Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Cocaine: Brief History, Law

The cocaine found on the streets is a substance called cocaine hydrochloride. It's made by refining the leaves of the coca bush, which grows mainly in Bolivia, Colombia and Peru. Cocaine is a powerful stimulant that has similar properties to amphetamine. It was used for medicinal purposes as an over-the-counter "tonic" until it was found to be a dangerous drug; many of the people who'd taken it had become addicts.


Most street cocaine comes as a white crystalline powder that looks like very fine salt. It's usually bought in a "wrap" containing 1 g of powder, although no-one can know how much of that gram is actually cocaine. When the coca plant is processed, the cocaine powder is about 85 per cent pure, but by the time it's sold on the street it's nowhere near this level. As the batch passes from dealer to dealer, it's "cut" or watered down with sugars, such as glucose and lactose, or even anaesthetics. Although cocaine has been found in concentrations as high as 60 per cent, on the streets it's often as low as 30 per cent cocaine - the rest is rubbish.

Cocaine low

The payback for an instant, intense high is a sudden, deep low. It comes on fast and hits hard. You'll be tempted to beat this low by taking more cocaine. This will take you back up, but it won't be as intense and it won't last long. The next low, on the other hand, will be even deeper.

  • Even though the euphoria and confidence will have worn off, your brain will still be racing. You'll be unable to sleep and probably just become depressed, and even PARANOID.
  • You'll get to sleep eventually, but when you wake you'll feel tired and irritable. Just as the night before everything seemed to go your way, it now feels as if the whole world is against you.
  • You may start to feel panicky and threatened. If you've taken a large amount you could start acting strangely and violently

Felt in seconds, the effects rarely last more than half an hour. The strength depends on the potency of the cocaine, the setting in which it's taken, how often it's taken and the user's tolerance level.

  • There's a sense of euphoria and well-being.
  • Life looks rosy; stress and anxiety fall away.
  • Energy levels rise and people want to be active, chat, laugh and dance.
  • Everything said seems spot on: opinions, however outrageous, are just right and jokes seem incredibly funny, even when they're not.
  • Inhibitions go and some people feel sexually aroused.

Brief history

German scientists isolated the drug cocaine from the coca leaf in the mid-19th century. When Coca Cola was introduced in 1886, the average glass contained a few milligrams of cocaine, until it was replaced by caffeine in 1903. Cocaine was touted as an over-the-counter tonic throughout Europe and America, until its addictive properties became obvious. It was declared illegal in America in 1914.

The Law

Cocaine is a Class A drug and carries the highest penalties for possession, use and supply.

  • Simply being in possession of cocaine could mean a prison sentence and an unlimited fine.
  • Intent to supply or supplying cocaine could even lead to life imprisonment as well as a fine.


  • Most users divide the cocaine into "lines" with a razor blade or credit card. Then they sniff it up one nostril through a small tube, or through a rolled-up card or bank note.
  • Less dangerous than sniffing is to eat cocaine in small amounts mixed with food or drink; it will have an effect - it just takes longer.
  • Some people rub cocaine on their gums. Because cocaine is also a natural anaesthetic, this causes the gums to go numb.


A few users inject cocaine to get a faster and more intense hit but that's very dangerous. There's a risk of infection from shared needles and a real possibility of overdosing. If you overdose, the heart-rate speeds up to a dangerous level and the body can't cope. This leads to unconsciousness and rapid death.

Anyone thinking about taking cocaine needs to know the whole deal. Although physical addiction is rare, psychological dependence is a real possibility. As the good feeling wears off the bad feelings swamp you so you soon feel that you want to take more. Although another hit takes you back up, it only puts off the inevitable comedown and when it does eventually happen the crash is even worse. You'll then be tempted to take yet another dose and so on. You're now well on the way to psychological addiction and once you're on that road, it's very difficult to get off. With regular cocaine use psychological dependence can become extremely deep-rooted and difficult to treat.

Don't mix with other drugs

Mixing cocaine with other drugs, including alcohol, is extremely dangerous. Although you may get away with it a few times, you won't get away with it forever. If you get overconfident with cocaine, you'll regret it.

Speeding to disaster

When cocaine is mixed with heroin and injected it's called a speedball. This is a really bad idea because the two drugs worsen each other's effects. The heroin hides the unpleasant edginess of cocaine and lulls you into taking another dose of cocaine or heroin or both, increasing your chances of a lethal overdose.

Don't come down with downers

Some people take tranquillizers to get to sleep after a cocaine session - don't. Any mixture of depressants and stimulants is dangerous.

Cocaine rules your life

If you become an addict, you'll spend a lot of money supporting your habit. You'll become moody, unpredictable and generally unpleasant to be around. You'll be unable to do school work. On top of that, feeding such an expensive habit often leads to a life of crime.



Some people manage to only use cocaine occasionally; but if you're vulnerable in any way (shy, lacking confidence, low self-esteem) you risk quickly becoming dependent. Once addiction has set in, withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, depression, panic attacks and paranoia. These can be extremely hard to overcome and often lead to users craving more cocaine. For some, suicide seems the only way out - sadly, many such suicides have been recorded. To kick cocaine, get professional help: phone the National Drugs Helpline.

Out of control

You'll think you're in control of cocaine, until you wake up one day and find it has you by the throat - by then it could already be too late.

If something goes wrong

panic attack

If your friend is paranoid, anxious and starts to panic, take her to a quiet room away from large groups of people and try to reassure her. Offer her a hot drink or some water, and keep talking to her. Don't let her wander off alone. If your friend begins panting (hyperventilating), get her to try to breathe normally by copying your breathing.


  • If your friend is breathing, place him in the recovery position. Call an ambulance. Tell the medical staff what your friend has taken - it could save his life. Be prepared to resuscitate your friend if he stops breathing.
  • If your friend is sick while unconscious check that he's still breathing.

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