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Street names: Coke, Snow.

Derived from the leaves of the coca plant, cocaine reaches the streets as a white powder. It is often diluted with talcum powder or dried milk, sometimes with more dangerous additives.

It acts as a stimulant on the brain, producing euphoria and excitement. Blood pressure rises, breathing becomes rapid and shallow. This is shortly followed by a down period of depression. Addicts often crave repeated doses to stave off the down feelings.

Cocaine is highly addictive, despite claims to the contrary. Because of its undeserved reputation as a harmless drug, and its jet-set image, cocaine can wreak more damage than heroin.

How it is used

  1. Snorted.
  2. Inhaled. It is sometimes smoked in cigarettes.
  3. 'Freebasing'. The powder is prepared, then smoked or inhaled. This is a particularly dangerous way of taking cocaine.
  4. Injected. This maximises the effect of the drug.
  5. Swallowed. This is the least popular method.

How often

Cocaine leaves the body rapidly, therefore addicts need to top up frequently if they are to avoid the down feeling that will follow.

In the early stages of their illness, cocaine addicts may be weekend users, or may have relatively long periods off the drug. This discontinuous pattern of using cocaine does not necessarily mean they are in control of their habit, since episodes get closer together.

Health risks

  1. Lifestyle. Like the heroin addict, the cocaine addict stops looking after himself or herself. This effect of the drug might be slower with cocaine than with heroin.
  2. Paranoia is common among regular users. Hallucinations can also follow. Fits can occur when cocaine is freebased. Psychotic behaviour can result from relatively small doses. These are symptoms of the mental illness this drug can produce relatively early in the user.
  3. Snorting the drug can destroy the septum (the wall dividing the two halves of the nose) and long-term freebasing can cause deterioration of the lung tissue.
  4. Injecting carries different risks from injecting heroin. A sudden rise in blood pressure can cause bleeding in the brain and heart attacks.
  5. Overdose. There is only a thin line between the amount of cocaine used for euphoria and the amount that will cause acute cocaine poisoning. If the dose is high enough, the drop in blood pressure as the cocaine wears off can kill.