Cocaine Information

Cocaine is a crystalline tropane alkaloid that is obtained from the leaves of the coca plant. The name comes from "Coca" in addition to the alkaloid suffix -ine, forming cocaine.

Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant that directly affects the brain. Cocaine was labeled the drug of the 1980s and '90s, because of its extensive popularity and use during this period. However, cocaine is not a new drug. In fact, it is one of the oldest known drugs. The pure chemical, cocaine hydrochloride, has been an abused substance for more than 100 years, and coca leaves, the source of cocaine, have been ingested for thousands of years. Pure cocaine was first extracted from the leaf of the Erythroxylon coca bush, which grows primarily in Peru and Bolivia, in the mid-19th century. In the early 1900s, it became the main stimulant drug used in most of the tonics/elixirs that were developed to treat a wide variety of illnesses. Today, cocaine is a Schedule II drug, meaning that it has high potential for abuse, but can be administered by a doctor for legitimate medical uses, such as local anesthesia for some eye, ear, and throat surgeries.

Forms of Cocaine

There are basically two chemical forms of cocaine: the hydrochloride salt and "Crack Cocaine". "Crack Cocaine" is referred to as "freebase". The hydrochloride salt, or powdered form of cocaine, dissolves in water and, when abused, can be taken intravenously (by vein) or intranasally (in the nose). Freebase refers to a compound that has not been neutralized by an acid to make the hydrochloride salt. The freebase form of cocaine is smokable. Crack is the street name given to a freebase form of cocaine that has been processed from the powdered cocaine hydrochloride form to a smokable substance. The term "crack" refers to the crackling sound heard when the mixture is smoked. Crack cocaine is processed with ammonia or sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and water, and heated to remove the hydrochloride. Because crack is smoked, the user experiences a high in less than 10 seconds. This rather immediate and euphoric effect is one of the reasons that crack became enormously popular in the mid 1980s. Another reason is that crack is inexpensive both to produce and to buy. Crack cocaine remains a serious problem in the United States. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) estimated the number of current crack users to be about 567,000 in 2002.

Cocaine Use in the U.S.A.

In 2002, an estimated 1.5 million Americans could be classified as dependent on or abusing cocaine in the past 12 months, according to the NSDUH. The same survey estimates that there are 2.0 million current (past-month) users. Cocaine initiation steadily increased during the 1990s, reaching 1.2 million in 2001.

Adults 18 to 25 years old have a higher rate of current cocaine use than those in any other age group. Overall, men have a higher rate of current cocaine use than do women. Also, according to the 2002 NSDUH, estimated rates of current cocaine users were 2.0 percent for American Indians or Alaskan Natives, 1.6 percent for African-Americans, 0.8 percent for both Whites and Hispanics, 0.6 percent for Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islanders, and 0.2 percent for Asians. The 2003 Monitoring the Future Survey, which annually surveys teen attitudes and recent drug use, reports that crack cocaine use decreased among 10th-graders in 30-day, annual, and lifetime use prevalence periods. This was the only statistically significant change affecting cocaine in any form. Past-year use of crack declined from 2.3 percent in 2002 to 1.6 percent in 2003. Last year, the rate increased from 1.8 percent to 2.3 percent, and this year's decline brings it to approximately its 2001 level.

Data from the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) showed that cocaine-related emergency department visits increased 33 percent between 1995 and 2002, rising from 58 to 78 mentions per 100,000 population.

The Way Cocaine is Consumed

The principal routes of cocaine administration are oral, intranasal, intravenous, and inhalation. The slang terms for these routes are, respectively, "chewing," "snorting," "mainlining" or "injecting," and "smoking" (including freebase and crack cocaine). Snorting is the process of inhaling cocaine powder through the nostrils, where it is absorbed into the bloodstream through the nasal tissues. Injecting releases the drug directly into the bloodstream, and heightens the intensity of its effects. Smoking involves the inhalation of cocaine vapor or smoke into the lungs, where absorption into the bloodstream is as rapid as by injection. The drug also can be rubbed onto mucous tissues. Some users combine cocaine powder or crack with heroin in a "speedball."

Cocaine use ranges from occasional use to repeated or compulsive use, with a variety of patterns between these extremes. Other than medical uses, there is no safe way to use cocaine. Any route of administration can lead to absorption of toxic amounts of cocaine, leading to acute cardiovascular or cerebrovascular emergencies that could result in sudden death. Repeated cocaine use by any route of administration can produce addiction and other adverse health consequences.

How Cocaine Works

pleasurable effects, and the reasons it is so addictive. One mechanism is through its effects on structures deep in the brain. Scientists have discovered regions within the brain that are stimulated by rewards. One neural system that appears to be most affected by cocaine originates in a region located deep within the brain called the ventral tegmental area (VTA). Nerve cells originating in the VTA extend to the region of the brain known as the nucleus accumbens, one of the brain's key areas involved in reward. In studies using animals, for example, all types of rewarding stimuli, such as food, water, sex, and many drugs of abuse, cause increased activity in the nucleus accumbens.

Cocaine in the brain - In the normal communication process, dopamine is released by a neuron into the synapse, where it can bind with dopamine receptors on neighboring neurons. Normally, dopamine is then recycled back into the transmitting neuron by a specialized protein called the dopamine transporter. If cocaine is present, it attaches to the dopamine transporter and blocks the normal recycling process, resulting in a buildup of dopamine in the synapse, whichcontributes to the pleasurable effects of cocaine.

Researchers have discovered that, when a rewarding event is occurring, it is accompanied by a large increase in the amounts of dopamine released in the nucleus accumbens by neurons originating in the VTA. In the normal communication process, dopamine is released by a neuron into the synapse (the small gap between two neurons), where it binds with specialized proteins (called dopamine receptors) on the neighboring neuron, thereby sending a signal to that neuron. Drugs of abuse are able to interfere with this normal communication process. For example, scientists have discovered that cocaine blocks the removal of dopamine from the synapse, resulting in an accumulation of dopamine. This buildup of dopamine causes continuous stimulation of receiving neurons, which is associated with the euphoria commonly reported by cocaine abusers. As cocaine abuse continues, tolerance often develops. This means that higher doses and more frequent use of cocaine are required for the brain to register the same level of pleasure experienced during initial use. Recent studies have shown that, during periods of abstinence from cocaine use, the memory of the euphoria associated with cocaine use, or mere exposure to cues associated with drug use, can trigger tremendous craving and relapse to drug use, even after long periods of abstinence.

Effects of Cocaine Use


Cocaine's effects appear almost immediately after a single dose, and disappear within a few minutes or hours. Taken in small amounts (up to 100 mg), cocaine usually makes the user feel euphoric, energetic, talkative, and mentally alert, especially to the sensations of sight, sound, and touch. It can also temporarily decrease the need for food and sleep. Some users find that the drug helps them perform simple physical and intellectual tasks more quickly, while others experience the opposite effect.

The duration of cocaine's immediate euphoric effects depends upon the route of administration. The faster the absorption, the more intense the high. Also, the faster the absorption, the shorter the duration of action. The high from snorting is relatively slow in onset, and may last 15 to 30 minutes, while that from smoking may last 5 to 10 minutes.

The short-term physiological effects of cocaine include constricted blood vessels; dilated pupils; and increased temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. Large amounts (several hundred milligrams or more) intensify the user's high, but may also lead to bizarre, erratic, and violent behavior. These users may experience tremors, vertigo, muscle twitches, paranoia, or, with repeated doses, a toxic reaction closely resembling amphetamine poisoning. Some users of cocaine report feelings of restlessness, irritability, and anxiety. In rare instances, sudden death can occur on the first use of cocaine or unexpectedly thereafter. Cocaine-related deaths are often a result of cardiac arrest or seizures followed by respiratory arrest.


Cocaine is a powerfully addictive drug. Thus, an individual may have difficulty predicting or controlling the extent to which he or she will continue to want or use the drug. Cocaine's stimulant and addictive effects are thought to be primarily a result of its ability to inhibit the reabsorption of dopamine by nerve cells. Dopamine is released as part of the brain's reward system, and is either directly or indirectly involved in the addictive properties of every major drug of abuse.

An appreciable tolerance to cocaine's high may develop, with many addicts reporting that they seek but fail to achieve as much pleasure as they did from their first experience. Some users will frequently increase their doses to intensify and prolong the euphoric effects. While tolerance to the high can occur, users can also become more sensitive (sensitization) to cocaine's anesthetic and convulsant effects, without increasing the dose taken. This increased sensitivity may explain some deaths occurring after apparently low doses of cocaine.

Use of cocaine in a binge, during which the drug is taken repeatedly and at increasingly high doses, leads to a state of increasing irritability, restlessness, and paranoia. This may result in a full-blown paranoid psychosis, in which the individual loses touch with reality and experiences auditory hallucinations.

 Short Term Effects

 Long Term Effects

 Increased energy
Decreased appetite
 Mental alertness Irritability and mood disturbances

Increased heart rate and blood

 Constricted blood vessels Paranoia
 Increased temperature Auditory hallucinations
 Dilated pupils 

Medical Problems

associated with Cocaine


Cardiovascular effects
- disturbances in heart rhythm
- heart attacks

Respiratory effects
- chest pain
- respiratory failure

Neurological effects
- strokes
- seizures and headaches

Gastrointestinal effects
- abdominal pain
- nausea

There can be severe medical complications associated with cocaine use. Some of the most frequent complications are cardiovascular effects, including disturbances in heart rhythm and heart attacks; respiratory effects such as chest pain and respiratory failure; neurological effects, including strokes, seizures, and headaches; and gastrointestinal complications, including abdominal pain and nausea.

Cocaine use has been linked to many types of heart disease. Cocaine has been found to trigger chaotic heart rhythms, called ventricular fibrillation; accelerate heartbeat and breathing; and increase blood pressure and body temperature. Physical symptoms may include chest pain, nausea, blurred vision, fever, muscle spasms, convulsions, coma, and death. Different routes of cocaine administration can produce different adverse effects. Regularly snorting cocaine, for example, can lead to loss of sense of smell, nosebleeds, problems with swallowing, hoarseness, and an overall irritation of the nasal septum, which can lead to a chronically inflamed, runny nose. Ingested cocaine can cause severe bowel gangrene, due to reduced blood flow. And, persons who inject cocaine have puncture marks and "tracks," most commonly in their forearms. Intravenous cocaine users may also experience an allergic reaction, either to the drug, or to some additive in street cocaine, which can result, in severe cases, in death. Because cocaine has a tendency to decrease food intake, many chronic cocaine users lose their appetites and can experience significant weight loss and malnourishment.

Research has revealed a potentially dangerous interaction between cocaine and alcohol. Taken in combination, the two drugs are converted by the body to cocaethylene. Cocaethylene has a longer duration of action in the brain and is more toxic than either drug alone. While more research needs to be done, it is noteworthy that the mixture of cocaine and alcohol is the most common two-drug combination that results in drug-related death.

What Cocaine Looks Like

 Cocaine is typically very white in color. Pure cocaine from South America (Colombia, Peru, Ecuador) is typically shipped in a small block shaped and is tightly compressed. The blocks usually weigh one kilogram. Click Here for more information on cocaine weights. As the cocaine makes it way through it's drug distribution network, the cocaine typically gets mixed with other additives. These additives are commonly called "cutting agents". These cutting agents are mixed and/or added to the pure cocaine in order to create more quantity and thus the purity level decreases as does the potency of the inositol powder. Drug dealers will sometimes put additives into cocaine and the re-compress the cocaine in order to try pass the cocaine off as being of high purity and not being adulterated.

The different additives effect the texture, color and smell of cocaine. A pure kilogram of cocaine is commonly referred to as "fish scale" cocaine because the color has a glistening appearance to it. Most one kilogram blocks of cocaine have markings impressed on them. Many times these markings consist of animals, letters, symbols and well known logos of legitimate companies.

Powdered CocaineCocaine

The color of crack cocaine is best described as being an off white color or a light brown color. The color of crack cocaine also depends of various causes, including the amount of baking soda that is used to cook the crack cocaine. Crack cocaine is usually sold as small individual units called "rocks" and some times are cooked into circular sizes known as "crack cookies". People in the illegal drug trade very commonly refer to powdered cocaine as "Soft" and crack cocaine as "Hard".

Lower level drug dealers sometimes try to pass off imitation drugs in order to sell to drug addicts or other level drug dealers. Macadamia nuts are sometimes passed off as being crack cocaine. Sugar, Coffee creamer, salt and soap detergent are sometimes sold as being powdered cocaine.

Prices for Cocaine

Cocaine prices vary from around the world.  Most cocaine originates in the South American countries of Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. A price for a kilo of cocaine in Colombia can be purchased for about $1,800 and sold in the United States for about 10-20 times that amount, depending on which state. The price of cocaine in Europe is even more expensive than in the United States. For more information on cocaine prices in the USA, click here.

There was an enormous increase in the number of people seeking treatment for cocaine addiction during the 1980s and 1990s. Treatment providers in most areas of the country, except in the West and Southwest, report that cocaine is the most commonly cited drug of abuse among their clients. The majority of individuals seeking treatment smoke crack, and are likely to be polydrug users, or users of more than one substance. The widespread abuse of cocaine has stimulated extensive efforts to develop treatment programs for this type of drug abuse. Cocaine abuse and addiction is a complex problem involving biological changes in the brain as well as a myriad of social, familial, and environmental factors. Therefore, treatment of cocaine addiction is complex, and must address a variety of problems. Like any good treatment plan, cocaine treatment strategies need to assess the psychobiological, social, and pharmacological aspects of the patient's drug abuse.

Many behavioral treatments have been found to be effective for cocaine addiction, including both residential and outpatient approaches. Indeed, behavioral therapies are often the only available, effective treatment approaches to many drug problems, including cocaine addiction, for which there is, as yet, no viable medication. However, integration of both types of treatments may ultimately prove to be the most effective approach for treating addiction. Disulfiram (a medication that has been used to treat alcoholism), in combination with behavioral treatment, has been shown, in clinical studies, to be effective in reducing cocaine abuse. It is important that patients receive services that match all of their treatment needs. For example, if a patient is un-employed, it may be helpful to provide vocational rehabilitation or career counseling. Similarly, if a patient has marital problems, it may be important to offer couples counseling. A behavioral therapy component that is showing positive results in many cocaine-addicted populations is contingency management. Contingency management may be particularly useful for helping patients achieve initial abstinence from cocaine. Some contingency management programs use a voucher-based system to give positive rewards for staying in treatment and remaining cocaine free. Based on drug-free urine tests, the patients earn points, which can be exchanged for items that encourage healthy living, such as joining a gym, or going to a movie and dinner.Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or "Relapse Prevention," is another approach.

Cognitive-behavioral treatment, for example, is a focused approach to helping cocaine-addicted individuals abstain-and remain abstinent-from cocaine and other substances. The underlying assumption is that learning processes play an important role in the development and continuation of cocaine abuse and dependence. The same learning processes can be employed to help individuals reduce drug use and successfully cope with relapse. This approach attempts to help patients recognize, avoid, and cope; i.e., recognize the situations in which they are most likely to use cocaine, avoid these situations when appropriate, and cope more effectively with a range of problems and problematic behaviors associated with drug abuse. This therapy is also noteworthy because of its compatibility with a range of other treatments patients may receive, such as pharmacotherapy.

Therapeutic communities (TCs), or residential programs with planned lengths of stay of 6 to 12 months, offer another alternative to those in need of treatment for cocaine addiction. TCs focus on resocialization of the individual to society, and can include on-site vocational rehabilitation and other supportive services. Of course, there is variation in the types of therapeutic processes offered in TCs.

Cocaine effects on Babies born to Cocaine Users

The full extent of the effects of prenatal drug exposure on a child is not completely known, but many scientific studies have documented that babies born to mothers who abuse cocaine during pregnancy are often prematurely delivered, have low birth weights and smaller head circumferences, and are often shorter in length.

Estimating the full extent of the consequences of maternal drug abuse is difficult, and determining the specific hazard of a particular drug to the unborn child is problematic for many reasons. Multiple factors-such as the amount and number of all drugs abused; extent of prenatal care; possible neglect or abuse of the child; exposure to violence in the environment; socioeconomic conditions; maternal nutrition; other health conditions; and exposure to sexually-transmitted diseases-can contribute to the difficulty in determining direct impact of prenatal cocaine use on maternal, fetal, and child outcomes.

Many recall that "crack babies," or babies born to mothers who used crack cocaine while pregnant, were at one time written off by many as a lost generation. They were predicted to suffer from severe, irreversible damage, including reduced intelligence and social skills. It was later found that this was a gross exaggeration. However, the fact that most of these children appear normal should not be overinterpreted as indicating that there is no cause for concern. Using sophisticated technologies, scientists are now finding that exposure to cocaine during fetal development may lead to subtle, yet significant, later deficits in some children, including deficits in some aspects of cognitive performance, information-processing, and attention to tasks-abilities that are important for success in school.

Legislation on Cocaine

Cocaine was first federally regulated in December 1914, with the passage of the Harrison Act. The criminal penalties for cocaine users that were levied against users of opium, morphine, and heroin; and required a strict accounting of medical prescriptions for cocaine. As a consequence of the Harrison Act - and the emergence in the 1930s of cheaper, legal, and readily available drugs like amphetamines - cocaine became scarce in the United States. By the 1950s it was no longer considered a problem worthy of law enforcement attention.

Cocaine use began to rise again in the 1960s, prompting Congress, in 1970, to classify it as a Schedule II controlled substance, meaning it was potentially susceptible to abuse and could produce dependency but had legitimate medicinal uses. However, it was still not considered by many in the medical profession to be a serious health threat. Even as late as 1980, influential scientific writings reflected the prevailing non-critical assessment of the dangers of cocaine: The 1980 edition of the Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry asserted that cocaine posed no serious problem, if use was limited to two or three times a week. Like the cocaine epidemic that occurred at the turn of the century, cocaine once again was embraced by the social elite. The deleterious effects of cocaine that were discovered merely 60 years earlier appeared inexplicably to have been forgotten. However, by the early 1980s, the nation's attitude toward cocaine had changed and various law enforcement and public health efforts intended to control its use were underway.

The Process of Cocaine

The following information describes how cocaine starts in South America at a clandestine farm, gets distributed and eventually winds up being used be a drug consumer in the United States, Canada, Europe, Africa, Australia and elsewhere in the world.

Where and How it Starts

Cocaine comes from the Coca Plant that is primarily found in the South American countries of Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. There are four varieties of the coca plant. The height of the coca plant can reach up to 20 feet, however many of the plants are cut down to about 5- 6 feet in order to make harvesting the leaves easier. The leaves contain the cocaine and each leaf contains about 1 to 2 percent cocaine.

The majority of world's supply of cocaine is produced in Colombia. Colombia and the other countries that produce cocaine not only have the right weather conditions for coca plant growth but also much of these areas are covered by jungles and the areas are typically mountainous.

In ideal conditions, up to about 15,000 - 18,000 coca plant bushes can be planted and grown on one acre. Each plant will generally produce about 4 ounces of leaves and the leaves are picked from the same plant about 3 or 4 times a year.

The United States provides billions of dollars and other support in order to destroy coca plant farms. This money and support is known as "Plan Colombia". This program utilizes a lot of aerical eradication of the plants by spraying herbicide glyphosate which helps destroy the coca leaves on the plant. However, this herbicide glyphosate does not destroy the actual roots of the plant so the plant will eventually grow back. It takes a plant about a half year for a coca plant to grow back naturally.

The farmers that grow the coca plants are typically poor people. They use fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides to help the plants grow bettter.

After about 6 months of cultivation, the coca leaves are hand picked off the plant they are usually placed into sacks. These sacks weigh about 50 pounds, sometimes more. These sacks full of coca leaves are then taken to nearby cocaine labs for processing.

The jungles labs are not fancy. There are thousands of these cocaine labs just in Colombia. Each year the Colombian government seizes many of these labs. The labs are well concealed within the jungle and mountains. In addition, the labs are constantly moving to different location to avoid detection. The photo below is a picture of a cocaine lab in Colombia.

Cocaine Lab in Colombia
In addition to herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers that are used at the coca plant farms, the labs contain many barrels that are used during the process of extracting the cocaine from the leaves. Many of the barrels contain gasoline which is necessary to process the cocaine. Other materials that are needed during the process are lime, cement, kerosene, sulfuric acid and postassium permangante. The cocaine making process creates a lot of pollution for the jungle. The photo below shows a lab with many barrels that are full of the previously mentioned chemicals. 

Cocaine Lab in Colombia
The sacks of coca leaves are dumped and then pulverized. The leaves can be pulverized by a weed trimmer machine. It takes about 800 pounds of coca leaves to produce one kilograms of cocaine. After the leaves have been throughly pulverized, an alkali is added mixed in with the leaves. The alkali is used to break the leaves and release the coca alkaloids. Lime or cement are usually used as the source of the alkali. Gasoline or kerosene is then added to the mixture of pulzerized leaves and alkali (lime or cement). The workers at the lab have long rubber boots and walk through the leaves and chemicals in order to properly mix it. Through this process, the coca alkaloids are eventually released from the leaves and then dissolve in the gasoline. After this step, the mixture is put into barrels and topped off with more gasoline or kerosene. The mixture is stirred for about 2 to 3 hours in order release all of the coca alkaloids and dissolve in the gas/kerosene.

After the mixing and stirring, the barrels are poured into a sifter which catches any vegetation that hasn't dissolved. The leaves and other excess vegetation are discarded after the sifter catches them.The below photo shows cocaine lab workers that were found by the Colombian military. The photo shows sacks of coca leaves and also a scale. The people that are facing the opposite way and that do not show their faces are juveniles. It is common for young children to be worker in the coca plant farms and cocaine labs. You can also see that most of the workers are wearing long rubber boots.

Cocaine Lab Workers