What Type of Drug is Cocaine?

Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant drug made from the leaves of the coca plant native to South America.

In ancient times, South American natives used coca for religious and medicinal purposes. They used its stimulant properties to fight fatigue and hunger and to enhance endurance. The Spanish conquistador banned coca at first, but when they discovered that the natives could barely work the fields and the gold mines without it, they began to distribute it to the workers three or four times a day.

The Spanish brought coca to Europe where it was used only occasionally until the 19th Century. The active ingredient of the coca plant was first identified in 1859. Sigmund Freud experimented with cocaine in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Doctors began to use cocaine as an antidote to morphine addiction, but some of the patients ended up addicted to both.

Cocaine acts as a strong stimulant on the central nervous system. It increases levels of dopamine in brain circuits (dopamine regulates pleasure in the brain).

Street names: Coke, crack, C, okey dokey, nose, charlie, nose candy, big C, blow, marching powder, snow, white lady, toot, ceci, candi, star dust.

Effects of Cocaine

Cocaine has an immediate effect on the whole body. It acts as a local anaesthetic and as a powerful general stimulant on the brain. It does this by mimicking the natural adrenalin response of the body to stress.

Taken in small amounts, cocaine usually makes the user feel euphoric, energetic, talkative, and mentally alert, especially to the sensations of sight, sound, and touch. It can also temporarily decrease the need for food and sleep.

With repeated use, cocaine can cause long-term changes in the brain’s reward system as well as other brain systems, which can lead to addiction.

Signs of Cocaine Addiction

The short-term physiological effects of cocaine use include constricted blood vessels, dilated pupils; and an increase in body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure.

Heavy users of cocaine can also suffer from “cocaine psychosis”, a condition which causes paranoia, confusion, depression and hallucinations. Cocaine addicts can become irrational (e.g. hard to talk to) and aggressive and can experience the sensation of bugs crawling under their skin. Users may also experience tremors, vertigo, and muscle twitches.

Using cocaine creates the impression of increasing performance (at work or school for example) but it soon leads to a decrease in performance. A cocaine addiction can be very expensive and can lead to further crime to support the habit. It tends to damage relationships with family and friends.

The Health Risks of Cocaine

Cocaine use can cause headaches and nausea. Because cocaine tends to decrease appetite, chronic users can become malnourished as well. 

Most seriously, people who use cocaine can suffer heart attacks or strokes, which may cause sudden death.

Some effects of cocaine depend on the method of taking it. Regular inhalation of cocaine, for example, can lead to loss of the sense of smell, nosebleeds, problems with swallowing, hoarseness, and a chronically runny nose. Injecting cocaine can bring about severe allergic reactions and increased risk for contracting HIV, hepatitis C, and other blood-borne diseases.

Physical effects of long-term or heavy use can be neurological, cardiovascular and respiratory:

  • Headaches

  • Convulsions

  • Seizures

  • Coma

  • Stroke

  • Heart Disease

  • Altered heart rhythm

  • Chest pain

  • Very high or very low blood pressure

  • Heart attack

  • Endocarditis — Heart infection

  • Lung Damage and Disease

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Chronic bronchitis

  • Ruptured lung structures

  • Collapsed lung

  • Respiratory failure

  • Sudden death

Psychological Damage

  • Irritability and mood disturbances

  • Auditory hallucinations (imaginary sounds that seem real)

  • Formication – The sensation that insects are crawling under the skin

  • Pyschosis (as you already mentioned earlier)

Reproductive System Damage

  • Sexual dysfunction in both males and females

  • Menstrual cycle disturbances

  • Infertility in both males and females

Danger During Pregnancy

  • Miscarriage, premature delivery, or stillbirth of pregnancies

  • Neonatal withdrawal syndrome

  • Low birth weight, smaller head size, and shorter length in newborns

  • Deformities in newborns of addicted mothers or addicted fathers

Other Damage

  • Burns in mouth and on hands from smoking
  • “Tracks” – puncture marks on arms or wherever injections are made

  • Infections and sores associated with injection tracks

  • Incontinence (inability to control urination and/or bowel movements)

  • Allergic reactions to cocaine or the additives in street drugs

  • Brain infections – both bacterial and fungal, sometimes leading to abcesses

  • Weight loss and malnourishment due to decreased appetite for food

  • Gangrene (rot) of bowels and other body parts from lack of bloodflow

  • More risk-taking behavior, including unsafe sex

  • Increased risk of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis, either from unsafe sex or using infected needles

The combination of cocaine and heroin (known as a “speedball”), carries a particularly high risk of fatal overdose.

Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal from a cocaine addiction can involve anxiety, depression, irritability, extreme fatigue and paranoia. An intense craving for more cocaine develops. Compulsive and repetitive patterned behavior may occur, meaning that the person will repeat certain odd physical movements over and over again. Severe depressive conditions, agitated delirium and a syndrome known as toxic paranoid psychosis may follow.

Cocaine Addiction Treatment at Castle Craig

We receive many patients at Castle Craig Hospital who have a cocaine addiction, often combined with alcoholism, and we have over 20 years experience in treating this kind of addiction — initially with a period of detoxification. 

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has proven to be an effective approach for preventing relapse. CBT is focused on helping cocaine-addicted individuals abstain — and remain abstinent — from cocaine and other substances.

Community-based recovery groups—such as Cocaine Anonymous—that use the 12-step program, can be helpful to people trying to sustain abstinence and are part of our continuing care programme for each patient. Participants benefit from supportive fellowship and from sharing with those experiencing common problems and issues.

Please visit our treatment section to find out more information about drug rehabilitation at Castle Craig.