Cocaine: Know your stuff, NZ with KnowYourStuffNZ

Cocaine is a stimulant and alkaloid drug that’s extracted from the leaves of two coca plant species native to South America. It’s manufactured into three different forms:

  • cocaine – a fine powder;
  • crack cocaine – small rocks;
  • freebase cocaine – a crystallised powder.

Both crack and freebase can be heated until sublimated and then inhaled, or dissolved and injected into a vein.

People have been using cocaine for over two centuries, so it’s not surprising that it’s collected an array of street names, including blow, rocks, snow, dummy dust, and white liquor.

Invincibility is just an illusion

People that take cocaine usually feel a surge of excitement, confidence, and alertness from the huge spike in dopamine to the brain (neurobiologists have found an average increase of 225%). This is why cocaine is linked with psychological dependence in users.
Read about how cocaine affects your dopamine system on the Huberman Lab website

The initial hit from snorting coke usually lasts around 20 to 30 minutes, depending on its purity and your tolerance. This is why bingeing on cocaine can be hard to resist – it’s short lived and you may want more when the effects wear off.

Smoking crack or freebase will usually cause a short high for around 10 minutes, which will be felt about two minutes after smoking it. You might still feel some effects after the high has gone, such as a faster heart beat.

If you’re going to take cocaine make sure you’ve got plenty of water or non-alcoholic things to drink and easy access to a bathroom because dehydration and a frequent need to pee are common effects. Even low doses can lead to mania and an increased body temperature and heart rate, so you’re going to want to avoid any high-pressure situations, like taking an exam.

Most people experience low mood and motivation the next day, so try to avoid committing to anything and catch up on sleep. Anxiety and paranoia are also common in the come-down.

Columbian police monitor the eradication of coca plants. Image source: Rafa Salafranca (Reuters).

Livers can have side hustles as mixologists too

Cocaine can mask other feelings of intoxication – telling your brain you’re fine until you stand up and the world suddenly spins. Avoid drinking alcohol in particular because you could drink more than you intended without the usual feelings of impairment. Alcohol and cocaine together in the liver form a toxic chemical in the body called cocaethylene, which increases the harm of each drug to the heart and liver.
Read more about the effects of concurrent use on the PubMed website

We strongly recommend not taking cocaine if you’re using anti-depressants and/or anti-anxiety medication because these drugs target the same part of the brain as cocaine. Combining them might increase your risk of serotonin syndrome.
Learn more about serotonin syndrome on the Health Navigator website

Your hands don’t need to keep up with your heartbeat

Start with a very small amount before consuming a second dose because susceptible people have died from snorting as little as 30 milligrams. The intense and short-lived sense of euphoria might entice you to top-up, but try to hold off, as it can take up to 30 minutes to feel all the effects.

High doses of 60 milligrams or more might induce a sensation that bugs are crawling on/under the skin; psychosis; and even stop your breathing and/or heart. Taking cocaine is strongly discouraged for anybody with cardiovascular issues because it increases your heart rate and blood pressure.

We don’t recommend injecting cocaine because it’s the most addictive method of consumption, however, if you do then ensure your equipment and preparation space is sterile to lower the risk of infection from things like cellulitis from bacteria and fungi in the environment.

You can get new equipment from your local Needle Exchange to avoid reusing or sharing needles or syringes.
Find your local Needle Exchange on the NEP website

Likewise, use your own clean straw to snort coke because hepatitis A and COVID-19 can be transferred between straws or banknotes and besides, money is dirty (have you ever smelt a banknote?). Rinsing the nostrils after snorting may help to lessen damage to the tissue on the inside of the nose but you might still get a nosebleed and/or have a lowered sense of smell.
Read about money as a vector for disease on the PubMed website

Try to wait at least a month in between doses to give your brain and body (and bank account!) time to recover.

From ‘miracle drug’ to enemy of the state

Long before humans learned how to make coke (let alone melt it into crack), indigenous South Americans chewed coca leaves for their medicinal properties. Cocaine was eventually isolated from the plant in 1860, which is how a young Sigmund Freud legally used himself as a test subject for the drug (then thought to be a medicinal panacea) around 30 years later.
Check out this paper on the Latin American History site if you’re curious about coca and cocaine in Latin American history

Vin Mariani promoted their Coca Wine as a performance enhancer for creatives and athletes. Image from Internet Archive Book Image on Flickr

In the early twentieth century, it was possible to buy cocaine products from pharmacies in the United States because it was considered to be a ‘harmless tonic’ devoid of any side effects when used in moderation (Musto, 1991). Around this time, it became the first local anaesthetic used by physicians (Kumar et al, 2015)
Read about the misconceptions of cocaine in the 20th century on JSTOR
Read about the use of cocaine as a topical anaesthetic in medicine on the NCBI website

You’ve probably heard of the ‘crack babies’ myth – the symbol of a racist and unjustified moral panic in the United States used to evoke outrage at African American mothers in high-deprivation neighbourhoods who smoked crack. The federal government was obsessed with crack in the 1980s, getting so ‘tough on crime’ that people who dealt five grams of crack faced a minimum of five years in federal prison, compared to 500 grams of powdered cocaine. This disparity in federal sentencing law between crack and coke was only recently removed by Congress.

The stakes are high in the cocaine business and recreation

In New Zealand, cocaine is classified in law as a Class A drug. Being found in possession of it has a maximum prison sentence of six months, whereas manufacturing or supplying could lead to life imprisonment. Possessing equipment used for taking cocaine (like pipes and syringes) may also lead to a prison sentence of up to one year.

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