Coke. Blow. Yeyo. Snow. Nose candy.
These are just some of the names for the highly-addictive, white powder we know as cocaine. But how much do you really know about this substance – apart from what you’ve seen on Wolf of Wall Street or Narcos?
Ranked as the second most addictive drug in the world by David Nutt, cocaine is nothing to mess around with. Abuse of it can quickly land you a one-way ticket to rehab or worse. And although this fact alone scares away some potential users, its promised effects and glamorized usage make it that much more enticing to others.
Gaining a reputation as the world’s most-prominent, high-end party drug, there’s no doubt you’ve either been affected by or been in contact with this drug at some point in your life. If you don’t believe me, look no further than your wallet. Scientists at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth estimate that over 90 percent of all paper money contains trace amounts of cocaine.
Crazy, right? What’s more interesting is the fact that the $5, $10, $20, and $50-dollar bill contain higher traces of cocaine than the $1-dollar bill, which directly alludes to the drug’s premium price.
Cocaine addiction is extremely costly, and its abuse has damaging consequences for an individual’s health, finances, and relationships. Fortunately, our team at Stonegate Center has first-hand experience in treating those suffering from cocaine dependency and aim to help our clients get freed from this drug’s deadly grip. But first, we must educate. We hope the following article dispels any myths about the drug and provides an honest, informative view into its effects.
Where Does Cocaine Come From?
Cocaine is derived from the coca leaf, a plant originally found in South American, and its history is wild. For centuries, indigenous people chewed these leaves to boost energy, treat headaches, and quell stomach cramps. Ancient drawings even depict aborigines with cheeked stuffed full of these leaves.
However, it wasn’t until the mid-1800s that scientists isolated the chemical compound, and its medicalization began. Once extracted from the coca leaf, scientists started to use this drug primarily for its analgesic effects.
During a time when general anesthesia wasn’t practiced and patients suffered immense pain during surgery, cocaine was heralded as a breakthrough drug. It acted as a local anesthetic by blocking pain and nerve impulses, allowing surgeons to operate more effectively and with less patient discomfort.
The most infamous experiment involving the drug centers around Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, and Karl Koller, a rising ophthalmic surgeon. Freud was known to be an avid cocaine user throughout his academic career and went so far as publishing a paper entitled, “Über Coca,” in which he touted the newfound chemical’s potential. Unfortunately for Freud, he overlooked cocaine’s addictive nature and mistakenly reported that the drug did not elicit any compulsive, pleasure-seeking tendencies.
In a passionate plea to Koller, Freud encouraged his friend to research the effects of cocaine. Their result: sticking pins into each other’s cocaine-numbed eyeballs.
They didn’t even blink.
Soon thereafter, cocaine’s popularity exploded, eventually finding its way into everyday use. Coca-Cola infused their drink recipe with it; employers provided cocaine-laced tablets to their employees to increase worker productivity; and the Nazis distributed cocaine as well as other amphetamines to their soldiers in hopes of creating a fearless war force.
As its use drifted from the medical sphere and into the hands of everyday citizens, cocaine quickly became abused.
The Effects of Cocaine
Currently, stimulants like cocaine and other amphetamines are the second most-abused drugs in the U.S., with marijuana holding the top spot. But don’t let its popularity fool you. Cocaine can have serious effects on a person’s body.
The most common method of consumption is snorting. However, other forms of use include rubbing it on the gums, injecting it, and smoking it – also referred to as freebasing. The euphoric effects of cocaine can be broken down into two phases: (a) the rush and (b) the crash.
During the first phase, cocaine produces both a physiological and psychological response. Its effects include feelings of happiness, excitation, increased energy, and hypervigilance. As well, cocaine causes increased talkativeness, sexual arousal, a loss of appetite, and improved self-confidence.
When snorted, highs typically last from 15-60 minutes. This is due to the short half-life of benzoylecgonine, the main metabolite of cocaine. However, post-effects may linger for several days.
After the first phase, or the rush, cocaine users enter the second phase, referred to here as the crash. During the second phase, users experience depression, fatigue, sadness, and insomnia or restlessness. Other symptoms include paranoia, anxiety, aggressiveness, and irritability. This second phase is markedly uncomfortable and spurs cocaine users to seek more of the drug in attempt to avoid these feelings – a behavior that ultimately leads to a high level of physical dependence.
Other short-term effects of the drug may include:
- Increased heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased body temperature
- Hypersensitivity to light, sound, touch
- Dilated pupils
- Anger / Irritability
- Muscle twitches
- Decreased appetite
When used for long periods of time and with increasing dosages, users will develop a tolerance. This means that individuals need to take excessive amounts of the drug in order to replicate their initial high. Unfortunately, an increased tolerance may correlate to increased sensitivity.
In other words, using the drug more does not shield you from its harmful effects. In fact, it’s quite the contrary. Research suggests that long-term cocaine abuse actually makes you more susceptible to its deadly effects – a concept that experts are using to explain the increase in cocaine deaths at lower doses.
The long-term health effects of cocaine abuse may include:
- Chest, abdominal pain
- Respiratory failure
- Gastrointestinal complications
- Seizures / convulsions
- Heart attack, stroke
- Sexual impotence
- Loss of smell, nosebleeds
- Kidney failure
So how does cocaine work? Remember the reward-learning process in the brain? Cocaine’s initial high is produced by a surge of dopamine in the brain, which is often extremely pleasurable to users. Unfortunately, this highly addictive stimulant has killed almost 14,000 people in 2017, and when combined with other substances such as heroin or benzodiazepines, its potential for harm increases.
How Long Does Cocaine Last in My System?
Short answer: 2-4 days.
But, I think the long answer is much more interesting…
Cocaine itself typically lasts in your system for up to 1-day before it is completely broken down. However, most people don’t understand that drug tests aren’t looking for cocaine. They’re actually looking for benzoylecgonine, the main metabolite of cocaine.
And why’s that, Johnny?
Simply put, benzoylecgonine lasts in your system longer. And since it is an inactive metabolite, it is much easier to detect in a drug test (i.e. immunoassays, toxicological screenings) than the short-acting cocaine precursor. For example, cocaine’s half-life is only 6-hours, whereas benzoylecgonine’s half-life is 12-hours. That means that the detection window for benzoylecgonine is much larger, which tends to yield more accurate results.
In sum, a urine drug screen can detect the presence of benzoylecgonine, cocaine’s derivative, up to 4 days after you’ve taken the substance. For excessive users, a urine drug screen can return a positive result for up to two-weeks after you’ve abused the drug. High frequency users build up an excess of cocaine metabolites in their system, which takes the body longer to excrete them. Unlike marijuana, which can last in your urine for up to 30 days, cocaine is relatively short-acting.
Interestingly enough, urine drug screens are more complex than you might think. In fact, most of the point-of-care (POC) cups that are used to collect urine samples are subsequently sent to sister laboratories, who run quality-controlled, highly-accurate confirmation tests on Liquid Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (LC/MS) systems. These expensive and elaborate systems are calibrated to give you the exact nanogram per milliliter (ng/mL) of the drug or metabolite in a person’s body at the time of testing.
Despite all the advanced science, several other factors exist that might influence the results of your drug test. These may include:
- Metabolism, genetics
- Body fat percentage
- Height, weight, and age
- Average Dosage
- Length of abuse
- Organ health
- Substance purity
- Stomach food content
- Polysubstance abuse
Although urine toxicology screenings are the most common form of drug test, others such as blood, saliva, and hair tests are used as well. When it comes to blood or saliva tests, cocaine lasts anywhere from 12-48 hours. And for hair tests, cocaine can remain detectable for more than a year.
Cocaine and My Brain
Cocaine’s powerful, highly-addictive effects are produced in the brain – particularly in the mesolimbic dopamine system, which is responsible for the reinforcement of positive stimuli such as food and sex. Drugs of abuse interfere with the brain’s communication pathway.
When snorted, cocaine users experience a rush of dopamine, or the “feel good” neurotransmitter. This rush happens when cocaine binds to something called the dopamine transporter, which is a specialized protein used to remove excess dopamine from the neural synapse. Once cocaine binds to this protein, dopamine accumulates in the neural synapse and the brain relays an amplified signal to neurons down the chain. It’s this amplified signal that elicits the euphoric effects cocaine is known for.
Cocaine addiction can cause long-term brain damage and mental health issues such as mood swings or other emotional irregularities. Due to the drug’s interaction with dopamine, severe depression is often experienced in the hours / days after use.
In addition to dopamine, cocaine also interacts with the brain’s primary stress hormone, cortisol. Cocaine increases the stress hormones levels, which in turn heighten one’s blood pressure and heart rate. Therefore, addiction to cocaine can have dire consequences on one’s cardiovascular system and may lead to heart attack or stroke.
Brain scans show that cocaine will change the appearance and function of your brain. This may lead to cognitive and motor performance issues, dementia, and memory loss. There’s no doubt that cocaine has many serious long-term effects; however, treatment for cocaine addiction is possible.
At Stonegate Center, we offer several different types of therapies to treat cocaine addiction in a structured, welcoming environment just outside of Fort Worth, Texas. If you are ready to cut this drug out of your life, our masters-level clinicians and relatable Recovery Advocates can help.
- An estimated 17 million people worldwide use cocaine
- By their senior year, roughly 35% of college students were offered cocaine at least once and 13% used the drug according to a recent longitudinal study
- Roughly 70% of cocaine users relapse when trying to quit on their own
- The annual cocaine market is reportedly worth $88 billion
- The United States is the world’s leading consumer of cocaine
- The penalty for possession of cocaine can lead to a fine of $1,000 and up to 1-year in jail for first-time offenders
- 9% of people who try cocaine will become dependent
- Women are more vulnerable to the effects of cocaine than men, although men are twice as likely to abuse the drug
- American adults aged 18-25 years old have the highest rate of cocaine use than any other age group
- 1 out of every 3 drug-related emergency department visits involved cocaine according to a report by the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN)
Don’t become a statistic. Although cocaine addiction is prevalent in the U.S., you do not have to succumb to its deadly potential. If you or a loved one is struggling with cocaine addiction, take the first step towards recovery and reach out. Our admissions specialists are in recovery themselves and have overcome drug and alcohol addiction to live full and empowering lives in sobriety.
Give us a call at (817) 993-9733 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and come join the Stonegate Center family. We are ready to help you!
John Eckelbarger is a Business Development Representative for Stonegate Center. With a BSA in Chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin, he has an interest in the neurobiology of addiction & pharmacology of drugs. He hopes to bolster Stonegate Center to the forefront of addiction medicine through bold, innovative content. He is currently pursuing his MBA in Finance from Texas Christian University.