Cocaine Leaf and Processed Powder

    Cocaine is a powerfully addicting drug of abuse that directly affects the brain.  The pure chemical, cocaine hydrochloride has been abused for over 100 years, in fact, coca leaves (the source of cocaine) have been consumed for 1000's of years.  Cocaine is considered a class II drug which means that it has high potential for abuse, but is allowed to be perscribed and administered by a doctor for medical purposes.

Chemical Structure

    There are two chemical forms of cocaine, the hydrochloride salt and what is called the "freebase."  Cocaine hydrocholoride is in a powder form and is able to dissolve in water.  It is this form that can be intravenously or intranasally.  Freebase cocaine has not been neutralized by acid to form the salt.  It is this form that is smokable. 
Chemical Structure of Cocaine

What is crack cocaine?
    Crack refers to cocaine when the freebase form has been neutralized with acid forming the podered cocaine hydrochloride, and has then been formed into a smokable substance, through treatment with ammonia or sodium bicarbonate and water, followed by heat to remove the hydrochloride.

Statistics of Cocaine Use in the United States*

* Statistics from the 1997 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, unless denoted otherwise

How is cocaine consumed?
    The principal routes of cocaine admistration are:

  • oral ("chewing")
  • intranasal ("snorting")
  • intravenous ("mainlining", "injection")
  • inhalation ("smoking")
How does cocaine produce its effects?
    Like many other drugs, cocaine also affects the ventral tegmental area (VTA).  Normally, dopamine is released by a neuron into the synapse where it binds to dopamine receptors on the neighboring neurons.  Usually, dopamine is then recycled back into the transmitting neuron by a dopamine receptor. If cocaine is present, it will attach to the dopamine receptor and blocks the reuptake of dopamine.  A build-up of dopamine in the synapse  contributes to the euphoric effects of cocaine.

Effects of Cocaine on the Brain

Short term effects of cocaine use

Long-term effects of cocaine use

Medical Complications of Cocaine Abuse