Cocaine is a powerful central nervous system (CNS) stimulant that heightens alertness, inhibits appetite and the need for sleep, and provides intense feelings of pleasure. It is prepared from the leaf of the Erythroxylon coca bush, which grows primarily in Peru and Bolivia.
The effects of cocaine are immediate, extremely pleasurable, and brief. Cocaine and crack cocaine both produce intense but short-lived euphoria and can make users feel more energetic. Like caffeine, cocaine produces wakefulness and reduces hunger. Psychological effects include feelings of well-being and a grandiose sense of power and ability mixed with anxiety and restlessness. As the drug wears off, these temporary sensations of mastery are replaced by an intense depression, and the drug abuser will then "crash", becoming lethargic and typically sleeping for several days.
Cocaine addiction can occur very quickly and be very difficult to break. Animal studies have shown that animals will work very hard (press a bar over 10,000 times) for a single injection of cocaine, choose cocaine over food and water, and take cocaine even when this behavior is punished. Animals must have their access to cocaine limited in order not to take toxic or even lethal doses. People addicted to cocaine behave similarly. They will go to great lengths to get cocaine and continue to take it even when it hurts their school or job performance and their relationships with loved ones.
Cocaine abuse and addiction continues to be a problem that plagues many countries. In 1997, for example, an estimated 1.5 million Americans age 12 and older were chronic cocaine users. Although this is an improvement over the 1985 estimate of 5.7 million users, there is still a lot to be done.
The initial resurgence of cocaine use in the 1960s was largely confined to the affluent, for it was at that time quite expensive. Part of the drug's mystique was its association with celebrities in the music, sports, and show business worlds. Today, people from all walks of life use cocaine. Young single people are the most frequent users, with male users outnumbering female users two to one. There are no clear connections between cocaine use and education, occupation, or socioeconomic status.
Attempts to stop using the drugs can fail simply because the resulting depression can be overwhelming, causing the addict to use more cocaine in an attempt to overcome his depression. This overpowering addiction can cause the addict to do anything to get cocaine.
Intranasal drug use can cause a loss of the sense of smell.
Cocaine induces a feeling of well-being by raising dopamine levels in the brain, but also increases blood pressure and causes blood vessels to contract. Sometimes the arteries feeding the heart go into spasm, causing the severe chest pains that make users go to hospital. If the spasms are particularly severe the patients may need drugs such as nitrates to force their vessels open and prevent a heart attack.
In 1999 the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that the risk of death from a heart attack rose 24-fold in the first hour after cocaine use.
Fasting makes it easier to overcome bad habits and addictions. Many people have overcome tobacco and alcohol addictions, and even drug addictions, by fasting. Fasting rapidly dissipates the craving for drugs.
Researchers say that acupuncture is a promising treatment for cocaine addiction. A team from Yale University successfully used the alternative therapy to treat an addiction for which there are few effective treatments. Volunteers received a form of the therapy called auricular acupuncture in which needles are inserted into specific parts of the outer ear. Tests on urine samples showed that these volunteers were less likely to have taken cocaine during the study than others who were not offered the therapy.
Results showed that 54.8% of participants tested free of cocaine during the last week of treatment, compared to 23.5% and 9.1% in the two control groups. Those who completed acupuncture treatment also had longer periods of sustained abstinence compared to participants in the control groups.
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