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Cocaine. White powder on a mirror. © Australian Drug Foundation.

Cocaine facts

What is cocaine?

Effects of cocaine


Further information



pdficon_small Download the Cocaine fact sheet [PDF:500KB]

Please note: The information given on this page is not medical advice and should not be relied on in this way. Individuals wanting medical advice on this issue should consult a health professional.

What is cocaine?

Cocaine is a stimulant drug, which means that it speeds up the messages travelling between the brain and the rest of the body.

Cocaine comes from the leaves of the coca bush (Erythroxylum coca), which is native to South America. The leaf extract is processed to produce 3 different forms of cocaine:

  • Cocaine hydrochloride:  a white, crystalline powder with a bitter, numbing taste. Cocaine hydrochloride is often mixed, or 'cut', with other substances such as lactose and glucose, to dilute it before being sold.
  • Freebase: a white powder that is more pure with less impurity than cocaine hydrochloride.
  • Crack: crystals ranging in colour from white or cream to transparent with a pink or yellow hue, it may contain impurities.1,2


Other names

C, coke, nose candy, snow, white lady, toot, Charlie, blow, white dust or stardust.

How is it used?

Cocaine hydrochloride is most commonly snorted.  It can also be injected, rubbed into the gums, added to drinks or food.1

Freebase and crack cocaine are usually smoked.1

Indigenous people of South America have traditionally chewed the leaves of the coca bush, or brewed them as a tea, for use as a stimulant or appetite suppressant.3

Effects of cocaine

There is no safe level of drug use. Use of any drug always carries some risk. It's important to be careful when taking any type of drug.

Cocaine affects everyone differently, based on:

  • Size, weight and health
  • Whether the person is used to taking it
  • Whether other drugs are taken around the same time
  • The amount taken
  • The strength of the drug (varies from batch to batch)


The following effects may be experienced:

  • Happiness and confidence
  • Talking more 
  • Feeling energetic and alert
  • Quiet contemplation and rapture
  • Feeling physically strong and mentally sharp
  • Reduced appetite
  • Dry mouth
  • Enlarged (dilated) pupils
  • Higher blood pressure and faster heartbeat and breathing (after initial slowing)
  • Higher body temperature
  • Increased sex drive
  • Unpredictable, violent or aggressive behaviour
  • Indifference to pain2,4



If a large amount or a strong batch is taken, it could also cause an overdose. If any of the following effects are experienced an ambulance should be called straight away by dialling triple zero (000). Ambulance officers don't need to involve the police.

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Chest pain
  • Panic
  • Extreme agitation and paranoia
  • Hallucinations 
  • Tremors
  • Breathing irregularities
  • Kidney failure 
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Heart problems 
  • Coma and death2,8


High doses and frequent heavy use can also cause 'cocaine psychosis', characterised by paranoid delusions, hallucinations and out of character aggressive behaviour. These symptoms usually disappear a few days after the person stops using cocaine.4

Injecting cocaine and sharing needles may also cause:

  • Increased likelihood of overdose
  • Tetanus
  • Hepatitis B
  • Hepatitis C


Coming down

In the days after cocaine use, the following may be experienced:

  • Tension and anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Total exhaustion2,5


Long-term effects 

Regular use of cocaine may eventually cause:

  • Insomnia and exhaustion
  • Depression
  • Anxiety, paranoia and psychosis
  • Eating disorders and weight loss
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Hypertension and irregular heartbeat
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Hallucinations4,5
  • Heart disease and death6


Snorting cocaine regularly can also cause:

  • Runny nose and nose bleeds
  • Infection of the nasal membranes
  • Perforation of the septum
  • Long term damage to the nasal cavity and sinuses5



Giving up cocaine after using it for a long time is challenging because the body has to get used to functioning without it.

It's therefore important to talk to your GP or another health professional before trying to give up.

Phases of withdrawal

Withdrawal symptoms usually start around 1–2 days after last use and can last for approximately 10 weeks – days 4 to 7 will be the worst.

Withdrawal usually happens in 3 phases:

  • Crash – agitation, depression or anxiety, intense hunger, cocaine cravings, restless sleep, extreme tiredness (experienced in the first few days).
  • Withdrawal – cocaine cravings, lack of energy, anxiety, angry outbursts and an inability to feel pleasure (can last for up to 10 weeks).
  • Extinction – intermittent cravings for cocaine (ongoing).7


Information on withdrawal

Further information


Reducing the risks



ADF SEARCH – Find further credible research and information on cocaine.

ADIN – Find other credible websites and apps on cocaine.


1.  Clark, C., & Roeg, S. (2000). What goes up must come down Responding to cocaine use: Cocaine training package for alcohol and other drug workers. Fitzroy: State Government of Victoria

2.  Brands B; Sproule B; & Marshman J. (Eds.). (1998). Drugs & drug abuse (3rd ed.). Ontario: Addiction Research Foundation.

3.  Weiss, R., Mirin, S., & Bartel, R. (1994). Cocaine (2nd ed.). Washington: Psychiatric Press Inc. 

4.  Julien, R., Advokat, C., & Comaty, J. (eds.). (2011). A primer of drug action (12th ed.). New York: Worth Publishing.

5.  Campbell, A. (2001). The Australian illicit drug guide. Melbourne: Black Inc. 

6.  Norentin, B., Ballesteros, J., Callado, L. & Meana, J. (2014). Recent cocaine use is a significant risk factor for sudden cardiovascular death in 15-49 year old subjects: a forensic case-control study [PDF:12KB].

7.  Gawin, F., & Kleber, H. (1986). Abstinence symptomatology and psychiatric diagnosis in cocaine abusers. Archive of General Psychiatry, 43(2), 107–113.

8.  Kaye, S., & Darke, S. (2004). Non-fatal cocaine overdose among injecting and non-injecting cocaine users in Sydney, Australia, Addiction 99(10), 1315–1322.


Last updated: 5 May 2016

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