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Cocaine

Also known as: Coke | Crack | Rock | C | Charlie | Snow | White Lady

Cocaine is a stimulant drug. This means that it affects the central nervous system by speeding up the activity of certain chemicals in the brain, producing a feeling of increased alertness and reduced fatigue.

Where does cocaine come from?

Cocaine is manufactured from the coca plant, which grows naturally in Peru and Bolivia. For centuries, the Peruvian Indians chewed coca leaves to lessen fatigue caused by high altitude living. In 1859, a technique was discovered to extract cocaine hydrochloride from the coca leaves, which was used as an effective local anaesthetic. Cocaine hydrochloride was also used in many commercial products and was an ingredient in Coca-Cola until 1903. In the 1920s, cocaine was banned in most Western countries, except for medical use.

How is cocaine used?

Cocaine usually comes in the form of a powder and is snorted, ingested or injected. It can also come as a more refined powder or in a crystal-like appearance. These forms are usually smoked and are not commonly available in Australia.

How many people use cocaine?

The 2014 National Drug Strategy Household Survey reported that 1.6% of Western Australians aged 14 years and older had used cocaine in the previous 12 months.

The effects of cocaine will vary from person to person depending on characteristics of the:

  • Individual (user) – mood, physical size, health, gender, previous experience with cocaine, expectations of the drug, personality, whether the person has had food and whether other drugs have been taken.
  • Drug – the amount used, its purity, and whether it is smoked, swallowed, snorted or injected.
  • Setting (environment) – whether the person is using with friends, on his/her own, in a social setting or at home, at work or before driving.

Short-Term Effects of Cocaine Use

Short-Term Effects of Higher Doses of Cocaine

Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Use

Enlarged pupils

Cold sweats, fainting, confusion

Loss of appetite, malnutrition and  weight loss

Reduced appetite

Anxiety, sleeplessness, shaking, repetitive movement

Restlessness

Increased energy, alertness and wellbeing

Arms and legs may feel heavy

Reduced resistance to infection

Increased confidence and talkativeness

Depression

Convulsions

Inability to sleep

Aggressive behaviour

Violent behaviour, emotional disturbances and paranoia

Anxiety and suspiciousness

Burst blood vessels in the brain

Tolerance and dependence

Irritability

Psychosis including hallucinations and delusions

Auditory hallucinations

Increased body temperature, rate of breathing, pulse rate and blood pressure

Overdose

Periods of psychosis

Method of Use

There are dangers associated with the method of use. Snorting can produce burns and sores of the membrane that lines the interior of the nose. Injecting cocaine can result in major damage to the body’s organs, inflamed and blocked blood vessels, abscesses and blood poisoning. Bacterial infections can occur which may damage the heart valves, cause vein collapse, infection at injection site, bruising or more serious injuries if users inject into an artery or tissue.

See the Staying Safe section for information on protecting yourself.

Tolerance

Regular, heavy cocaine use can lead to tolerance. This means that a person needs more of the drug to achieve the same effects they did previously with smaller amounts. Tolerance to cocaine can develop over a short period of time.

Dependence

Regular, heavy cocaine use can lead to dependence. This means that the drug becomes central to a person’s life and they feel they cannot function properly without it. Dependence can develop quickly with cocaine because of the short acting nature of the drug.

Withdrawal

When the use of cocaine is reduced or stopped, withdrawal symptoms may occur. These symptoms can include fatigue, hunger, depression, reduced energy levels, irritability, agitation, insomnia, paranoia, aggression, anxiety or cravings for the drug. 

Overdose

Overdose occurs when the level of intoxication from the drug reaches a point where it begins to produce physical and/or psychological harm.

Overdose from cocaine usually results from the drug’s stimulatory and anaesthetic properties. Cocaine can cause an increase in heart rate, seizures and hyperventilation. In some cases, a person may experience heart failure, respiratory failure, burst blood vessels in the brain and death.

The risk of overdose generally increases with a larger dose. As the strength and content of street cocaine is unknown it can be difficult to judge the dose, increasing the risk of overdose.

A drug overdose is life threatening. An ambulance should be called immediately (dial 000) if someone starts experiencing any of the symptoms of a stimulant overdose.

Police will not be involved unless the ambulance officers are threatened or there is a death.

Cocaine use can cause anxiety, depression, paranoia and psychosis in those people who have a vulnerability to mental health problems.

 

Cocaine use during pregnancy has been linked with bleeding, early labour, miscarriage, still birth and can affect the baby’s development before birth. Cocaine can cause the heart rate of the mother and baby to increase and the supply of blood and oxygen to the baby is reduced.

If cocaine is used close to birth, the baby may be directly affected, and may be born hyperactive and agitated. Babies of mothers who regularly use cocaine during pregnancy may also experience withdrawal making them unresponsive and sleepless in the first few weeks after birth. It is not yet known whether children of mothers who used amphetamines during their pregnancy experience long-term problems in mental or physical growth, but initial studies give some cause for concern.

It is likely that cocaine will reach the baby through breast milk. The effect this has on the baby will depend on factors such as the amount and strength of cocaine used and the time between using cocaine and feeding the baby. Symptoms may include the baby being irritable, unsettled and difficult to feed. Injecting cocaine also increases the risk of HIV infection and other infections for both the mother and the baby.

It is recommended that women check with their doctor (or other health professional) if they are using or planning to use drugs while pregnant or breastfeeding, including prescribed and over-the-counter medicines.

Using more than one drug at a time can have unpredictable and dangerous effects.  Cocaine users sometimes take other drugs such as tranquillisers, cannabis, alcohol, or heroin to cope with some of the undesirable effects of cocaine and a dependence on several drugs may develop. For example, users may find themselves needing cocaine to get them going in the day and tranquillisers each night to get to sleep. This kind of dependence can lead to a variety of very serious physical and psychological problems.

If cocaine is combined with depressant drugs like alcohol, users may not feel the effects of the depressant drug straight away due to the masking effect that occurs. For example, if cocaine is used with alcohol, Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) still goes up and motor skills such as coordination and reflexes are still impaired.

Combining cocaine with other stimulants such as ecstasy or amphetamines can greatly increase the negative side effects of both drugs. The effects can be greatly exaggerated and unpredictable and may be similar to taking a very large dose of stimulant drugs.

One of the major risks associated with manufacturing drugs is that you won’t know what is in them, or the toxicity of the active substances. As part of the manufacturing process, dangerous by-products can also be formed of unknown toxicity. Compounds used to manufacture the drug can cause them to be converted to other unknown compounds of unknown toxicity. This can result in accidentally mixing drugs and serious side effects.

Cocaine and relationship problems

Drug use can lead to social and emotional problems and can affect relationships with family and friends. For example, users may develop paranoid behaviour and become difficult to live with, focus only on drugs and have no time for friends, or argue about money.

Cocaine and financial problems

The street price of cocaine depends on availability and market trends. The cost of purchasing cocaine can lead to financial problems for both occasional and regular users.

Cocaine and the law

In Western Australia, under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1981, it is illegal to use, possess, manufacture or supply cocaine. Offences under this Act carry heavy fines and/or prison sentences. Penalties range from a $2,000 fine and/or two years in prison to a $100 000 fine and/or imprisonment for 25 years. A person convicted of a drug offence can receive a criminal record, which can lead to difficulties in getting a job, health insurance, credit and/or visas for overseas travel.

Cocaine and driving

In Western Australia, it is against the law for anyone to drive with the presence of an illicit drug prescribed within the Road Traffic Act 1974, or impaired by a drug.

Cocaine can cause exaggerated feelings of confidence, which may result in users taking greater risks and overestimating their driving abilities.

Cocaine, taken in combination with alcohol, can greatly impair driving performance.

 

There are a variety of treatment pathways available for people with cocaine-related problems. The drug(s) used and the availability of services as well as the user’s health, desired outcome, support network and unique circumstances need to be taken into consideration. Deciding on the most appropriate treatment pathway is best done in consultation with an alcohol and other drug counsellor.

For up-to-date information about quitting Cocaine, call the Alcohol and Drug Support Line or Parent and Family Drug Support Line.

See the Staying Safe section for information on safer use.

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