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Understanding Cocaine and Crack

Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant that directly affects the brain. Cocaine generally is sold on the street as a fine, white, crystalline powder derived from the dried leaves of the coca plant. Cocaine is also known as "coke," "C," "snow," "flake," or "blow." Street dealers usually dilute it with inert substances, such as cornstarch, talcum powder or sugar, with active drugs, such as procaine (a chemically related local anesthetic), or with amphetamines. The powdered form dissolves in water and can be injected into a vein or snorted into the nose.

"Crack" is the street name given to the drug's freebase form, which is processed to form a rock crystal that can be heated in a pipe and the vapors smoked. Crack cocaine resembles white or tan pellets. The term "crack" refers to the crackling sound heard when the mixture is smoked. Because crack is smoked, the user experiences a high in less than 10 seconds. The immediate effects and crack's low cost have made it popular.

Effects of cocaine

Cocaine use ranges from occasionally to compulsively. There is no safe way to use the drug—any way it's taken can lead to a heart attack or stroke that could be fatal.

Cocaine is a stimulant. Its effects appear almost immediately after a single dose and disappear within a few minutes or hours. The drug usually makes the user feel euphoric, energetic, talkative, and mentally alert. It also can temporarily decrease the need for food and sleep. The short-term effects also include increased heart rate and blood pressure, constricted blood vessels, increased temperature, and dilated pupils.

Cocaine also may cause bizarre, erratic, and violent behavior.

The health consequences of long-term cocaine abuse include disturbances in heart rhythm, heart attacks, respiratory failure, strokes, seizures, convulsions, and coma. Cocaine abusers are at increased risk for contracting HIV or AIDS, not only due to the sharing of contaminated needles and other drug paraphernalia, but also as a result of engaging in risky sexual behaviors.

Treatments for abusers

If you are addicted to cocaine, see your health care provider for help in breaking your habit. Cocaine abuse and addiction is a complex problem involving changes in the brain as well as social, familial, and environmental factors.