Cocaine is a powerfully addictive drug of abuse. Once having tried
cocaine, an individual cannot predict or control the extent to which he or she
will continue to use the drug.
The major routes of
administration of cocaine are sniffing or snorting, injecting, and smoking
(including free-base and crack cocaine). Snorting is the process of inhaling
cocaine powder through the nose where it is absorbed into the bloodstream
through the nasal tissues. Injecting is the act of using a needle to release
the drug directly into the bloodstream. Smoking involves inhaling cocaine vapor
or smoke into the lungs where absorption into the bloodstream is as rapid as by
"Crack" is the street name given to cocaine that has been processed
from cocaine hydrochloride to a free base for smoking. Rather than requiring
the more volatile method of processing cocaine using ether, crack cocaine is
processed with ammonia or sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and water and heated
to remove the hydrochloride, thus producing a form of cocaine that can be
smoked. The term "crack" refers to the crackling sound heard when the mixture
is smoked (heated), presumably from the sodium bicarbonate.
There is great risk whether cocaine is ingested by inhalation
(snorting), injection, or smoking. It appears that compulsive cocaine use may
develop even more rapidly if the substance is smoked rather than snorted.
Smoking allows extremely high doses of cocaine to reach the brain very quickly
and brings an intense and immediate high. The injecting drug user is at risk
for transmitting or acquiring HIV infection/ AIDS if needles or other injection
equipment are shared.
Cocaine is a strong central nervous system stimulant that interferes
with the reabsorption process of dopamine, a chemical messenger associated with
pleasure and movement. Dopamine is released as part of the brain's reward
system and is involved in the high that characterizes cocaine
Physical effects of cocaine use include constricted peripheral blood
vessels, dilated pupils, and increased temperature, heart rate, and blood
pressure. The duration of cocaine's immediate euphoric effects, which include
hyperstimulation, reduced fatigue, and mental clarity, depends on the route of
administration. The faster the absorption, the more intense the high. On the
other hand, the faster the absorption, the shorter the duration of action. The
high from snorting may last 15 to 30 minutes, while that from smoking may last
5 to 10 minutes. Increased use can reduce the period of stimulation.
Some users of cocaine report feelings of restlessness, irritability,
and anxiety. An appreciable tolerance to the high may be developed, and many
addicts report that they seek but fail to achieve as much pleasure as they did
from their first exposure. Scientific evidence suggests that the powerful
neuropsychologic reinforcing property of cocaine is responsible for an
individual's continued use, despite harmful physical and social consequences.
In rare instances, sudden death can occur on the first use of cocaine or
unexpectedly thereafter. However, there is no way to determine who is prone to
High doses of cocaine and/or prolonged use can trigger paranoia.
Smoking crack cocaine can produce a particularly aggressive paranoid behavior
in users. When addicted individuals stop using cocaine, they often become
depressed. This also may lead to further cocaine use to alleviate depression.
Prolonged cocaine snorting can result in ulceration of the mucous membrane of
the nose and can damage the nasal septum enough to cause it to collapse.
Cocaine-related deaths are often a result of cardiac arrest or seizures
followed by respiratory arrest.
Added Danger: Cocaethylene
When people mix cocaine and alcohol consumption, they are compounding
the danger each drug poses and unknowingly performing a complex chemical
experiment within their bodies. NIDA-funded researchers have found that the
human liver combines cocaine and alcohol and manufactures a third substance,
cocaethylene, that intensifies cocaine's euphoric effects, while possibly
increasing the risk of sudden death.
Extent of Use
Monitoring the Future Study
The MTF assesses the extent of drug use among adolescents and young
adults across the country.
- The proportion of
high-school seniors who have used cocaine at least once in their lifetimes has
increased from a low of 5.9 percent in 1994 to 8.7 percent in 1997. However,
this is lower than its peak of 17.3 percent in 1985. Current (past month) use
of cocaine by seniors decreased from a high of 6.7 percent in 1985 to 2.3
percent in 1997. Also in 1997, 7.1 percent of 10th-graders had tried cocaine at
least once, up from a low of 3.3 percent in 1992. The percentage of 8th-graders
who had ever tried cocaine has increased from a low of 2.3 percent in 1991 to
4.4 percent in 1997.
- Of college students 1 to
4 years beyond high school, in 1995, 3.6 percent had used cocaine within the
past year, and 0.7 percent had used cocaine in the past
Use by Students, 1997:
Monitoring the Future
| Used in Past
| Used in Past
Community Epidemiology Work Group
Although demographic data continue to show most cocaine users as
older, inner-city crack addicts, isolated field reports indicate new groups of
users: teenagers smoking crack with marijuana in some cities; Hispanic crack
users in Texas; and in the Atlanta area, middle-class suburban users of cocaine
hydrochloride and female crack users in their thirties with no prior drug
National Household Survey on Drug Abuse
In 1996, about 1.7 million Americans were current (at least once per
month) cocaine users. This is about 0.8 percent of the population age 12 and
older. About 668,000 of these used crack. The rate of current cocaine use in
1996 was highest among Americans ages 18 to 25 (2.0 percent). The rate of use
for this age group was significantly higher in 1996 than in 1995, when it was
1.3 percent.>> Scientists discovered
that a brain buildup causes cocaine
>> New report finds, longer
treatment helps severe cocaine addiction
>> Want more information on cocaine visit