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What is Cocaine?

Cocaine is an addictive stimulant drug made from the leaves of the coca plant native to South America. Cocaine can come in two forms:

  • Powder cocaine is a white powder. Street dealers often mix cocaine with other substances like cornstarch, talcum powder, or sugar. They also mix cocaine with stimulant drugs like amphetamines, or synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, which can cause death.
  • Crack is a form of cocaine that has been processed to make a rock crystal that people smoke. The term “crack” refers to the cracking sound the rocks make when they are heated.

There are several ways that cocaine can enter the body: through the nose by snorting and directly into the bloodstream by injecting or rubbing it into gums above the teeth. The crystal of crack cocaine is heated in a glass pipe to produce vapors that are absorbed into the blood through the lungs.

The Brain and Body

Cocaine and the Teenage Brain

There are many neurotransmitters in a person’s brain, but dopamine is the main one that makes people feel good when they do something they enjoy. Normally, dopamine gets recycled back into the cell that released it, thus shutting off the signal. Stimulants like cocaine prevent the dopamine from being recycled, causing a buildup of the neurotransmitter in the brain. It is this flood of dopamine that reinforces taking cocaine, “training” the brain to repeat the behavior. The drug can cause a feeling of intense pleasure and increased energy.

With repeated use, stimulants like cocaine can disrupt how the brain’s dopamine system works, reducing a person’s ability to feel pleasure from normal, everyday activities. People will often develop tolerance, which means they must take more of the drug to get the desired effect. If a person becomes addicted, they might take the drug just to feel “normal.”

After the “high” of the cocaine wears off, many people experience a “crash” and feel tired or sad for days. They also experience a strong craving to take cocaine again to try to feel better.

Cocaine and the Teenage Body

Cocaine is a stimulant so it gives the body a feeling of stimulation and alertness, which can be both pleasurable and harmful. Cocaine’s short-term effects appear quickly and disappear within a few minutes to an hour. How long and intense these effects are depends on the method of use. Here are some ways cocaine affects the body:

  • Extreme happiness and energy
  • Mental alertness
  • Sensitivity to light, sound, and touch
  • Irritability
  • Paranoia (feeling like people are out to get you)
  • High body temperature
  • High blood pressure and fast heartbeat–leading to a higher risk of heart attack or stroke
  • Inability to sleep

Snorting cocaine can lead to loss of sense of smell, nosebleeds, nasal damage and trouble swallowing.

Smoking cocaine can lead to severe coughing, asthma and lung damage.

Consuming cocaine by mouth can cause damage to intestines (between the stomach and anus) caused by reduced blood flow.

Injecting cocaine through a needle puts a user at high risk of HIV and Hepatitis (a liver disease) through shared needles.

All methods of cocaine use can result in poor nutrition and weight loss, ultimately affecting organs throughout your body.


Repeated cocaine use can lead to addiction. Addiction is a brain disease in which people can’t stop using drugs even when they really want to and even after it causes terrible consequences to their health and other parts of their lives.

Because a cocaine high usually doesn’t last very long, people take this drug, again and again, to try and keep feeling good. Once addicted, people who are trying to quit using cocaine might experience withdrawal symptoms including:

  • Depression
  • Tiredness
  • Increased appetite
  • Trouble sleeping and bad dreams
  • Slowed thinking

Cocaine can be deadly when taken in large doses or when mixed with other drugs or alcohol. Cocaine-related deaths often happen because the heart stops, causing a cardiac arrest, then breathing stops. Using cocaine and drinking alcohol or using other drugs increase these dangers, including the risk of overdose. For example, combining cocaine and heroin (known as a “speedball”) puts a person at a higher risk of death from overdose. In rare instances, sudden death can occur on the first use of cocaine or soon after. Among the deaths that occurred from cocaine use, most also include misuse of an opioid of some form, either a prescription pain reliever, heroin, or man-made opioids like fentanyl.

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