Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant drug made from the leaves of the coca plant native to South America.

Cocaine comes in two forms:

  • Powder cocaine is a white powder (which scientists call a hydrochloride salt). Street dealers often mix cocaine with other substances like cornstarch, talcum powder, or sugar. They also mix cocaine with active drugs like procaine, a chemical that produces local anesthesia (a local anesthetic that causes you not to feel pain in a specific area of the body) and with other stimulants like amphetamines.
  • Crack is a form of cocaine that has been processed to make a rock crystal that people smoke. The term “crack” refers to the cracking sound the rocks make when they are heated. To make crack, the powder cocaine is mixed with ammonia or baking soda and water and then heated to produce the crystal.

In 2011, more than 4,600 people died from a cocaine overdose. Males are nearly three times more likely to die from a cocaine overdose than females.

Cocaine can be deadly when taken in large doses or when mixed with other drugs or alcohol. Cocaine-related deaths are often a result of the heart stopping (cardiac arrest) followed by stopped breathing. Abusing cocaine with alcohol or other drugs increases these dangers, including the risk of overdose. For example, combining cocaine and heroin (known as a “speedball”) puts a person at higher risk of death from an overdose.

Crack is a form of cocaine that has been processed to make a rock crystal (also called “freebase cocaine”) that can be smoked. The crystal is heated to produce vapors that are absorbed into the blood-stream through the lungs. (The term “crack” refers to the crackling sound produced by the rock as it is heated.)

Some effects of cocaine depend on the method of taking it. Regular snorting of cocaine, for example, can lead to loss of the sense of smell, nosebleeds, problems with swallowing, hoarseness, and a chronically runny nose. Ingesting cocaine by the mouth can cause severe bowel gangrene as a result of reduced blood flow. Injecting cocaine can bring about severe allergic reactions and increased risk for contracting HIV, hepatitis C, and other blood-borne diseases.

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