What is Cocaine?
Cocaine is one of the oldest and most potent of the naturally-occurring central nervous system stimulants known. It is a natural extract of the Coca plant (Erythroxylon coca) and has been chewed and brewed by the people of South America for their stimulant effects since 3000 years BC.
Cocaine is a powerfully addictive drug. Recreationally, cocaine is used to increase alertness, relieve fatigue, feel stronger and more decisive, and is abused for its intense euphoric effects.
As a street drug, cocaine hydrochloride appears as a fine white crystalline powder which can be snorted or solubilised for injection. Street names for Cocaine hydrochloride include Coke, C, Snow, Powder or Blow.
Cocaine hydrochloride can be chemically converted to its free-base known as ‘Crack’. Crack cocaine appears as small off-white waxy chunks which can be crumbled into a cigarette and smoked. Street names for crack cocaine include Rocks, Candy or Nuggets. Crack offers a short but intense high to smokers.
AEME (anhydroecgonine methylester) is a pyrolysis product formed when ‘crack cocaine’ is smoked, making this substance a useful biomarker to specifically test for use of crack cocaine, as opposed to powder cocaine which does not form AEME as a metabolite.
The combined use of cocaine and ethanol forms cocaethylene in the body, cocaethylene enhances subjective effects of cocaine such as euphoria and some of the central nervous system-depressant effects of alcohol, such as sedation, are attenuated by cocaine.
Cocaethylene is often detectable in urine after cocaine and alcohol have been co-ingested in significant amounts and when alcohol itself is no longer present in the urine. The combination may be potentially more toxic, with increased cardiovascular effects particularly heart rate.
Effects on the human body
The stimulant effects usually appear within a few minutes following nasal insufflation (snorting) and almost immediately if the drug is smoked (in the form of “crack” cocaine). The effects of cocaine last for about half an hour to one hour, after which there may be a strong desire to use more of the drug.
The primary stimulant effects of cocaine may include increased self-confidence, feelings of empowerment and talkativeness, increased energy and alertness, an increase in risk-taking behaviour and feelings of intense euphoria.
Large doses of cocaine may cause the user to become hyperactive, paranoid and anxious and may lead to violence and aggression.
Some clinical symptoms may include tachycardia (fast heart rate), hypertension (high blood pressure), dilated pupils, sweating, loss of appetite, sleeplessness, tremors and speech difficulties.
Stimulants may help maintain alertness for a short period of time; however, eventually the user will become fatigued. As the stimulant effects of cocaine subside, the user begins to experience the come-down effects of the drug, which may include exhaustion, anxiety, irritability, drowsiness and agitation.
Tolerance to the effects of the drug can develop, meaning you’ll need a stronger dose to feel the same high. This can lead to a dangerous addiction or overdose.
Cocaine in the workplace
The stimulant effects of cocaine use can result in increased risk-taking behaviour. The late-phase effects include difficulty sustaining attention and slower reaction times.
Heavy cocaine users may have difficulty sustaining attention and shifting attention to meet the demands of changes in the environment. This can cause issues especially with workers in industries such as construction, transport and manufacturing were full attention is required when operating heavy machinery. A slight lapse in concentration causing a severe accident can be detrimental to the business.
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