Cocaine is a stimulant that people often abuse as a recreational “party” drug. While most people incorrectly think it is safer than its close relative, crack cocaine, pure cocaine is just as dangerous and addictive and can cause a fatal overdose.
What is cocaine?
Cocaine is derived from the coca plant, which has been used as a stimulant by South American natives for thousands of years. Processed “pure” cocaine, cocaine hydrochloride, is much more powerful and addictive. Sold illicitly under the names Coke, C, Snow, Powder, or Blow, pure cocaine is usually a white powder.
The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) categorizes various drugs on a scale based on how addictive and dangerous they are. Cocaine is a Schedule II drug, meaning that while it has highly addictive qualities and a high potential for abuse, it does have potential medicinal uses. Doctors can administer it a local anesthetic in some situations. Other Schedule II drugs include Adderall, Fentanyl and OxyContin. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), cocaine was most popular during the 1990’s. However, it is still quite common today and many users see it as a risk-free, fun party drug. In 2014, there were an estimated 1.5 million active cocaine users over the age of 12 in the United States.
What are Cocaine’s Effects?
Cocaine’s stimulant properties cause a heightened sense of energy and awareness, among other symptoms. While some may find the experience to be pleasurable, it is highly addictive and the side effects can be painful. Other cocaine effects include:
- Increased energy
- Euphoric feelings (euphoric high)
- Elevated mood
- Elevated self-esteem
Some of Cocaine’s negative side effects include:
- Increased heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature
- Dilated pupils
- Fatal overdose
What Does a Cocaine Overdose Look Like?
In order to understand how cocaine can kill, it’s helpful to understand what an overdose is. Overdose occurs when someone consumes a substance in a dose high enough to keep vital organs from functioning. In some cases, depending on the severity, it leads to death or long-term internal damage. An overdose is possible with almost any drug but is most prevalent with opioids, such as fentanyl. Given that cocaine is a stimulant, it does not cause an overdose the same way an opioid would. While opioids slow down organ function, cocaine can cause cardiac arrest, stroke, respiratory arrest, and sudden death if the drug’s toxicity is too high. In 2015, more than 5,500 people died from cocaine overdose.
Many people wrongly think that powder cocaine is safe because it is not crack cocaine and therefore “purer”. However, this isn’t necessarily true. It is hard to determine purity levels outside of a lab, and pure cocaine still kills in high doses. Further, many dealers lace cocaine products with other drugs. Some dealers mix fentanyl or other dangerous substances into cocaine. This increases the chances of addiction, which is good for a drug dealer’s business. Fentanyl is deadly in small doses, and users often don’t know when it is in the cocaine they buy. In Flint, Michigan, 2 individuals were found dead in 2020 by overdose from fentanyl laced cocaine with another in critical condition. Sadly, this kind of scenario is not uncommon.
How long does cocaine stay in your system?
It’s difficult to hard to predict how exactly how long cocaine’s effects will last. This changes from person to person, and usually depends on how someone ingests the drug. If snorted, cocaine can take longer to kick in, but its effects will persist for longer. Smoking cocaine creates a nearly instantaneous high that may last only a few minutes. Regardless of how long the effects last, cocaine can still be detected in the system for several days to weeks after ingestion.
Cocaine’s half-life is about an hour. This is the time it takes for the ingested cocaine to enter the bloodstream. In other words, an hour after someone ingests 10mg of cocaine, the amount left over is about 5mg. Even so, cocaine can be detected via saliva from 12-48 hours after last use and in hair for years after ingestion. Further, urine tests can detect cocaine 2-4 days after last use.
Cocaine Overdose and Addiction: Getting Help
It’s difficult – but very possible – to recover from cocaine dependence. The drug is highly addictive and its withdrawal symptoms are often painful. This can encourage people to keep abusing the drug – just to avoid the pain. Getting professional help is the best bet for lifetime sobriety. Without it, going “cold-turkey” – stopping suddenly – is dangerous, since the relapse risk is much higher. Co-occurring mental health concerns can make quitting even harder. When you seek professional help, you increase your likelihood of staying clean. Trained physicians and counselors are equipped to help you deal with addiction’s the root causes instead of just managing its symptoms.
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, please contact us today to start the journey to health and sobriety together.