The Truth About Cocaine

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So, taking cocaine is all about good times – feeling confident, talking funny nonsense with your mates and making your nights out last longer. But what about the bad times? Like when you are feeling paranoid, the next day comedown or the nights when all you can think about is your next line?

Cocaine is a white powder made from the leaves of the South American coca plant. The chopped and crushed leaves are mixed with solvents like petrol, then treated with various chemicals, such as sulphuric acid.

Kerosene is used to extract the crude cocaine, which receives further chemical treatment. The final product is the cocaine salt, also known as ‘powder’ cocaine.

More chemicals are needed to convert the salt form to freebase or ‘crack’ cocaine, which usually looks like small lumps or ‘rocks’.

Cocaine increases the levels of the chemical, dopamine, which is present in the gap between nerve cells by blocking its removal back in to the cells. This ‘flooding’of dopamine overexcites the receptors that are present on many brain cells, causing hyperactive and stimulant brain effects, as well as powerfully activating the ‘reward pathway’ that is involved in feeling ‘high’ and in developing addiction.

This stimulant effect also puts extra strain on the heart. Even if you are young and healthy.

In the short term, cocaine stimulation can make you feel confident and wide awake. But repeated use can cause agitated behaviour, mood swings, severe addiction and heart attacks.

How Pure is it?

Cocaine seized by the police in 2009 was on average only 33% pure. Cocaine is cut with other ingredients to increase the profit margins of drug dealers. It probably won’t be cut with talc,Vim or rat poison – that’s a bit of an urban myth. But it could be cut with other drugs and chemicals. These include benzocaine (a pain reliever), phenacetin (an anaesthetic until it was linked to cancer) and lignocaine (a local anaesthetic). All of these can make your gums and mouth go numb – this can fool you into thinking that you have bought ‘high quality’ cocaine. Another substance used is tetramisole a drug given to pets to expel or destroy tapeworms. You never know how pure cocaine

is, which means you don’t know how strong it is or what other drugs you may be taking and their side effects.

The Bigger Risks: 

If you take cocaine, there are risks to both your physical and mental health – the more you use and the, longer you use it, the bigger the risks to:

The Nose: Repeated cocaine use leads to loss of blood supply to the septum (the thin bony dividing wall between the nostrils) which becomes damaged, leaving a hole between the two nose passages. The bridge of the nose may even collapse.

The Liver: Taking cocaine when you are drinking may help you to stay awake and you might find that you can drink more without feeling as drunk.You may also get a more intense high than when taking cocaine on its own.When you take the two together, a substance called cocaethylene forms in your body. This is a toxic substance that is more harmful than taking cocaine or alcohol on their own. Effectively your body is producing a third drug that it then has to try and get rid of – and it takes twice as long to leave your body than if you take cocaine on its own. Cocaethylene has been linked with damage to the liver and heart. The risk of sudden death is 18 times greater, when alcohol and cocaine are used together than when cocaine is used on its own.

The Chest: One of the most common reasons for requiring emergency treatment is the enormous tightening of blood vessels, in the coronary arteries and the rest of the body. This deprives the heart of its normal blood supply, putting the user at risk of a heart attack or a heart rhythm disturbance which might cause you to drop dead suddenly.

Blood Pressure: Cocaine releases massive amounts of noradrenaline from the nerve endings, which causes blood vessels right through the body to narrow. This leads to a major surge in blood pressure. To the onlooker, the user looks pale and staring, but there may be no other outward signs of the enormous rise in blood pressure.The rise in blood pressure is not permanent, but may cause a heart attack or stroke, and repeated use causes long-term damage to the blood vessels.

The Blood Vessels: One area damaged by long-term cocaine use is the aorta, which is the body's main blood vessel. A surge in blood pressure following cocaine use forces the blood between the inner and outer casings of the aorta and each time the heart pumps this false passage becomes longer and more liable to block off a branch vessel or to burst, with possibly fatal results.

The Brain: Regular cocaine use can lead to a bulging weakness in the wall of a branch point of the arteries in the brain. This is often called a berry aneurysm. Eventually this aneurysm bursts, and blood pouring out of the leak is known as a subarachnoid haemorrhage. It can cause major damage to the brain.In many people this damage can be permanent, leading to difficulty with thought, sight, speech or movement.

The Heart: Repeated use of cocaine causes massive stresses and strains on the blood vessels in the coronary arteries and the rest of the body.This leads to a build- up of cholesterol in the walls of arteries, especially the coronary arteries. A regular cocaine user aged 30 might have blood vessels like a 60-year-old, and this could lead to a sudden and unexpected heart attack in a long-term user.

The Skin: Some people experience unpleasant crawling feelings under the skin as they are withdrawing from cocaine ('cocaine bugs' or 'snow bugs'). They may describe cocaine bugs as biting, creeping, burning or itching, and may scratch their skin until it bleeds. Although this sensation can be treated to some extent by tranquilliser type drugs, in most cases the user has to wait until it settles down and goes away of its own accord.

Over-heating: A regular cocaine user might suddenly find himself sweating profusely as his body temperature rises dramatically. He pulls his clothes off and tries to cool down with cold water, wet towels or ice. He becomes increasingly agitated, paranoid and confused and might be hallucinating.

The Gut: Cocaine constricts blood vessels supplying the gut. The resulting oxygen starvation can cause ulcers, or even perforation of the stomach or intestines.

The Kidneys: Cocaine can cause sudden, overwhelming kidney failure through a process called rhabdomyolysis. In people with high blood pressure, regular cocaine use can accelerate the long-term kidney damage caused by high blood pressure.

Sexual Function: Although cocaine has a reputation as an aphrodisiac, it actually may make you less able to finish what you start. Chronic cocaine use can impair sexual function in men and women. In men, cocaine can cause delayed or impaired ejaculation.

Addiction – You Can Control it, Right?

You might think you can’t be an addict if you don’t take it every day. But even if you just take cocaine at the weekends, it can start to control your life. Cocaine is very addictive. Cocaine is biologically more addictive than many other substances such as alcohol and cannabis.The effects of cocaine are powerful and short-lived– around 20-30 minutes. And as soon as the effects wear off, you are left wanting more. Just one line can soon turn into several fat ones. It can become difficult to resist the cravings and the drive to keep taking more, not least because cocaine alters the way your brain works. So you start using more and more to get the same good feeling. And the more you use, the worse you feel the next day. So you might use more to try and put off your comedown. If this cycle starts to happen, it is quite easy for cocaine to stop being just a bit of fun.

Relationships

Most people take cocaine with their mates. Because it makes you talk a lot and helps you to stay out late, cocaine can seem like a sociable drug. And taking drugs together can feel like a bonding experience – especially if there’s four of you crammed in a toilet cubicle.

But cocaine can change friendships so that they become all about cocaine.You might talk a

lot but is anyone listening to you? Or are they too busy trying to talk over you? And then there’s

the paranoia that your girlfriend or boyfriend is flirting with someone else, or that all your mates are

talking about you, or that someone is holding out and not sharing their cocaine with you. Some

times it might feel like it is cocaine that is controlling your group of friends.

"But it’s not harming anyone else"...

Cocaine's Forgotten Victims.

 So you know the risks but it’s up to you isn’t it? You might think that you aren’t harming anyone by taking cocaine but the cocaine industry harms a lot of people. Most of the world’s cocaine is produced in Bolivia, Colombia and Peru. To indigenous groups in these countries, chewing the coca leaf is part of their culture. But poverty and violence often forces farmers to grow coca leaves for the production of cocaine that is exported. Buying cocaine also finances organised crime. Demand fuels robbery, gang violence and street crimes, sometimes around 80% of cocaine comes from Colombia, where drug related crime is the most common cause of death after cancer. Money spent on cocaine finances:

 

> landmines

> terrorism

> kidnapping

 

Some cocaine is brought into the UK by drug couriers or mules. These people – usually women with dependent children – are poor, desperate and may not understand the consequences of what they are doing. The cocaine is put in condoms, which they swallow. If the condoms burst, they can die. They are also at risk of violence and intimidation by dealers as well as legal action if they are caught. Cocaine production affects the environment:

> Tropical rain forest is destroyed so that farmers can grow cocaine. It is estimated that Colombia has lost over three million acres of tropical rainforest because of cocaine production.

> illegal processing factories dump polluting chemicals that affect the local environment. It is reported that in Columbia every year, 20 million litres of acetone, 13 million litres of gasoline and 81 thousand litres of sulphuric acid are used to make coca leaves into cocaine. These chemicals are then thrown away, untreated, in rivers and streams.

> One gram of cocaine correspondes to the destruction of 4sq metres of Colombian forest.

> Around 35% of Colombia is covered by the Amazon jungle, which produces 15% of the world's oxygen

> Shared Responsibility says that 2.2m hectares of the Colombian Amazon forest has been cleared to grow coca in 20 years. It is estimated that it will take between 100 and 600 years for just 1 hectare to recover.

Think about all that, for a second.

 The next time you think about another night out, your next line of coke, be AWARE. Aware of what you are putting into your body, what it is doing to your body and how it is effecting our environment and many other lives that we're oblivious to. 

Support:

Adfam

Support materials for people with a family member who takes drugs. Can help you find local support groups. 

email: admin@adfam.org.uk

www.adfam.org.uk

 

Release

Provides expert advice and information on drugs, the law and human rights.

tel: 0845 4500 215

email: ask@release.org.uk

www.release.org.uk

 

Cocaine anonymous

Helps people stop using cocaine and other drugs.

tel: 0800 612 0225

www.ca.org

Resources:

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/02/110218-cocaine-coca-farming-colombia-rainforests-environment-science/

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2008/may/21/endangeredhabitats.forests

http://www.coha.org/cocaines-forgotten-victims/

http://www.talktofrank.com/sites/default/files/Cocaine.pdf