Last published: February 27, 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. The leaf extract is processed to produce 3 different forms of cocaine:
- Cocaine hydrochloride: a white, crystalline powder with a bitter, numbing taste. Cocaine hydrochloride is often mixed, or ‘cut’, with other substances such as lactose and glucose, to dilute it before being sold.
- Freebase: a white powder that is more pure with less impurity than cocaine hydrochloride.
- Crack: crystals ranging in colour from white or cream to transparent with a pink or yellow hue, it may contain impurities.1,2
C, coke, nose candy, snow, white lady, toot, Charlie, blow, white dust or stardust.
Other types of stimulants
How is it used?
Cocaine hydrochloride is most commonly snorted. It can also be injected, rubbed into the gums, added to drinks or food.1
Freebase and crack cocaine are usually smoked.1
Indigenous people of South America have traditionally chewed the leaves of the coca bush, or brewed them as a tea, for use as a stimulant or appetite suppressant.3
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
- quiet contemplation and rapture
- feeling physically strong and mentally sharp
- reduced appetite
- dry mouth
- enlarged (dilated) pupils
- higher blood pressure and faster heartbeat and breathing (after initial slowing)
- higher body temperature
- increased sex drive
- unpredictable, violent or aggressive behaviour
- indifference to pain.2,4
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 paranoid delusions, hallucinations and out of character aggressive behaviour. These symptoms usually disappear a few days after the person stops using cocaine.4
Injecting cocaine and sharing needles may also cause:
- increased likelihood of overdose
- hepatitis B
- hepatitis C
In the days after cocaine use, you may feel:
- tension and anxiety
- mood swings
- total exhaustion.2,5
Regular use of cocaine may eventually cause:
- insomnia and exhaustion
- anxiety, paranoia and psychosis
- sexual dysfunction
- hypertension and irregular heartbeat
- heart disease and death.1,5,6
Snorting cocaine regularly can also cause:
- runny nose and nose bleeds
- nose infection
- a hole in the tissue separating the nostrils
- long term damage to the nasal cavity and sinuses.5
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 1–2 days after last use and can last for approximately 10 weeks - days 4 to 7 will be the worst.
Withdrawal usually happens in 3 phases:
- Crash – agitation, depression or anxiety, intense hunger, cocaine cravings, restless sleep, extreme tiredness (experienced in the first few days)
- Withdrawal – cocaine cravings, lack of energy, anxiety, angry outbursts and an inability to feel pleasure (can last for up to 10 weeks)
- Extinction – intermittent cravings for cocaine (ongoing).7
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’.
You can also search our list of Support Services for services in your local area:
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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.
- 9% of Australians aged 14 years and over have used cocaine one or more times in their life.8
- 2.5% of Australians aged 14 years and over have used cocaine in the previous 12 months.8
- Young Australians (aged 14–24) first try cocaine at 23.9 years on average.8
- The 1.9% of 12-17 year olds who take cocaine have only used it once or twice.9
- Brands B; Sproule B; & Marshman J. (Eds.). (1998). Drugs & drug abuse (3rd ed.). Ontario: Addiction Research Foundation.
- Cocaine and mental health, (2017)
- Weiss, R., Mirin, S., & Bartel, R. (1994). Cocaine (2nd ed.). Washington: Psychiatric Press Inc.
- Kaye, S., & Darke, S. (2004). Non-fatal cocaine overdose among injecting and non-injecting cocaine users in Sydney, Australia, Addiction 99(10), 1315–1322.
- Campbell, A. (2001). The Australian illicit drug guide. Melbourne: Black Inc.
- Morentin, B., Ballesteros, J., Callado, L. & Meana, J. (2014). Recent cocaine use is a significant risk factor for sudden cardiovascular death in 15-49 year old subjects: a forensic case-control study [PDF:12KB].
- Gawin, F., & Kleber, H. (1986). Abstinence symptomatology and psychiatric diagnosis in cocaine abusers. Archive of General Psychiatry, 43(2), 107–113.
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2017). National Drug Strategy Household Survey detailed report 2016. Canberra: AIHW.
- White, V., & Williams, T. (2016). Australian secondary school students’ use of tobacco, alcohol, and over-the-counter and illicit substances in 2014. Melbourne: The Cancer Council, Victoria.