What is cocaine?
Street names: blow, C, coke, crack, flake, freebase, rock, snow
Cocaine is a stimulant drug. Stimulants make people feel more alert and energetic. Cocaine can also make people feel euphoric, or “high.”
Pure cocaine was first isolated from the leaves of the coca bush in 1860. Researchers soon discovered that cocaine numbs whatever tissues it touches, leading to its use as a local anesthetic. Today, we mostly use synthetic anesthetics, rather than cocaine.
In the 1880s, psychiatrist Sigmund Freud wrote scientific papers that praised cocaine as a treatment for many ailments, including depression and alcohol and opioid addiction. After this, cocaine became widely and legally available in patent medicines and soft drinks.
As cocaine use increased, people began to discover its dangers. In 1911, Canada passed laws restricting the importation, manufacture, sale and possession of cocaine. The use of cocaine declined until the 1970s, when it became known for its high cost, and for the rich and glamorous people who used it. Cheaper “crack” cocaine became available in the 1980s.
Where does cocaine come from?
Cocaine is extracted from the leaves of the Erythroxylum (coca) bush, which grows on the slopes of the Andes Mountains in South America. For at least 4,500 years, people in Peru and Bolivia have chewed coca leaves to lessen hunger and fatigue. Today, most of the world’s supply of coca is grown and refined into cocaine in Colombia. Criminal networks control the lucrative cocaine trade.
What does cocaine look like and how is it used?
Cocaine hydrochloride—the form in which cocaine is snorted or injected—is a white crystalline powder. It is sometimes “cut,” or mixed, with things that look like it, such as cornstarch or talcum powder, or with other drugs, such as local anesthetics or amphetamines.
The base form of cocaine can be chemically processed to produce forms of cocaine that can be smoked. These forms, known as “freebase” and “crack,” look like crystals or rocks.
Cocaine is often used with other drugs, especially alcohol and marijuana. Cocaine and heroin, mixed and dissolved for injection, is called a “speedball.”
Who uses cocaine?
A 2009 survey of Ontario students in grades 7 to 12 reported that 2.6 per cent had used cocaine and 1.1 per cent had used crack at least once in the past year.
A 2007 survey of Ontario adults reported that:
Copyright © 2003, 2010 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
- 1.7 per cent had used cocaine in the past year.
- 7.1 per cent had used cocaine at least once in their lifetime.