Cocaine is a relatively potent stimulant, of natural origin. It is extracted from the leaves of the coca plant (Erythroxylon coca), which is indigenous to the Andean highlands of South America. Its chemical name is [1R-(exo,exo)]-3-(Benzoyloxy)-8-methyl-8-azabicyclo[3.2.1]octane-2-carboxylic acid methyl ester, and its chemical sum formula is C17H21NO4.

Cocaine powder.

Table of contents
1 Side Effects and Health Issues
2 The Isolation of Cocaine
3 The Popularization of Cocaine
4 Use
5 People noted for cocaine use
6 See further
7 External Links

Side Effects and Health Issues

Cocaine is not recommended in conjunction with alcohol. Cocaine consumption causes high blood-pressure and increases the heart rate. There is risk associated with cocaine use, regardless of whether the drug is ingested by snorting, injecting, or smoking. Potential side effects of cocaine usage are aggression, depression, and paranoia. Cocaine is considered to be to almost as addictive as nicotine [1]. Typically the high is the best from the start. After a while it dies down and the stomach begins to ache. In order for users to feel comfortable they tend to wait about 30 minutes between tokes.

Excessive doses of cocaine may lead to seizures and death from respiratory failure, stroke, cerebral hemorrhage, or heart-failure. There is no antidote for cocaine overdose.

Cocaine use is associated with a lifetime risk of heart attack that is 7 times that of non-users. During the hour after cocaine is used, heart attack risk rises 24 times. It accounts for 25% of the heart attacks in the 18 to 45 year old age group.

Evidence suggests that users who smoke or inject cocaine may be at even greater risk than those who snort it. Cocaine smokers suffer from acute respiratory problems including coughing, shortness of breath, and severe chest pains with lung trauma and bleeding. The injection cocaine user is at high risk for transmitting or acquiring diseases if needles or other injection equipment are shared. In most cases, each purchase is about 2 grams for one day of smoking (after treated with ammonia). In addition, it appears that compulsive cocaine use may develop even more rapidly if the substance is smoked rather than snorted. This is because the high from snorting is much less prominent than from smoking. Furthermore, prolonged snorting of cocaine can degrade the cartilage separating the nostrils (the septum), leading eventually to its complete disappearance. The smoking of cocaine breaks down tooth enamel and creates tooth decay and loss.

The Isolation of Cocaine

Although the stimulant and hunger-depressant properties of coca had been known for many centuries, the isolation of the cocaine alkaloid was not achieved until summer of 1859. Although many scientists had attempted to isolate cocaine, no one had been successful because of two reasons. First, the knowledge of chemistry required was unknown at the time, and second, coca does not grow in Europe and is easily ruined during travel.

In 1856 Friederich Wöhler asked Dr. Carl Scherzer, a scientist aboard the Novara, an Austrian frigate sent by Emperor franz Joseph to circle the globe, to bring him back a large amount of coca leaves from South America. In 1859 the ship finished its travels and Wöhler received a trunk full of coca. Wöhler passed on the leaves to Albert Niemann, a PhD student at the University of Göttingen in Germany, who is the first known person to isolate cocaine. Niemann describes every step he took to isolate cocaine in a small work titled On a New Organic Base, which earned him his PhD and is now in the British Library. As with other alkaloids its name carried the "-ine" suffix.

The Popularization of Cocaine

In 1859 an Italian doctor by the name of Paolo Mantegazza returned from Peru, where he had witnessed first-hand the use of coca by the natives. He proceeded to experiment on himself and upon his return to Milan he wrote a paper in which he described the effects of coca on himself. In this paper he declared coca and cocaine (at the time they were assumed to be the same) as being useful, medicinally, in the treatment of 'a furred tongue in the morning, flatulence, [and] whitening of the teeth'.

A chemist named Angelo Mariani who read Mantegazza's paper about coca became immediately intrigued with it, and its economic potential. In 1863 Angelo started marketing a wine called Vin Mariani which had been treated with coca leaves. The ethanol in the wine acted as a solvent and extracted the cocaine from the coca leaves, altering the drink's effect.

Cocaine was introduced into clinical use as a local anaesthetic in Germany in 1884. Although synthetic local anaesthetics are much more widely used today, cocaine is, to some degree, still in use in dentistry and ophthalmology. In 1879 it began to be used to treat morphine addiction. Already by late Victorian times it appeared as a 'vice' in literature, e.g. as the cucaine injected by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional Sherlock Holmes --- from which fact we may conclude that its use as a recreational drug began early.


Illicit cocaine in its purest form is an off-white or pink chunky product. Adulterated coke is often a white or off-white powder. Cocaine appearing in powder is a salt, typically Cocaine Hydrochloride. Coke is frequently adulterated or "cut" with various powdery fillers to increase its volume. The substances most commonly used in this process are baking soda, sugars, such as lactose, inositol, and mannitol, and local anesthetics, such as lidocaine.

The major routes of administration of cocaine are snorting, injecting, and smoking (including freebase and crack cocaine):

  • Snorting: inhaling cocaine powder through the nose where it is absorbed into the bloodstream through the nasal tissues - this method creates the slowest rate of absorption.
  • Injecting: using a needle to release the drug directly into the bloodstream - this is the fastest absorption possible.
  • Smoking: inhaling cocaine vapor or smoke into the lungs. When smoked, cocaine is sometimes combined with other drugs, such as cannabis; this combination is known as primo.

"Crack" is the street name given to cocaine that has been processed from cocaine hydrochloride to a ready-to-use 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. What this does is that it removes the impurities from the cocaine and allows one to see how much pure cocaine is actually there. This is why people started mixing it with ammonia in the first place, to test the purity of their product. The term "crack" refers to the crackling sound heard when the mixture is heated.

On the illicit market, crack, or "rock," is often sold in small, inexpensive dosage units frequently known as a "nickel" or "nickel rock" ($5.00), "dime" or "dime rock" ($10.00). Quantity provided by a "nickel" or "dime" rock will vary depending on geographic location, availability and/or numerous other factors.

Color will depend on several factors including origin of the Cocaine used, impurities, method of preparation (ammonia vs sodium bicarbonate), among others, but will generally range from a light off-white to pale brown.

Texture will also depend on factors affecting color, but will range from crumbly (usually the lighter variety) to hard, almost crystalline (usually the darker variety).

Smoking is most often accomplished using a "pipe" made from a small glass tube about one-quarter inch in diameter and up to several inches long. These are sometimes called "straight shooters" and are frequently readily available at discount stores or smoke shops for a dollar or two. They will sometimes contain a small paper flower and are promoted as a "rose".

A small piece of copper scouring pad (usually called "brillo", from the brand name Brillo scouring pad) is crumpled-up and stuffed into one end of the tube after having the copper plating burned off. This crumpled scouring pad acts as sort of a filter to prevent the "rock" from being sucked into the mouth when smoking, but allowing the smoke to pass.

The "rock" is placed at the outside end of the tube closest to the filter and the other end is placed in the mouth. A small flame from a match or cigarette lighter is held near the rock. As the rock heats, it melts, while the user inhales the gaseous smoke released during heating.

The effects are felt almost immediately after smoking, are very intense, and do not last long, usually 5 to 10 minutes. The user is typically left wanting more crack, thus creating the financial problems commonly attributed to crack users.

A heavily used crack "pipe" tends to break at the ends as the user "pushes" the pipe. "Pushing" is a technique used to partially recover crack which hardens on the inside wall of the pipe as the pipe cools. The user pushes the filter through the pipe from one end to the other to collect the build-up inside the pipe. The ends of the pipe is broken from the object used to push the filter, frequently a small screwdriver or stiff piece of wire. The user will usually attempt to remove the most jagged edges and continue using the pipe until it is too short to handle.

Tell-tale signs of a crack pipe are the short, glass pipe containing the burned filter, jagged edges and burn marks at one or both ends.

Mechanism of action

Cocaine is a potent blocker of the dopamine transporter (DAT) and a less potent blocker of the norepinephrine transporter (NET) and serotonin transporter (5HTT). Cocaine also blocks sodium channels, thereby interfering with the propagation of action potentials; thus, like lidocaine and novocaine, it acts as a local anesthetic. It is speculated that cocaine's hedonic and addicting properties stem from its DAT-blocking effects (in particular, blocking the dopaminergic transmission from ventral tegmental area neurons). However, Ichiro Sora et al published a paper in 1998 in the Procedings of the National Acadamy of Sciences, showing that mice with no dopamine transpoters still exhibited rewarding effects of cocaine administration. Sora's later work demonstrated that a combined DAT/5HTT knockout eliminated the rewarding effects. The locomotor enhancing properties of cocaine may be attributable to its blocking of dopaminergic transmission from the substantia nigra.


Overall usage

The National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA) reported that, in 1999, cocaine was used by 3.7 million Americans, or 1.7 percent of the household population aged 12 and over. Estimates of the current number of those who use cocaine regularly (at least once per month) vary, but 1.5 million is a widely accepted figure within the research community.

Although cocaine use has not significantly changed over the last six years, the number of first-time users has increased 63 percent, from 574,000 in 1991, to 934,000 in 1998. While these numbers indicate that cocaine is still widely present in the United States, cocaine use is significantly less prevalent than it was during the early 1980s. Cocaine use peaked in 1982 when 10.4 million Americans (5.6 percent of the population) reportedly used cocaine.

Use among youth

The 1999 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey found the proportion of students reporting use of powder cocaine rose during the 1990s. In 1991, 2.3 percent of eighth-graders said they used cocaine in their lifetime. This figure rose to 4.7 percent in 1999. For the older grades, increases began in 1992 and continued through the beginning of 1999. Between those years, lifetime use of cocaine went from 3.3 percent to 7.7 percent among tenth-graders and from 6.1 percent to 9.8 percent among twelfth-graders. Lifetime use of crack cocaine, according to MTF, also increased among eighth, tenth, and twelfth graders, from an average of 2.0 percent in 1991 to 3.9 percent in 1999.

Perceived risk and disapproval of cocaine and crack use both decreased during the 1990s at all three grade levels. The 1999 NHSDA found the highest rate of monthly cocaine use was for those aged 18 to 25 at 1.7 percent, increasing from 1.2 percent in 1997. Rates declined between 1996 and 1998 for ages 26 to 34, while rates slightly increased for the 12 to 17 and 35 and older age groups. Studies also show people are experimenting with cocaine at younger and younger ages. NHSDA found a steady decline in the mean age of first use from 23.6 years in 1992 to 20.6 years in 1998.


Cocaine is readily available in all major U.S. metropolitan areas. According to the Summer 1998 Pulse Check, which is published by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, cocaine use has stabilized across the country, with a few increases reported in San Diego, Bridgeport, Miami, and Boston. In the West, cocaine use is down perhaps because some users are switching to methamphetamine, which is cheaper and provides a longer-lasting high.


In 1999, Colombia remains the world's leading producer of cocaine. Three-quarters of the world's annual yield of cocaine is produced there, both from cocaine base imported from Peru and Bolivia and from locally grown coca. There was a 28 percent increase in the amount of potentially harvestable coca plants in Colombia in 1998. This, combined with crop reductions in Bolivia and Peru, made Colombia the nation with the largest number of acres of coca under cultivation. Notable names in cocaine smuggling are Pablo Escobar, Carlos Lehder, George Jung and the Ochoa Brothers, as well as the Medellin Cartel, and Cali Cartel.


Cocaine shipments from South America transported through Mexico or Central America are generally moved over land or by air to staging sites in northern Mexico. The cocaine is then broken down into smaller loads for smuggling across the U.S.-Mexico border. The primary cocaine importation points in the United States are in Arizona, southern California, southern Florida, and Texas. Typically, land vehicles are driven across the Southwest Border.

Cocaine is also carried in small, concealed, kilogram quantities across the border by couriers known as "mules," who enter the United States either legally through ports of entry or illegally through undesignated points along the border. Colombian traffickers have also started using a new concealment method whereby they add chemical compounds to cocaine hydrochloride to produce "black cocaine." The cocaine in this substance is not detected by standard chemical tests or drug-sniffing canines.

Cocaine traffickers from Colombia have also established a labyrinth of smuggling routes throughout the Caribbean, the Bahama Island chain, and South Florida. They often hire traffickers from Mexico or the Dominican Republic to transport the drug. The traffickers use a variety of smuggling techniques to transfer their drug to U.S. markets. These include airdrops of 500-700 kilograms in the Bahama Islands or off the coast of Puerto Rico, mid-ocean boat-to-boat transfers of 500-2,000 kilograms, and the commercial shipment of multi-tons of cocaine through the port of Miami.

Bulk cargo ships are also used to smuggle cocaine to staging sites in the western Caribbean-Gulf of Mexico area. These vessels are typically 150 to 250-foot coastal freighters that carry an average cocaine load of approximately 2.5 metric tons. Commercial fishing vessels are also used for smuggling operations. In areas with a high volume of recreational traffic, smugglers use the same types of vessels, such as go-fast boats, as those used by the local population.

People noted for cocaine use

See further

External Links

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