Cocaine is a naturally derived stimulant drug substance that is extremely potent and addictive. Individuals choose to take cocaine because it creates euphoria and heightened energy levels that are highly desirable, and they simply don’t understand all the dangerous effects of cocaine use, abuse and addiction.
An Old Drug
Cocaine in its current form is a powdered substance that was first derived from the leaves of the South American coca plant in 1859 by German chemist Albert Niemann. However, the stimulating properties of the coca plant were known long before this, and used as many as five thousand years ago. It is believed that ancient Incas living in the Andes mountains chewed coca leaves in order to stimulate their respiration and heart rates to counter the effects of living in the thin mountain air. Native Peruvians also chewed coca leaves during special religious ceremonies. In 1532, Spanish soldiers invading Peru found that Indian laborers in Spanish silver mines were easier to both exploit and control if provided with an ample supply of coca leaves.
After cocaine was extracted from cocaine leaves, it slowly moved into use in the medical community and by the 1880s it was quite popular among medical professionals. Sigmund Freud used cocaine himself and promoted its use as highly beneficial, especially in addressing depression and sexual impotence. In one research paper Freud stated that he believed the toxic dose of cocaine was very high, and that there was no lethal dose. This theory was disproved by one of Freud’s own patients, who fatally overdosed from the high dose of cocaine Freud had prescribed. John Pemberton further forced a dramatic rise in cocaine use by adding coca leaves to his new soft drink in 1886, and many individuals enjoyed Coca-Cola’s miraculously euphoric and stimulating effects.
With the increased popularity of cocaine use, public awareness of the dangers of this drug also began to rise. In 1903, Coca-Cola was forced to remove cocaine from its product due to intense public pressure. In 1910, the medical community began to report on the extensive nasal damages caused by snorting cocaine. In 1912, the United States government had received reports on approximately five thousand cocaine-related deaths across the country in a single year, and a decade later banned cocaine as an illegal drug substance with absolutely no medical benefits.
Despite its illegal status, cocaine use did not entirely disappear. However, it remained somewhat quietly on the sidelines until it re-emerged in the 1970s as a popular “new” drug in the entertainment and business industries. Individuals felt that cocaine use allowed them to have more energy and remain awake and alert for longer hours, and it became socially acceptable for cocaine use to occur openly at parties. Colombian drug traffickers responded to this sudden surge in demand for cocaine by establishing elaborate cocaine smuggling networks. In the 1990s alone, Colombian drug cartels produced and exported somewhere between five to eight hundred tons of cocaine, not only to the United States but also to Europe and Asia. Efforts to shut down the larger cartels resulted in great success when many of these cartels were successfully dismantled, but it also resulted in opening a vacuum that allowed many smaller cartels to take their place.
In 2008, cocaine was listed as the second most trafficked illicit drug substance in the world. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, cocaine abuse and addiction are still major problems in the United States. In 2008, nearly fifteen percent of Americans admitted that they had tried cocaine at least once in their life, with a full six percent of these individuals admitting they had tried it by the time they were seniors in high school.
About Cocaine Use
Powder cocaine is usually snorted or injected. Crack cocaine is a processed form of cocaine that is a hardened crystal and can be smoked. In some cases, individuals ingest cocaine by rubbing it into their gums or swallowing it. Once cocaine is introduced to the body, it moves into the bloodstream and quickly makes its way to the brain, where it produces its desired effects. In the brain, cocaine stimulates the production of a key neurotransmitter known as dopamine. Dopamine is a natural brain chemical involved in the processes of pleasure, reward and movement, and it is normally released in anticipation of some reward – like when the individual smells food. After it is released and creates its desired effects, dopamine is recycled back into the cell that released it. Cocaine not only stimulates an over-production of dopamine, it prevents dopamine from being recycled back into the neurons. This creates an excess of dopamine in the brain, which causes the characteristic high most cocaine users seek.
While any amount of cocaine ingested in any way can create the desired effects users seek, different methods of consumption can affect the intensity or duration of the high. For example, snorting cocaine moves the drug more slowly into the system, causing a less intense but longer-lasting high. Smoking or injecting cocaine moves the drug more rapidly into the system, causing a more intense but shorter-lasting high. Cocaine users will often binge on cocaine use, taking more cocaine every time the effects of the drug begin to wear off. Unfortunately, binge use can lead more rapidly to tolerance, dependence and addiction problems.
Cocaine tolerance occurs when the individual no longer experiences the same euphoric high through the same amount of cocaine use like they once did. This can lead the individual to use even more cocaine more frequently, or to mix cocaine with other dangerous drug substances in order to stimulate a more pleasurable high. Unfortunately, this also greatly increases the risks of overdose related complications, including coma and death.
When cocaine use has occurred for some time, the body can actually adapt to the presence of this drug substance and it will stop producing dopamine naturally. What this means to the individual is that they can no longer experience pleasure through any of the natural means they once did, and he can only stimulate dopamine and pleasure through further cocaine use. This is cocaine dependence, and it marks the point at which an individual no longer has any control over their cocaine use. The individual will continue their compulsive cocaine use, despite an awareness of the damaging effects this drug is having on their health, relationships and life.
Further Effects of Cocaine Use
In addition to taking control over the individual’s life and disrupting their ability to experience pleasure through any other means, cocaine use can lead to many other side effects like:
- Constricted blood vessels
- Dilated pupils
- Increased body temperature
- Elevated heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
- Abdominal pain
- Decreased appetite
- Loss of sense of smell
- Difficulty swallowing
- Chronically runny nose
- Bowel gangrene
- Auditory hallucinations
- Heart attack
- Sudden death through cardiac arrest
Recovering From Cocaine Addiction
Even when an individual is desperate and determined to end their cocaine addiction problems they can often find it impossible to do so on their own. In fact, it is never recommended that an individual attempt to recover from cocaine use without professional supervision as the journey can be very long and difficult, and fraught with overwhelming obstacles almost every step of the way. With professional rehabilitation treatment, the individual can withdraw and detox from cocaine use as safely and comfortably as possible, establishing the firm foundation upon which to build their better physical health. With counseling, drug education and life skills courses, the individual can learn to understand cocaine, what drove them to cocaine use in the first place, and how they can take responsibility for their past actions and their future life. There is no reason that cocaine addiction should ruin an individual’s entire life, and with rehabilitation treatment it doesn’t have to.