Last published: December 15, 2020
What is cocaine?
Cocaine is a stimulant drug, which means that it speeds up the messages travelling between the brain and the rest of the body.
Cocaine comes from the leaves of the coca bush (Erythroxylum coca), which is native to South America.1 The leaf extract is processed to produce three different forms of cocaine:
- Cocaine hydrochloride: a fine white powder with a bitter, numbing taste.2 Cocaine hydrochloride is often mixed, or ‘cut’, with other substances such as lidocaine, talcum powder or sugar to dilute it before being sold.2
- Freebase: a white powder that is more pure with less impurity than cocaine hydrochloride.3
- Crack: crystals ranging in colour from white or cream to transparent with a pink or yellow hue, it may contain impurities.3
C, coke, crack, nose candy, snow, white lady, toot, Charlie, blow, white dust or stardust.
Other types of stimulants
Cocaine hydrochloride is most commonly snorted.4 It can also be injected and rubbed into the gums.2
Freebase and crack cocaine are usually smoked.2, 3
Indigenous people of South America have traditionally chewed the leaves of the coca bush for their stimulant and appetite suppressant effects.1, 2
Effects of cocaine
There is no safe level of drug use. Use of any drug always carries some risk. It’s important to be careful when taking any type of drug.
Cocaine affects everyone differently, based on:
- size, weight and health
- whether the person is used to taking it
- whether other drugs are taken around the same time
- the amount taken
- the strength of the drug (varies from batch to batch).
You may experience:
- happiness and confidence
- talking more
- feeling energetic and alert
- irritability and agitation
- feeling physically strong and mentally sharp
- reduced appetite
- dry mouth
- enlarged (dilated) pupils
- higher blood pressure and faster heartbeat and breathing
- higher body temperature
- increased sex drive
- unpredictable, violent or aggressive behaviour
- indifference to pain.4
If you take a large amount or have a strong batch, you could overdose. Call an ambulance straight away by dialling triple zero (000) if you have any of these symptoms (ambulance officers don’t need to involve the police):
- nausea and vomiting
- extreme anxiety
- chest pain
- extreme agitation and paranoia
- breathing irregularities
- kidney failure
- heart problems.2,8
High doses and frequent heavy use can also cause ‘cocaine psychosis’, characterised by paranoia, hallucinations, unusual thoughts and out of character behaviour.4 These symptoms usually disappear a few days or weeks after the person stops using cocaine.4
Injecting cocaine can increase the risk of:
- vein damage.
Sharing needles increases the risk of:
- hepatitis B
- hepatitis C
In the days after cocaine use, you may feel:
- irritability and paranoia
- mood swings
- feeling uncomfortable
Regular use of cocaine may eventually cause:
- lung conditions such as bronchitis
- anxiety, paranoia and psychosis
- sexual dysfunction
- kidney failure
- hypertension and irregular heartbeat
- heart disease and death.4, 5
Snorting cocaine regularly can also cause:
- runny nose and nose bleeds
- nose infection
- damage to the tissue separating the nostrils (nasal septum)
- loss of sense of smell.4
Giving up cocaine after using it for a long time is challenging because the body has to get used to functioning without it.
It’s therefore important to talk to your GP or another health professional before trying to give up.
Phases of withdrawal
Withdrawal symptoms usually start around 6-12 hours after last use.
Withdrawal usually happens in 3 phases:
- Crash – feelings of depression or anxiety, cocaine cravings, extreme tiredness (experienced in the first few days)
- Withdrawal – cocaine cravings, lack of energy, anxiety, agitation, disturbed sleep,and an inability to feel pleasure (can last for several weeks)
- Extinction – withdrawal symptoms can occur over several months, gradually subsiding).4
If your use of cocaine is affecting your health, family, relationships, work, school, financial or other life situations, you can find help and support. Call 1300 85 85 84 to speak to a real person and get answers to your questions as well as advice on practical ‘next steps’.
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Federal and state laws provide penalties for possessing, using, making or selling cocaine, or driving under their influence.
See also, drugs and the law.
- 11.2% of Australians aged 14 years and over have used cocaine one or more times in their life.6
- 4.2% of Australians aged 14 years and over have used cocaine in the previous 12 months.6
- Young Australians (aged 14–24) first try cocaine at 23.6 years on average.6
- Among the 2% of 12-17 year olds who used cocaine in the past year, 45% of males and 66% of females only used it once or twice.7
- Bucello C, Degenhardt L, Calabria B, Nelson P, Roberts A, Medina-Mora M, et al. What do we know about the extent of cocaine use and dependence? Results of a global systematic review. Sydney: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales; 2010.
- Akwe J. Pulmonary effects of cocaine use. J Lung Pulm Respir Res. 2017;4(2):00121.
- Brands B, Sproule, B, Marshman, J. Drugs & Drug Abuse Third ed. Ontario: Addiction Research Foundation; 1998.
- Black E. Cocaine: What you need to know. National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre; 2014.
- Morentin B, Ballesteros J, Callado LF, Meana JJ. Recent cocaine use is a significant risk factor for sudden cardiovascular death in 15–49-year-old subjects: a forensic case–control study. Addiction. 2014;109(12):2071-8.
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019. Canberra: AIHW; 2020.
- Guerin N, & White, V. ASSAD 2017 Statistics & Trends: Australian Secondary Students’ Use of Tobacco, Alcohol, Over-the-counter Drugs, and Illicit Substances. Second Edition.: Cancer Council Victoria; 2020.