Cocaine belongs to a group of drugs known as 'stimulants'. Stimulants speed up the messages going between the brain and the body.
Some of the common names for cocaine include C, coke, nose candy, snow, white lady, toot, Charlie, blow, white dust and stardust.
What does cocaine look like?
The most common form of cocaine is cocaine hydrochloride. This is a white, crystalline powder with a bitter, numbing taste.
How is it used?
Cocaine hydrochloride is most commonly 'snorted'. It can also be injected. Some people rub it into the gums, where it is absorbed into the bloodstream. Others add it to a drink or food. Freebase and crack cocaine are usually smoked.
Effects vary from person to person. They will depend on the size, weight and health of the person taking cocaine, whether they are used to taking the drug, whether other drugs are present in their body, and of course, the amount taken.
There is no safe level of drug use. Use of any drug always carries some risk—even medications can produce unwanted side effects. It is important to be careful when taking any type of drug.
The effects of cocaine can last anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours, depending on how the cocaine is taken. When the immediate 'rush' of the cocaine has worn off, the person may experience a 'crash'.
Low to moderate doses
Some of the effects that may be experienced after taking cocaine include:
A high dose of cocaine can cause a person to overdose. This means that a person has taken more cocaine than their body can cope with. Not knowing the strength or purity of the cocaine increases the risk of overdose. Injecting cocaine increases the risk of overdose due to large amounts of the drug entering the blood stream and quickly travelling to the brain.
Many of these can lead to coma and death.
High doses and frequent heavy use can also cause a 'cocaine psychosis', characterised by paranoid delusions, hallucinations and bizarre, aggressive or violent behaviour. These symptoms usually disappear a few days after the person stops using cocaine.
As the effects of cocaine begin to wear off, a person may experience:
Long-term effects of cocaine use include:
Other effects of cocaine use
Cocaine and other drugs
If cocaine is taken with a depressant such as alcohol, the body is put under a lot of stress as it tries to deal with the competing effects.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
Preventing and reducing harms
Sharing needles, syringes and other injecting equipment can greatly increase the risk of contracting blood borne viruses such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV (human immunodeficiency virus—the virus that causes AIDS).
There is evidence that after prolonged use, cocaine is highly addictive. People who use cocaine regularly can develop dependence and tolerance to it, which means they need to take larger amounts of cocaine to get the same effect.
People who are psychologically dependent on cocaine may find they feel an urge to use it when they are in specific surroundings or socialising with friends.
Physical dependence occurs when a person's body adapts to cocaine and gets used to functioning with the cocaine present.
What to do if you are concerned about someone's cocaine use
If you are concerned about someone else's drug use, there is confidential help available. Contact the alcohol and drug information service in your state or territory.
What to do in a crisis
Always call triple zero (000) if a drug overdose is known or suspected—and remember that paramedics are not obliged to involve the police.
According to the National Drug Strategy Household Survey, in 2010, 7.3% of Australians aged over 14 years had used cocaine at some stage in their life.
Cocaine and the law
Some local anaesthetics for minor ear, nose and throat surgery may contain cocaine. These are classed as a restricted substance and only a doctor may prescribe them. All other cocaine products are illegal in Australia.
Federal and state laws provide penalties for possessing, using, making, selling or driving under the influence of cocaine. Penalties can include fines, imprisonment and disqualification from driving. Some states and territories have programs that refer people with a drug problem to treatment and/or education programs where they can receive help rather than going through the criminal justice system.
National drug policy
Australia’s national drug policy is based on harm minimisation. Strategies to minimise harm include encouraging people to avoid using a drug through to helping people to reduce the risk of harm if they do use a drug. It aims to reduce all types of drug-related harm to both the individual and the community.
Educational resources on cocaine
Search the ADF Shop for resources on cocaine.
Last updated: 29 January 2013
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