Cocaine and Crack Abuse (cont.)

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What is cocaine? What is crack?

Cocaine, also called coke, nose candy, snow, blow or toot, is a substance that comes from the coca plant. When mixed and heated with ether (cooked), a highly flammable substance (freebase), its gas is released in its pure form, which can be inhaled. Crack cocaine, also called rock cocaine, refers to cocaine when it is in solid form. It is made by mixing powder cocaine with baking soda and water, making it a highly concentrated and therefore highly addictive form of the drug. This form of cocaine is taken in by placing the cocaine rocks into a crack pipe and smoking them.

How is cocaine abused?

Cocaine is one of a number of street drugs that can be abused in a number of different ways, including injecting, smoking, or taken in through the nose by snorting.

Statistics about cocaine use in the United States include that 25 million people have used it at least once, about 4.6 million people tend to use it once per month or less, and about 2.4 million people use the substance at least twice per week. More than 5% of people who use cocaine just once go on to develop cocaine dependence within two years after the first use. Other facts about cocaine use are that up to $70 billion was spent on the drug from 1990 to 1999. Of the 4% of women who use drugs during pregnancy, about 10% of them use cocaine. Overall, the rate of cocaine use during pregnancy is 1.1% of all pregnant women under 44 years of age.

What are cocaine's effects on the body and the mind?

The time it takes for a person to feel the effects of cocaine, as well as how long cocaine stays in the system, is determined by the way the drug is taken. For example, when cocaine is in solid form, the individual feels the effects of smoking crack cocaine within seconds, while the powder form of cocaine that is snorted (taken intranasally) takes up to 10 minutes to take effect. Regardless of the way this drug is taken, it tends to cause intense euphoria and pleasurable sensations, highly intensifying every pleasure. Then the person tends to become hyperactive and excessively alert. Once the high wears off (in less than 20 minutes for crack), the individual often becomes agitated, irritable, and uncomfortable.

The physiological (biological) effects of cocaine on the brain involve the drug's effects on chemicals called neurotransmitters. Specifically, cocaine tends to dramatically increase the release of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. Because these chemicals are responsible for pleasure and well-being, alertness, increase in blood pressure and pulse, as well as happiness, the effects of cocaine on the body and mind are consistent with these effects. Other physical signs and symptoms of cocaine use include decreased appetite, sleep, and male infertility.

When a person withdraws from the effects of cocaine, the decrease in neurotransmitters results in a sudden drop in blood pressure or pulse, severe depression, and sometimes suicidal thoughts and behavior. In the event of cocaine overdose, the effect of excess dopamine can cause anger, aggressiveness, violence, psychosis, and sometimes homicidal thoughts and behavior. Cocaine abuse also tends to result in decreased inhibitions that can lead to risky sexual behaviors.

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