coke, blow, candy, crack, jack, jimmy, rock, nose
candy, whitecoat. Cocaine causes a sense of energy, alertness, talktiveness,
and well-being users find pleasurable. At the same time, they experience
sympathetic nervous system stimulation, including an increased heart rate, and
blood pressure and dilation of bronchioles (breathing tubes) in the lungs.
When injected and smoked, these drugs cause an intense feeling of euphoria.
Cocaine is a substance that is found in the leaves of a shrubby plant
(Erythoxylum coca) commonly found growing wild in Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador
and cultivated in many countries. The natives of South America used cocaine as
an important part of their daily lives: they chewed cocaine leaves for
increased alertness and endurance.
Cocaine as it is known today was first synthesised in 1855 although it was not
until 1880 that its effects were recognised by the medical world. Cocaine is an
alkaloid derivative of the coca plant, generally available in powder form which
can be zero to 90% pure, and "rock" which is more common and generally 25% to
40% pure. Cocaine is often cut with other substances, such as lactose (milk
sugar) mannitol (barley laxative), or amphetamines.
The leaves of the coca plant are made into a paste and its contents heated with
hydrochloric acid to produce cocaine hydrochloride. This most common form of
cocaine is a white, crystalline powder, freely soluble in water, but rarely
used internally or injected. The most popular method of use is to separate the
powder into fine "lines" of approximately 1/4 gram, 4-6 inches long. A small
straw is then used to "snort" the cocaine into the nose.
Cocaine is best known for it's ability to increase focus and mental alertness,
eliminate fatigue and decrease the appetite. Cocaine users are often
talkative, full of energy, confident to the point of being restless and
Cocaine initiates all the symptoms of the fight-or-flight syndrome: it
increases the heart rate and blood pressure, constricts blood vessels, dilates
the bronchioles (breathing tubes), increases blood sugar, and generally
prepares the body for emergency. It also improves the symptoms of asthma and
breaks down fat to create energy and therefore contributes to weight loss. It
can have excessive effects on the heart, leading to a disordered heart beat or
eventually, failure of the cardiovascular system and can also increase body
temperature to a dangerous extent.
Euphoria, blood pressure, appetite and attention are all regulated by a related
group of neurotransmitters: the biogenic amines or monoamine
neurotransmitters. Normally, these sensations are caused when neurons
communicate with each other and fire impulses through the brain via the
neurotransmittors. Monoamine neurotransmittors release their
neurotransmittors into the synaptic cleft and act on their receptors. Then the
monoamine neurons recapture them by pumping them back into the neuron. This is
how the neurons stop the transmission. Stimulants interfere with the recapture
mechanism by blocking the sites where the neurotransmitters are normally
taking, leaving them to stay in the synaptic cleft longer and continue to
stimulate the receptors.
When taken in larger amounts and upon prolonged use, cocaine can produce
depression, anxiety, irritability, sleep problems, chronic fatigue, mental
confusion, paranoia, and convulsions that can cause death. The prolonged or
compulsive use of cocaine in any of its purified forms can cause severe
personality disturbance, inability to sleep and loss of appetite. A toxic
psychosis can develop involving paranoid delusions and disturbing tactile
hallucinations in which the user feels insects crawling under the skin.
drug warriors ·
$400bn business ·
Kuhn, Cynthia, Scott Swartzwelder and Wilkie Wilson. Buzzed : the straight facts about the most used and abused drugs
from alcohol to ecstasy. New York: W.W. Norton, 1998.
portions reprinted from:
"methamphetamine" Britannica.com. Vers. 2001
1999-2001. Encyclopædia Britannica.
1 Sep. 2000
npr reports ·
teacher's guide ·
tapes & transcripts ·
pbs online ·
web site copyright 1995-2014
WGBH educational foundation.