Note: This module has not been updated since the original Addictionary (1992). Probably some of the information is no longer current.

Coca is a shrub native to the hot, humid valleys east of the Andes mountains. The Indians of South America chew coca leaves as a stimulant, a medicine, and a source of vitamins and minerals, as did the ancient Aztecs.

Various tonics and wines containing coca preparations became popular in Europe and America in the late nineteenth century. Coca-Cola was one of those concoctions. Scientists isolated cocaine from the coca leaves, and doctors began to use it as the first local anesthetic. Its popularity led to its use for all sorts. of medical problems, including alcohol and opiate addiction. Soon there were cocaine addicts as well.

In the early 1900s laws made coca leaves and cocaine controlled substances, and Coca-Cola took it out of their soft drink (supposedly, a drug-free extract remained, as flavoring).

Illegal Cocaine

Illegal cocaine is available as cocaine hydrochloride, a white powder. Cut with local anesthetics and all sorts of substances, it is sold in quantities of one gram (1/28 ounce), a half gram, or a quarter gram.

Freebase is a purified form of cocaine created by applying ether or other solvents to cocaine powder and then heating it — a particularly dangerous enterprise. Crack cocaine is freebase that comes in chunks or “rocks” that are ready to smoke and easier to carry and use. At $540 per rock, crack has unfortunately made cocaine available to the inner city, school kids, and people in all social classes.

Cocaine and its derivatives are the most reinforcing chemicals known. A laboratory rat will press a bar to get a cocaine reward until completely exhausted or convulsing. It will ignore both food and sex while the cocaine is available.

Snorted cocaine peaks in the brain within fifteen minutes. Injected, this shortens to five minutes, while the refined forms of freebase or crack smoked in a water pipe peak in fifteen seconds. At low doses sexual desire and perception of performance in all areas of life usually increase. At high doses or after ongoing use, the user may be subjected to all sorts of adverse consequences, from tremors and racing heartbeat, to weight loss and sexual dysfunction, to stroke and respiratory arrest.

How it Works

Ordinarily, the excitatory neurotransmitter dopamine (DA) is dumped from vesicles on the presynaptic nerve into the synapse, a tiny gap between nerves. Some of it crosses the synapse to find receptor sites on the postsynaptic nerve, which is fired, passing a message on to the complex neural network. The DA is then pumped back into the presynaptic vesicles in a process called reuptake.

Cocaine works primarily by preventing this reuptake of dopamine (DA) and other neurotransmitters, like norepinephrine (NA) and serotonin (5-HT). These excess chemicals in the synapse produce the pleasure and elation of cocaine intoxication, and physiological symptoms like elevated blood pressure, pulse, and body temperature.

Coke blues However, these neurotransmitters are not being sucked back into the synaptic vesicles, so they are broken down by enzymes in the synapse, usually within an hour. This means that following a coke run, the DA and some other neurotransmitters are reduced or exhausted, causing the “coke blues.” This prompts the addict to find more cocaine or “crack.”

Because of the shortness of the cocaine high, coke addicts are likely to turn to other drugs to round out their experience, so they are often polyaddicted. And since cocaine has no trouble crossing the placenta, many premature babies are being born as cocaine addicts, with low birth weight, and in full withdrawal.

Sex addiction Estimates of sex addiction and sexual dysfunction among cocaine addicts range as high as 70 percent. This is another reason for care in cocaine treatment. See the module on Sex for information about sex and sex addiction.

Self-help Cocaine addiction presents special problems because of the intense craving and the typical lifestyle of the coke addict. Many addicts have found difficulty relating to Narcotics Anonymous, and AA may help them with their alcoholism but not address their cocaine use. Help for problems with cocaine can be found by contacting:

Cocaine Anonymous
6125 Washington Blvd., Suite 202
Los Angeles, CA 90230
(213) 559-5833

Cocaine, see also: Drugs, Exercise & activity, Fantasy, Impaired professionals, Inhalants, Moodifiers, Narcotics Anonymous, Other support groups, Pregnancy, Therapy & treatment, Tolerance.

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Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

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