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What is cocaine?

Cocaine is a naturally occurring drug. It is derived from the leaves of the coca plant, a bush that grows mainly in South America. The drug is obtained by processing coca leaves into a fine white powder.

Cocaine is known by many names: coke, C, powder, snow, nose candy and others. As a powder, it can be inhaled through the nose, i.e. “snorted,” but it can also be dissolved in water and injected into a vein.

Cocaine can also be mixed with baking soda and turned into “rocks” to be smoked. This is called crack cocaine; due to the sound it then makes.

The effects of cocaine

The effects of cocaine depend on several factors, notably. . .

  • the method of absorption (snorted, injected, smoked),
  • consumption frequency,
  • the quantity absorbed,
  • the purity of the product, and
  • a few other factors.

Cocaine is used primarily for its stimulating effect. It induces effects like. . .

  • a state of euphoria,
  • an increased energy level, and
  • a feeling of self-assurance.

Depending on how it is taken, the effects are felt within a few seconds or minutes and can last from 10 to 30 minutes. The euphoria is followed by a period of anxiety, however, and that may lead the person to take more to get back to a euphoric state.

As with other drugs, cocaine can also cause unwanted effects, such as. . .

  • nausea,
  • increased body temperature,
  • sweating,
  • tachycardia (accelerated heart rate),
  • high blood pressure,
  • anxiety,
  • diminished judgment and functioning,
  • illusions of grandeur,
  • hypervigilance,
  • apprehension and paranoia,
  • psychomotor agitation,
  • irritability,
  • aggressiveness,
  • visual, auditory, or sensory hallucinations, and
  • delirium.

Over the long term, sustained cocaine use can also have negative health consequences, such as. . .

  • nasal issues, if the substance is snorted, such as bleeding, loss of the sense of smell, perforation of the septum or infections,
  • respiratory and chest problems if the cocaine is smoked, e.g. respiratory failure, inflammation of the lungs, chest pain or coughing up blood,
  • heart problems like high blood pressure, arrhythmia and increased risk of stroke or heart attack, or
  • other disorders, like loss of libido, erectile dysfunction, or cerebral hemorrhage.

Caution: The hazards associated with cocaine are also due to the fact that this compound is often “cut,” which means it is stretched with other substances. The problem is that these substances are usually unknown to the person using it. They can include baking soda and sugar, but also other drugs such as analgesics or amphetamines. Canadian health authorities have also detected traces of pesticides. Cocaine can also be cut with fentanyl, a highly toxic opioid that can cause overdoses in extremely small quantities.

Addiction and withdrawal

Cocaine can cause a strong psychological addiction in regular users. This addiction is triggered by the memory of the euphoric feeling generated by cocaine. Plus, regular cocaine users can develop a tolerance to its effects. Eventually, to reach the same level of euphoria, they have to use more of the drug, more often, which further contributes to the development of addiction.

Addicts who stop using may then experience a number of withdrawal symptoms, such as. . .

  • depression,
  • insomnia,
  • irritability,
  • suicidal thoughts,
  • exhaustion, or
  • intense cravings for more.

We can help you

If you are concerned about your cocaine use or that of a loved one, you do not need to worry alone. Call us at 1-800-265-2626 or log into the chat room via the link at the bottom right of our home page.  We can provide you with personalized support and information and refer you to resources specializing in your situation. Our services are available 24/7.


Sources : Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) / Les psychotropes : pharmacologie et toxicomanie, Louis Léonard et Mohamed Ben Amar (2002) / Government of Canada / Gouvernement du Québec / Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) / Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ) / Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) / Canadian Public Health Association / McMaster University