Description of Cocaine
Cocaine is a highly addictive and widely consumed illicit drug in the world. In South America, coca leaf products are commonly used in cultural and traditional medicine. The history of this plant as an integral part of the Andean lifestyle has been known for thousands of years (Biondich & Joslin, 2016, p. 1). Since ancient times, the indigent people of South America chewed and swallowed coca leaves (Erythroxylon coca) to achieve the stimulant effect (NIDA, 2021, p. 2). The modern version of cocaine, a purified chemical form, was extracted from the plant more than 100 years ago (NIDA, 2021, p. 2). At the beginning of the 1900s, cocaine was added to tonics and elixirs aimed to treat various diseases and was an ingredient of Coca-Cola (NIDA, 2021, p. 2). Moreover, surgeons used this drug to block pain when local anesthetics did not exist. Nowadays, cocaine is an addictive substance that can change brain structure and function if consumed constantly.
Origin and Use of Cocaine
As was mentioned above, cocaine came from South America, and it was found as an alkaloid in the leaves of the coca plant. This plant grows only in Andean countries, and its dry leaves are ground into the cocaine paste that can be used as a pure drug or an ingredient for cocaine derivatives (Neto et al., 2020, p. 1). Research shows that about 17.1 million people in the world consume cocaine (Neto et al., 2020, p. 1). The way how it is consumed depends on the form of cocaine. For example, one of its most common forms is salt: purified cocaine is combined with acids, thus forming different types of salt (Neto et al., 2020, p. 2). Cocaine hydrochloride (COC) is the most widely used form of cocaine.
At the same time, coca base and coca paste are different forms of cocaine. Their main difference is “in chemical waste products used in the extraction from coca leaves” (Neto et al., 2020, p. 2). People usually smoke the coca base, while COC is administered by nasal-aspiration, orally, or intravenously (Neto et al., 2020, p. 2). Although cocaine is banned for its addictive properties in many countries, it is still widely used in contemporary medicine in some parts of the world.
In South America, Indians continue to utilize coca as a remedy in addition to its stimulant and social purposes. For example, coca leaf tea helps relieve stomach pain, nausea, indigestion, and intestinal spasm, as well as combat diarrhea and constipation (Biondich & Joslin, 2016, p. 3). Moreover, people chew coca or hold it in the mouth to relieve oral sores and toothaches. One more usage of this drug is related to environmental stresses: its energizing effect helps cope with daily stress, hypoxia, hunger, and cold (Biondich & Joslin, 2016, p. 3). Andean peoples masticate coca leaves to decrease the sense of hunger and elevate blood glucose quickly (Biondich & Joslin, 2016, p. 3). Finally, those who work at high altitudes chew coca to reduce head pain and dizziness. Nevertheless, despite all these medical characteristics of cocaine, its side effects and addictiveness make it illicit in the United States, where its spread is statutory.
Short-Term and Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Use
The short-term effects of cocaine appear after its first dose consumption and vanish within several minutes or an hour. A person becomes talkative, euphoric, and energetic, as well as hypersensitive to sight, touch, and sound (NIDA, 2021, p. 10). Some users claim that they can perform physical and mental tasks better, while others report an opposite effect (NIDA, 2021, p. 10). The duration of the cocaine’s impact depends on the speed and route of its administration. The fastest method of consumption is snorting, but the onset of the high is slow, and the effect usually continues from 15 to 30 minutes (NIDA, 2021, p. 10). At the same time, smoking gives a more immediate onset of the high, which lasts from 5 to 10 minutes (NIDA, 2021, p. 10). One can see that the short-term euphoric effects depend upon the method of administration.
The physiological effects of cocaine consumption will depend on the number of drugs taken and the number of doses. Thus, large amounts of this drug may cause a person to behave violently and erratically. Sometimes, cocaine users feel restless, anxious, and irritated, while others experience tremors, muscle twitches, and vertigo (NIDA, 2021, p. 10). People with chronic diseases may suffer from cardiovascular effects, such as heart attacks and disturbances in heart rhythm (NIDA, 2021, p. 10). Rarely, a person can die after the first dose of cocaine, especially if cocaine use is combined with alcohol (NIDA, 2021, p. 10). These short-term effects may slowly turn into long-term effects when the drug is consumed repeatedly.
The long-term effects of cocaine use are associated with changes in brain function. Thus, the brain becomes less sensitive to natural reinforcers while stress sensitivity increases (NIDA, 2021, p. 11). When an addict does not receive a dose, their negative mood and displeasure increase, and they begin to seek drugs instead of human relationships, food, and other needs. When a person develops tolerance to cocaine, they will need to get higher doses more frequently to feel pleasure and relief. At the same time, a smaller dose is required to produce toxic effects, anxiety, and convulsions (NIDA, 2021, p. 11). The risk of negative physiological and psychological effects also increases.
Long-term use of cocaine may damage different organs of the body. For instance, reduced blood flow in the gastrointestinal tract may lead to ulcerations and tears (NIDA, 2021, p. 12). Cocaine users often have no appetite and experience malnutrition and weight loss. The heart and cardiovascular system suffer too, and the risks for stroke and seizures increase significantly. Other long-term effects of cocaine use are movement disorders, Parkinson’s disease, and impaired cognitive functions (NIDA, 2021, p. 12). Even if a person has stopped consuming cocaine, the risk for relapse will be high.
Why Is Cocaine So Addictive?
Cocaine addiction occurs when repeated use of the drug causes physical changes in the brain. Some nerve cells responsible for feeling pleasure are affected, and a person suffers from reduced abilities to experience reward and control impulses (Cannella et al., 2020, p. 1). As an outcome, the brain adapts to the excess of neurotransmitters and demands higher doses to generate the same effect. Cocaine use may result in faster development of addiction than other drugs, causing brain hypoactivity and lowering its function (Cannella et al., 2020, p. 1). Consequently, altered brain functions lead to a loss of control and relapse, and addicts become chronic cocaine users.
How and Where Do People Get the Drug?
In the age of modern technologies and the Internet, selling and buying drugs is as easy as selling and buying other things. Drug dealers import cocaine from its production places illegally and sell it via social media. Moreover, drug manufacturers can sell small amounts of drugs directly to consumers worldwide, thus avoiding the risks of importation of big volumes (Nichols, 2020, para. 7). Dealers use social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram or create special apps for cocaine distribution. All messages are encrypted, and both buyers and sellers remain anonymous.
Treatment of Cocaine Addiction
There are different types of cocaine addiction treatment available in the world. Psychosocial treatment is one of the most common approaches indicated for this type of addiction. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) considers human thoughts, emotions, and cognitions as “precipitators or maintainers of behavior” (Neto et al., 2020, p. 8). Health practitioners use motivational interviews to convince addicts to change their lifestyles. Moreover, relapse prevention, social skills training, and contingency management are also effective for cocaine addiction treatment (Neto et al., 2020, p. 8). Harm reduction is aimed to minimize adverse health outcomes for drug addicts. Acupuncture, physical exercises, cooperative games, recovery groups, and socialization help patients decrease anxiety and addiction.
Pharmacological approaches are also used for cocaine addiction treatment. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration did not approve any medications for its treatment (NIDA, 2021, p. 15). Scientists and researchers are testing medications that act at the Dopamine D3 receptor and can restore the balance between the disrupted by cocaine neurotransmitters (NIDA, 2021, p. 15). Moreover, a cocaine vaccine is also under development, but only 38% of vaccinated persons attained sufficient antibody levels for only two months (NIDA, 2021, p. 16). In conclusion, researchers are working on medical interventions to address cocaine addiction and overdose. Such medicines would oppose the toxic and behavioral effects of the overdose and improve patients’ health outcomes.
Biondich, A. S., & Joslin, J. D. (2016). Coca: The history and medical significance of an ancient Andean tradition. Emergency Medicine International, 2016, 1-5. Web.
Cannella, N., Cosa-Linan, A., Takahashi, T., Weber-Fahr, W., & Spanagel, R. (2020). Cocaine addicted rats show reduced neural activity as revealed by manganese-enhanced MRI. Scientific Reports, 10, 1-14. Web.
Neto, A. G., Figueiroa, M. S., Almeida, R. B. F., Rameh-de-Albuquerque, G., Moura, I. S., & Nappo, S. A. (2018). Cocaine and its variations in forms of presentation and addiction. IntechOpen. Web.
Nichols, S. (2020). Social media has provided a new marketplace for drugs and police are struggling to keep up. ABC News. Web.
NIDA. (2021). What is cocaine? Web.