Of all the illicit drugs consumed around the world, few have the power to affect the lives and minds of users to the extent that cocaine does. A powerful, highly addictive narcotic, cocaine not only harms those who succumb to its influence but can also destroy the lives of the people who care about them.
To understand cocaine, it’s important to know a bit about what it is, how it feels, its effects, what risks are associated with it, and most importantly, how cocaine addiction can be treated and overcome.
What is Cocaine?
In simple terms, cocaine is a type of narcotic known as a stimulant, or “upper.” The drug is produced by refining the leaves of the Coca plant, indigenous to South America. Yes, this is the same plant that gives us cocoa powder and chocolate. Cocaine is used medically in a number of countries, including in The United States, due to its anesthetic properties, but it’s the illicit consumption for non-medical purposes that make cocaine addiction a dangerous, life-threatening ailment.
What are the Effects of Cocaine?
The effects of ingesting cocaine depend on how the drug is consumed. Typically, cocaine is snorted, causing the drug to travel as rapidly as possible to the brain. As dangerous as this is, the other methods of consuming cocaine are even more deadly.
When “cooked” with baking soda, cocaine undergoes a chemical transmutation into what’s known as “rock” or “crack,” which is even more addictive than its powdery counterpart. When injected with a needle, cocaine is at its most potent and deadly, often resulting in heart attack and death.
The effects of cocaine are as follows.
Cocaine powder, when snorted, starts out by producing an uplifting, euphoric sense of invincibility, followed by feelings of well-being, happiness, and excitement. Shortly after snorting it, these good feelings begin to give way to brutal cravings for more, which, when there is no more, can result in extreme agitation, moodiness, depression, and compulsion for more; sometimes leading users to engage in criminal activities as a means by which to get money for more. The come-down from cocaine is notoriously vicious.
Crack cocaine, when smoked, provides all of the same positive feelings associated with the short period after snorting powder cocaine, only heightened by as much as 10X the strength. The “good” high wears off incredibly rapidly, usually as soon as the smoke is exhaled. The nasty side effects of coming down off cocaine are also amplified dramatically, leading to one of the worst feelings in the world and an overwhelming, unquenchable, all-powerful compulsion to acquire more immediately.
Injecting cocaine, also known as shooting up, is perhaps the most dangerous way to consume the drug. The good feelings associated with the early stages of cocaine ingestion are heightened and can last longer than if the drug was snorted or smoked, but the adverse effects of the come-down and withdrawal can be so bad that suicide is a real possibility.
What are the Risks of Using Cocaine?
The list of risks associated with both short-term and long-term cocaine use is terrifying. Those addicted to the drug should expect all of the following:
- Constant, very high levels of anxiety and irritability
- Overwhelming, life-crippling paranoia
- Poor sleep, or even insomnia
- Profuse sweating all over the body
- Abnormal, dangerously elevated heart rate
- Restricted blood flow to the heart and brain
- Nosebleeds and sinus infections
- Regurgitation of food and lack of appetite
- Pain in the chest and difficulty breathing
- Uncontrollable, involuntary twitching
- Hallucinations (when injected)
- Increasingly violent or criminal behaviors
- Imminent liver and kidney failure
- Cardiac arrest
A Brief History of Cocaine
The Early Days
The Coca plant has been used as a narcotic for more than 5000 years. Originally, the Inca civilization of the Peruvian Andes chewed the plant’s leaves to increase their heart rates and counteract the effects of living at a high altitude where the air is thin, and oxygen levels are dramatically lower than at sea level.
At first, the leaves were only ingested as part of religious ceremonies, but this all changed when the Spanish arrived. The Spaniards quickly found that forcing their captives to ingest the plant increased the productivity of their slaves working in the silver mines, which makes sense as the drug is a stimulant that results in intense feelings of increased energy.
The 19th Century
It wasn’t until the 1850s that the plant first underwent an extraction process to refine the leaves and extract the most potent, active ingredient: cocaine.
The coming decades were full of ignorance and misinformation as European pseudo-medical men extolled the virtues of using cocaine as a miracle cure for everything from hair loss to toothaches. The effects were devastating.
By the end of the Century, cocaine was being used in a new drink that was sweeping across The United States at an unprecedented rate. That drink is now the fourth most consumed beverage globally, behind water, tea, and coffee, with more than 1.9 billion cans being sold every day. They named it after its most famous ingredient. Coca-Cola. There is no longer cocaine in the recipe these days, but it’s still not very healthy for you.
The 20th Century
By the turn of the twentieth century, science started to show that cocaine was not a miracle cure but rather an extremely dangerous narcotic. In 1922 it was declared a banned substance in The United States following a string of cardiac arrests that left a body count numbering in the thousands. Most other countries soon followed suit by banning the substance for recreational use.
For nearly 50 years, cocaine use diminished until in the 1970s, the drug underwent something of a resurgence after its use was advocated by various musicians and pop culture personalities such as George Carlin, Timothy Leary, and Hunter S. Thompson. The effect this time would be unimaginable, and 50 years later, the number of lives lost and families destroyed is beyond measure, surely in the tens of millions.
In the 1980s, nearly a hundred years after Coca-Cola first hit the shelves, a small contingent of drug dealers living in Los Angeles discovered that they could produce a harder variant of the drug by heating the powder with baking soda and rubbing alcohol: crack-cocaine. Because the price of cocaine is proportionate to its weight, profits could be increased because the additional baking soda increased the weight.
So, they could, in essence, buy one gram of cocaine powder, say for $50, cook it with 10 cents worth of baking soda, and ta-da, they now had two grams of crack cocaine that they could sell for $100. They had doubled their money but at a terrible cost. The drug spread like wildfire around the country, killing indiscriminately. The drug split the most impoverished urban communities into two camps, those smoking it and those selling it.
The Present Day
Although cocaine use has tapered off somewhat, especially compared to its peak in the late ’80s, it remains the second most consumed illicit narcotic in the United States. Ruthless drug cartels from Colombia, Mexico, and other Latin American countries, where the Coca plant grows, such as Bolivia, continue to find new ways of supplying America’s demand for the drug, often using violence and terror as a means to control the supply chain and expand their influence.
A Message to Those Suffering with Cocaine Addiction
As you are reading this, somebody is right now convulsing on the floor, dying, as their heartbroken families or friends look on, powerless to save their lives. Now another just dropped, he’s shaking violently and foaming at the mouth; now another, and another…
If you or a loved one are suffering from cocaine addiction, take heart. You don’t have to be the next to die. Despite the severity of your addiction, no matter how much power the drug has over you at this very moment, there is a path that leads to your recovery; there is a road home.
It won’t be easy; you will have to face up to some difficult truths, have some heart-wrenching conversations, suffer through some withdrawals, and acknowledge some painful facts about the things that you’ve done while in the thralls of this monstrous narcotic. YOU CAN DO IT.
For every person that just dropped to the floor dead, there is another who just decided to get help, who just made that first phone call to the person that will save their life, to the family member they thought they had lost. They are now on their way to the treatment center that will give them their life back, their future back, themselves back. Now another phone rings, and another…
Recovery starts with acknowledging that you need help. Please know that support is available for you if you truly want it, but nobody else can make you want it. Please, want it!
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