Cocaine is derived from the leaves of the coca plant (Erythroxylum coca), which grows at very high altitude areas in South American countries such as Colombia, Bolivia and Peru. Coca leaves have been chewed for thousands of years by the indigenous people of South America because of their stimulative properties and as an aid for altitude sickness. During the late 1800s, cocaine became very popular because of its stimulative, analgesic (pain-killing) and anaesthetic properties.
Cocaine has always been a symbol drug for the wealthy and is often referred to as ‘the rich man’s drug’. Cocaine abuse can be very expensive and this is because the intense ‘high’ sensation subsides very quickly and more of the drug is required to maintain the initial effect. The user can experience an overwhelming and intense psychological craving. This can result in a binge witch can end up costing the user thousands. Crack cocaine, prices range from small crystal (R40-50) (size of a match point) to larger crystals R400 (full moon).
Methods of use
Cocaine hydrochloride in its powdered form is usually snorted or injected intravenously. During the 1980s, a smoke able form called ‘freebase’ was manufactured by an extraction method using volatile solvents. The ‘freebase’ was then heated and the vapours inhaled. This was a very dangerous method of use, as fumes from the volatile solvents caused explosions. As the popularity of ‘freebase’ decreased, another form of cocaine made its appearance. This was an extremely addictive substance known as crack cocaine.
Crack cocaine, or ‘rocks’ as it is known in South Africa, is usually smoked by using home-made glass pipes called ‘crack pipes’. The term ‘crack’ is derived from the ‘crackling’ or popping sound it makes when smoked. The purity of crack cocaine makes it a very dangerous and addictive. Because it is smoked, the effects come on much quicker and stronger in comparison to snorting the powder form.
Effects on the user
The cocaine ‘high’ lasts about 15 to 40 minutes, if used frequently.
- Intense euphoria
- Being talkative
- Having feelings of great strength, power and intelligence
- increased energy
- Loss of appetite.
The ‘come-down’ effects of the drug are the complete opposite of the ‘high’. This episode is referred to as a ‘crash’, and can last for several hours after last use. Indications start immediately after the ‘high’ diminishes. During the ‘crash’, the user will experience severe psychological cravings for more of the drug. If more of the drug cannot be obtained, the user may suffer from extreme irritability, restlessness and paranoia. In severe cases aggressive and violent behaviour, as well as homicidal or suicidal tendencies.
Cocaine psychosis may occur when large doses of the drug have been taken continuously (a binge). Psychosis is a mental disorder, characterised by complete disconnection from reality. The individual suffers from hallucinations, mainly auditory, behaves in a disorderly manner, has disorganised speech, and irrational or paranoid beliefs.
Harmful side effects and health risks
It was only at the turn of the 20th century, that the real dangers of cocaine were understood. Tolerance develops very quickly with regular use, and more of the drug is required to maintain the initial effect. Deep psychological dependence occurs with frequent use of cocaine.
- Adverse effects include:
- Extreme mental cravings
- Violent outbursts
- Aggressive behaviour
- False sensations of being watched, followed, or people are out ‘to get you’.
- Dilated pupils
- Acute respiratory problems, lung trauma and bleeding
- Collapsed veins
- Weight loss
- Nasal passage damage and bleeding.
Smoking crack causes severe damage to the mouth, teeth and lips (crack lip). Contaminated needle sharing can result in serious blood-borne diseases such as HIV/AIDS.
Withdrawal symptoms may last for several months, depending on the extent and frequency of use.
- Psychological cravings
- Severe depression
- Anti-social behaviour
- Extreme mood-swings
- Paranoid delusions
- Feelings of being unable to cope with daily tasks.
Permanent abstinence from cocaine should always be undertaken with professional help and support.
There is a great risk of overdose associated with cocaine abuse, especially during cocaine binges or when the drug is injected. An overdose causes an increased and irregular heart rate. An extreme rise in body temperature resulting in seizures, respiratory failure, cardiac arrest, coma and/or death.
Cocaine, crack cocaine and the law
Cocaine and crack cocaine are illegal substances in South Africa, as per the Drug and Drug Trafficking Act 140 of 1992. The manufacturing, dealing, use and/or possession of crack and crack cocaine are unlawful. A person convicted of an offence under this Act could face a serious fine, or even imprisonment.
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