What is Cocaine?

Cocaine originally came from the coca leaves (Erythroxylon coca). The first known uses of cocaine date back 8,000 years to the mountains of the Andes in South America. While that may sound interesting, people over the centuries did not understand the addictive qualities of coca leaves. There are several reasons people in the high-altitude mountains chewed coca leaves, “it can mitigate the effects of the high-altitude, low-oxygen environments.” However, when scientists isolated cocaine in the 1900s, it became common in tonics and elixirs and was used to treat many conditions. Today, it is no longer necessary to chew the coca leaves, extracted from the plant Today, cocaine can be extracted from the plant in a purified state, or synthetically made. Sadly, researchers have known for decades that cocaine is highly addictive and can alter brain structure and function when used repeatedly.

Cocaine is classified as a Schedule II drug because of its potential for abuse. Today, when a person buys cocaine from a dealer, he/she does not know what the cocaine has been cut with which alters the drug’s impact. Commonly used substances to cut cocaine are talcum powder, over-the-counter drugs (Tylenol or caffeine), or flour done to increase profits. But cocaine is also cut with other lethal substances such as amphetamine or fentanyl. Dealers cut the cocaine and add these powerful drugs to increase the addictive quality of the cocaine. In its most common form, cocaine is a white powder.

How is Cocaine Consumed

People snort cocaine, rub it into their gums, heat it, and shoot it into their veins. They can also smoke cocaine (called freebase cocaine, known as Crack). Its effects are felt immediately and can last from a few minutes to an hour. During that time, an individual will experience 

  • Feel euphoria
  • Have a burst of energy
  • Sense of mental alertness
  • Hypersensitivity to light, sound, and touch
  • Reduce the need for food and sleep
  • How fast one experiences a high is determined by the manner in which the cocaine is consumed. 

How Does Cocaine Impact the Brain

“Cocaine works by increasing the amount of dopamine, a chemical associated with feelings of pleasure, in the brain. Dopamine is part of the brain’s reward pathway, and it is [dopamine] released to encourage animals to repeat behaviors [such as eating and reproduction.]” Cocaine can interfere with the body’s ability to reabsorb dopamine. Over time the interaction between the neurons and the transporters (which reabsorb the dopamine) is disrupted because the drug alters normal communications. Additionally, cocaine in the brain elevates stress hormones; to manage the increase in the stress hormone the body will seek more cocaine or more dopamine.

Cocaine is a highly addictive drug!

Effects of Cocaine

Cocaine’s physiological effects constrict blood vessels, dilate pupils, and increase body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. “Large amounts of cocaine may intensify the user’s high but can also lead to bizarre, erratic, and violent behavior.” Some users experience restlessness, irritability, anxiety, panic and paranoia, tremors, vertigo, and muscle twitches. Cocaine users tend to be binge users requiring higher doses of cocaine to experience the same high as initially and to get relief from withdrawal symptoms when the high wears off.

Damage Caused by Long-Term Cocaine Use

A wide range of ill effects on organs is seen in the body of a cocaine user.

These include but are not limited to:

  • Cardiovascular effects (disturbances in heart rhythm, heart attack)
  • Respiratory effects (chest pain, respiratory failure)
  • Neurological effects (strokes, seizures, and headaches)
  • Gastrointestinal complications (abdominal pain, nausea)

Regular snorting can lead to loss of sense of smell, nose bleeds, and swallowing problems. Chronic users can dimmish their food intake and experience significant weight loss and/or malnourishment. Additionally, cocaine use can lead to risky sexual behavior, which in turn leads to a greater risk of HIV infection. Researchers have found that cocaine impairs immune cell function. If you have compromised health, to begin with, cocaine use exacerbates that problem.

In a 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the approximate number of cocaine users in the US was 5.2 million with an additional 1.3 million people with cocaine use disorder (CUD). Death rates from cocaine overdoses doubled between 2011 and 2016. According to government statistics, in 2020 19,447 people died from an overdose involving cocaine.

Withdrawal from Cocaine

Because the frequent use of cocaine alters the brain’s ability to communicate normally, withdrawal from cocaine can bring on various psychological, mental, emotional, and physical symptoms. When a person tries to stop using cocaine, especially after long-term use and heavy binging, he/she/they may turn to other drugs such as alcohol, sedatives, and anti-anxiety medication to ease the withdrawal symptoms. This approach compounds the problem as other drugs have their own withdrawal symptoms. Most notably, the user of cocaine will experience intense cravings for the drug. These cravings need to be managed with the help of a professional drug addiction medical person. Additional withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Agitation and restlessness
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling of discomfort
  • Increased appetite
  • Vivid and unpleasant dreams
  • Slowing of activity
  • Suicide

Cravings and depression can last for months without receiving professional help, which can lead to negative consequences. A professionally run, medically-based treatment program can help cocaine addicts break the addiction cycle and learn to manage their cravings. Treatments include medication for psychological symptoms such as paranoia or extreme depression, hallucinations, or anxiety, for example, combined with other therapeutic modalities like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Contingency Management (CM), Group Counseling, Individual Counseling, Exercise, and more.

The good news is that neuroimaging technologies have seen cocaine users’ brains recover reduced grey matter after 9-months of abstinence. Grey matter in the brain contains large numbers of neurons. These neurons provide a pathway for information to be received and released. The grey matter is present throughout the central nervous system which enables messages from the brain to the spinal cord and out to the body to flow. These messages enable people to move, feel, and access memories.

Coastal Detox provides clients with a state-licensed, accredited medical detoxification facility staffed by nurses, doctors, therapists, and technicians trained in addiction detox and treatment. Additionally, we provide a holistic treatment approach to detox (the first step in recovery) followed by an individualized treatment plan that meets your needs. Do not let fear stop you from reclaiming your life. You do not have to be a slave to cocaine or other drugs. Make the call now and start your journey toward a bright future.