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Cocaine is one of the most widely used an abused illicit drugs and has been so for more than a hundred years. It is a white powder that has been popularized in movies (such as “Scarface”) and even in song. During the 1980s and 1990s it was considered the most popular drug of any type and was used by all levels of society. Though its use has declined in recent years, cocaine remains the drug of choice for many people.
The coca leaf, specifically the Erythroxlon coca bush, has been chewed as a means of enjoyment and to increase productivity for thousands of years. It originally appeared in South America among ancient Peruvians. There are depictions of people chewing a substance believed to be coca leaves on pottery from more than a thousand years ago. The Spanish conquistadors discovered the indigenous chewing the leaves and eventually began growing it and marketing it themselves.
The active portion of the coca leaf was not synthesized until the 1850s, but from that time until the beginning of the next century the process of extracting it was further refined. It began to be used in medications such as cough suppressants and hair tonic in the latter 1800s and was soon being used as an anesthetic for eye, respiratory system and spinal surgery. Outside of medicine it was also added to some wines as an ingredient to enhance the effect and was originally a principle part of the Coca-Cola formula.
The drug was finally controlled, after years of evidence of its harm, in 1914 by the Federal Government. However many localities and states had already chosen to regulate the sale and use of cocaine. These acts required that an individual acquire a prescription for the drug before they could use it.
As a Schedule II drug, cocaine has a medical purpose when used by a knowledgeable professional, but it also has a high potential for abuse and addiction. It is used medically as a topical anesthetic in some minor procedures for the eyes, nose and throat. It serves to numb these areas while surgical procedures are performed. As a recreational drug, abusers have found many more uses for cocaine.
The drug can be administered in many different ways and the actions have many different names depending on the method used. Some users take the drug orally and will either simply ingest the powder, or they will rub it on their gums. This then numbs the gum line and provides a relatively fast introduction into the bloodstream. Many natives of South American countries where the coca bush is grown still chew the leaves. The leaves are either chewed by themselves, or formed into a ‘wad’ and, much like those who use chewing tobacco, is kept in the cheek while the juices are extracted. One of the quickest way for users to feel the effects of cocaine is for them to inject the substance directly into their veins. This allows the cocaine to cause an immediate effect, but the high does not last as long as it does when the drug is taken using other means. Smoking cocaine is generally done when it is ‘free-based’ as crack cocaine. Crack is formed when the powdered form of cocaine is distilled and formed into a ‘rock’. This purer form is them heated until a vapor forms which is inhaled. This method of introduction allows abusers to feel the effects in just over a minute. The effect are very intense and short in duration. Some users dilute cocaine in water and place the liquid into an oral syringe which is then inserted into the anus. This suppository method does allow for quick access to a vascular area of the body, but it is likely used infrequently. But, the most popular method of cocaine introduction is via snorting.
This method is popular because it is probably the easiest way to get a sustained high. The cocaine needs to be cut into a fine powder so that it is absorbed efficiently in the sinus membranes, many users will chop the cocaine with a razor blade. A straw, rolled up dollar bill or other tubular device is used to inhale the powder forcing it into the sinus passages. People using this method will often experience nosebleeds and over a period of time snorting can cause irreparable damage to the nose because cocaine limits healing blood flow to the area.
Cocaine, like all psychoactive stimulants cause such immediate effects as higher blood pressure, elevated heart rate and higher core temperature due to the drugs basic function. However, some of the effects such as increased focus, talkativeness and alertness seem to be positive to the user. A feeling of euphoria is often replaced by short duration feelings of depression or anxiety (following a single use), but that quickly passes.
The danger of cocaine is in its long-term effects on the body and the psyche of the individual. Mental effects include intense paranoia which often becomes persistent, clinical depression which even more of the drug cannot lift, anxiety, extended insomnia sometimes lasting for days and terrors which are caused by verbal and visual hallucinations. These symptoms will often lead to an individual being diagnosed with a drug induced psychological disorder.
The most immediate physical effect for people who snort cocaine is a possible nose bleed and a head rush, but these can be supplanted by much more serious symptoms in a short period of time. Some users will actually lose pieces of their nose because cocaine constricts blood vessels thus reducing blood flow to the region. This loss of blood flow and oxygen can cause tissue to slough off and die. People who snort can also experience extreme respiratory problems very similar to asthma. They can experience shortness of breath, bloody spittle, and constant symptoms very similar to the flu.
The worst reactions among chronic users though are those related to the cardiovascular and neuromuscular systems. From extended use, an individual can experience blood pressure issues that lead to heart attack and stroke. They may also experience arrhythmias (irregular heart beat) which leads to a heartbeat that cannot be regulated and requires medical intervention. Chronic use of cocaine can lead to seizures and, in some cases, coma or death.
The seriousness of chronic cocaine use cannot be overstated. However, some people may think that one-time or sporadic use can be okay because it increases the ability to concentrate and stay alert. It is a fact though that even one instance of using cocaine can be fatal. Though it is very rare, some people have no tolerance for even one instance of cocaine use.
The adverse effects can cause permanent damage, so the short-term pleasure, euphoria and mental acuity are not worth the risk. With the dangers from possible addiction (and cocaine is highly addictive) and neurological, cardiovascular and respiratory complications (even death) it is not advised that anyone use cocaine.
NSIGHT Psychology and Addiction is an emotionally focused treatment program that emphasizes the underlying mental health and emotional issues that precede and reinforce addiction in order to create lasting change.