) in most countries. Since 1914, when The Harrison Narcotics Tax Act passed in the U.S., cocaine has been considered a ‘hard drug.’
In Colombia, the indigenous population is allowed to grow coca for traditional reasons. All other coca is considered part of the illegal black market.
In parts of Africa, it is a crime to be in possession of cocaine or even be seen with it.
In South America, cultivation of coca is allowed only with special permission; however, it is a crime to posses processed cocaine.
Some parts of Europe and Australia allow processed cocaine for medicinal uses only.
Also, in some parts of the Middle East and Asia, being in possession of cocaine can be punishable by death.