Parents Understanding Drugs


What is Cocaine?

Cocaine is extracted from the leaves of the coca plant from South America. It is a potent brain stimulant and powerfully addictive.

It is known as Snow, White Stuff, Fairy Dust, Crack, Rock, Charlie, Freebase, Cheech, Coke, Chico, Snifter, Big C, Blow, Flake, Lady, and Nose Candy.

Although health care providers use it for valid medical purposes, such as local anesthesia for some surgeries, cocaine for recreation, is an illegal drug.


What it looks like

Cocaine is distributed on the street in two main forms, coke and crack. Coke is a fine white powder, and crack is small lumps that 'crack' when burnt. Freebase cocaine is a crystal-like powder; it is less common than coke and crack.

Dealers often mix cocaine with powders like cornstarch or talcum, and sometimes even drugs like amphetamines, to increase profits.

How it is taken

Cocaine is usually divided into lines for snorting and sometimes rubbed into the gums. Crack and freebase cocaine are usually smoked in a pipe, glass tube, plastic bottle or in foil. Both powder and crack can be used to make a solution for injecting.

Cocaine is sometimes used in combination with other substances. Combining cocaine and alcohol can be dangerous, as can injecting a mix of cocaine and heroin, called a Speedball.

People who use cocaine often take it in binges, taking the drug repeatedly within a short time, at increasingly higher doses to maintain their high.



Cocaine makes users feel alert, confident and extremely happy. Some people find that cocaine helps them perform simple physical and mental tasks more quickly, although others experience the opposite effect.

The effects of smoking or injecting cocaine are almost immediate, peaking for 2 minutes and lasting 5 to 10 minutes. By contrast, it takes longer to have an effect when snorted, but leads to a longer high of 20 to 30 minutes.

The highs of shorter duration tend to carry more intense symptoms that can increase desire and rate of use. This is why crack cocaine is so highly addictive when compared to snorted cocaine.

Once the drug leaves the brain, the user experiences a 'coke crash' or 'come down' - depression, irritability, and fatigue - and there can be the temptation to take more, particularly when experiencing the 'come down' lasts for days.

Snorting cocaine can lead to losing the sense of smell, irritation of the nasal septum, nosebleeds, and hoarseness. Injecting cocaine can lead to collapsed veins, localized and systemic infection and allergic reactions. There is also the risk of an abscess or a blood clot developing.

Sharing needles and syringes runs the risk of catching or spreading HIV, hepatitis C, and other bloodborne diseases. Studies have shown that cocaine use speeds up HIV infection, as cocaine impairs immune cell function and promotes reproduction of the HIV virus.

The potential health side-effects of cocaine can include dilated pupils; increased temperature and heart rate; insomnia, irritability, and anxiety; tremors, muscle twitches or tics; loss of appetite; constricted blood vessels and increased blood pressure; and decreased sexual function.

Cocaine over a long time period can lead to addiction, depression, isolation from family and friends, psychosis, paranoia, and severe respiratory infections. High doses or prolonged use can trigger violence and heart attacks. Large amounts of cocaine can lead to bizarre, unpredictable, and violent behavior.

Can a person overdose on cocaine?

Yes, a person can overdose on cocaine, and occurs when the person uses enough to produce a toxic reaction that results in serious, harmful symptoms or death.


Cocaine and alcohol

Using cocaine with alcohol (or other drugs) can substantially increase the risk of side-effects. Alcohol and cocaine together can be particularly dangerous, as they mix together in the body to produce a toxic chemical, called cocaethylene.


All types of cocaine are addictive, but by reaching the brain very quickly, crack tends to have a much stronger effect and be more addictive. Injecting any form of cocaine will also reach the brain more quickly so also be more addictive than snorting.

Cocaine is not regulated so there is no way of knowing what substance a dealer may have mixed it with. Some may be harmless while others may be deadly like cocaine and rat poison. There is no way of knowing what the mixture may contain.

Numerous side effects have been listed including damaged nasal cartilage (heavy users may lose their cartilage and end up with one nostril and a mis-shapen nose), depression, paranoia, breathing problems, gangrene, and HIV.

Legal Status

Cocaine and Crack are Class A drugs - illegal to have, give away or sell. Possessing Cocaine or Crack can lead to a prison sentence of up to 7 years or an unlimited fine or both. Supplying (which includes giving it to a friend) could lead to a life sentence or an unlimited fine or both.

Drugs in the News

Nobel Peace Prize: Santos calls for 'rethink' of war on drugs


The President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, has used his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech to call for the world to "rethink" the war on drugs.

He said the zero-tolerance policy might be "even more harmful" than all the other wars being fought worldwide.Drugs workers fear a "bad batch of heroin" could have led to the deaths of at least seven drug users in recent weeks in the Gwent Police force area.

BBC News, 8 December 2016

Heroin deaths prompt 'fix room'


Drugs workers fear a "bad batch of heroin" could have led to the deaths of at least seven drug users in recent weeks in the Gwent Police force area.

BBC News, 26 November 2016

The babies starting life in rehab


According to NHS figures, 1,087 babies in England were affected by maternal use of drugs in 2014-15, while in Scotland 987 babies were affected.

BBC News, 25 November 2016

GHB: The killer drug


The Metropolitan Police has said it will examine 58 GHB-related deaths, following the conviction of serial killer Stephen Port.

BBC News, 25 November 2016

Club drug testing 'may be useful'


A leading police chief says recreational drug testing "may be very useful". Commander Bray is in discussion with the government about it.

Newsbeat, 24 November 2016

MPs call for cannabis legalisation


Britain should follow America's lead and legalise cannabis, and rake in £1 billion a year in tax revenues

Metro, 21 November 2016

Pharma's fight to block marijuana


Marijuana legalization will unleash misery on Arizona, according to a wave of television ads that started rolling out across the state last month.

Guardian, 22 October 2016

10 years for cannabis for cancer


Police in Denmark have arrested a man and woman on suspicion of providing cannabis to cancer patients and people with other serious illnesses.

Independent, 5 October 2016

UK National Drugs helpline: 0300 123 6600

The National Drugs Helpline is a 24-hour, 7-days a week, free and confidential telephone service that offers advice and information for anyone.

It is run by the government agency, known as FRANK, created to provide drug support and advice for the public.

If you need emergency help, are worried about a friend or relative's drug use or want support coping with your own, contact FRANK on-line contact or by phone.

Colombia's coca production soars to highest level in two decades


Coca production in Colombia has surged to levels unseen in two decades of US eradication efforts, according to a new White House report.

Cultivation of the plant used to make cocaine rose 18% last year from 2015, with officials in the Andean nation estimating 188,000 hectares (465,000 acres) of Colombian land now contained coca crops.

Guardian, 14 March 2017

Mice genetically modified to prevent addiction to cocaine


Mice have been genetically engineered to prevent them from becoming addicted to cocaine.

Researchers in Canada created mice that produce higher levels of a protein that normally strengthens the connections between brain cells. They expected this would make the mice more prone to addiction, but discovered the opposite was true, according to a paper in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

Independent, 13 February 2017

Dorset pupils hospitalised over cocaine scare


Four children were taken to hospital over fears they had taken cocaine at school, believing it to be sweets.

Officers were called to Broadstone Middle School, Poole, on 3 January after reports the pupils had taken a white powder. The substance was later confirmed as the Class A drug but it is not believed any of the children ingested it, Dorset Police said.

BBC News, 25 January 2017

How did Britain get hooked on cocaine?


The number of people using cocaine in Britain has quadrupled in 20 years. How did cocaine go mainstream?

"If you have an exclusive product, you don't want to make it too available," says Dominic Streatfeild. That hasn't been the case with cocaine where use in the UK has quadrupled in the past 20 years and it has become popular among almost every social and age group.

Telegraph, 28 December 2016

Grammar school 'Snow Ball' shut down after cocaine found in the toilets


A grammar school Christmas party called the 'Snow Ball' was shut down by police after bags of cocaine were found in the toilets.

Officers raided the event at Cheltenham racecourse after staff discovered the white powder in both the female and male facilities. The party ended three hours early and the teenagers, from two grammar schools in Stroud, Glos, were sent home.

Telegraph, 26 December 2016

Nightclubs to offer testing booths to check purity of cocaine and MDMA


Nightclubs in Preston are to offer free drug testing to people who want to know if their Class A substances are pure.

The walk-in booths, run by a charity, will aim to reduce drug-related deaths by checking cocaine and MDMA are not "adulterated or highly potent". Lancashire police have said they are backing the scheme, which will operate in the city centre on Friday and Saturday nights.

Independent, 6 December 2016

UK has highest rates of cocaine use and gonorrhoea in Europe


The UK is a European hotspot for cocaine use, a new report suggests.

Across Europe, 1.9% of young adults aged 15 to 34 report using cocaine in the last year.

But in the UK this figure stands at 4.2%, according to the Health at a Glance: Europe 2016 report from the European Commission and the OECD.

Guardian, 23 November 2016

Cocaine roadside test developed in effort to reduce drug-driving


Scientists have developed a new roadside test for cocaine to improve driver safety. The device is an improvement on current tests, avoiding false positives, and can offer insights into how much of the drug drivers have taken.

"Drug-driving is an increasing problem," said Melanie Bailey of the University of Surrey. "We want to try to improve safety on the roads and this is one way to do that because we will be able to monitor a larger number of people.

Guardian, 21 November 2016

Cocaine amount seized in England and Wales at highest level for 10 years


The amount of cocaine seized by officials has surged to the highest level in more than a decade, despite an fall in the numbers of seizures.

Authorities confiscated 4,228kg of the class A drug in England and Wales in 2015-16, a rise of a quarter on the previous year and the largest quantity since 2004, according to Home Office. The rise in the quantity of cocaine seized was largely down to a 31% increase in the amount seized by Border Force officials.

Guardian, 3 November 2016

Irishman stumbles across £4 million worth of cocaine on remote beach


An Irishman and his family on a day out at the beach stumbled across a strange metallic object that proved to contain an estimated £4.4 million of cocaine.

Michael Vaughan discovered the "torpedo type" object while flying kites on Kilmacreehy beach, County Clare, on the western coast of Ireland in late August.

Independent, 27 October 2016

Do six people die for every kilo of cocaine?


The Netflix drama, Narcos, about the infamous Colombian drug trafficker Pablo Escobar, cites a shocking statistic on the human cost of the drugs trade. But is it true?

Agent Steve Murphy is in an airport toilet when he sees two Americans snorting cocaine. He asks them if they know the true price of the drugs they are taking - more specifically, how many people die for every kilo of cocaine?

BBC News, 23 October 2016

The Secret History of Colombia's Paramilitaries and U.S. War on Drugs


CALABAZO, Colombia - Skinny but imposing with aviator glasses, a bushy mustache and a toothy smile, Julio Henríquez Santamaría was leading a community meeting when he was abducted by paramilitary thugs, thrown into the back of a Toyota pickup and disappeared forever on Feb. 4, 2001.

Mr. Henríquez had been organizing farmers to substitute legal crops like cacao for coca, which the government is promoting as an antidrug strategy.

NY Times, 11 September 2016

Rising cost of ecstasy and cocaine has not cut use in Australia


The high and rising prices of drugs such as ecstasy and cocaine are not deterring Australians from using them.

The survey is conducted in partnership with global media partners with 4,931 respondents from Australia answering questions about their drug use and experiences. In the past year, 27.1% of respondents said they had used only legal drugs and 70.6% had taken at least one illegal drug.

Guardian, 14 June 2016

Colombian officials claim biggest cocaine bust in country's history


Colombian authorities say they have made the biggest cocaine seizure in the history of a country long plagued by traffic in the drug.

The national police agency said on Sunday that 50 commandos backed by helicopters seized about 8 tons of cocaine on a banana plantation. It said the drug belonged to a gang known as the Clan Usuaga and was apparently destined for the Caribbean and then to the US.

Guardian, 16 May 2016

#EveryLineCounts campaign: Cocaine users urged to consider impact


A UK campaign to highlight the harm caused by the production and distribution of cocaine is being launched by the National Crime Agency.

#EveryLineCounts targets recreational users who may be unaware of the problems the drug's production causes for communities and the environment in cocaine-producing countries. Deaths from the Class A drug in the UK rose from 169 in 2013 to 247 in 2014.

BBC News, 2 December 2015

Cocaine in London sewers at highest level in Europe


London has Europe's highest concentration of cocaine in sewage.

The UK capital was slightly ahead of Amsterdam, with the concentration of cocaine in London's waste water at 737mg per 1,000 people in 2014.

This was the highest level found in more than 50 cities. But, the capital fell behind Amsterdam when taking into account weekend samples only.

Guardian, 4 June 2015

Cocaine report finds use has spread throughout UK society


Cocaine use, once the preserve of the wealthy, has spread throughout British society into its suburbs, high rises and inner council estates.

A report by the governments advisory council on the misuse of drugs found that although consumption of the drug had fallen slightly from a peak in 2008/09, its use has permeated through a wide social demographic that includes the middle classes and those on lower incomes.

Guardian, 12 March 2015

South America needs co-ordinated response to combat cocaine


In autumn, police in Ecuador 3 three tonnes of cocaine. Soon after, half a tonne was intercepted in a tanker truck on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Then, 1.5 tonnes was intercepted in the port of Piura, Peru. More than 90% of cocaine seizures worldwide occur on the American continent.

Peru is the top source of coca leaves and cocaine hydrochloride. Colombia, no longer the market leader, has dropped to third place, behind Bolivia.

Guardian, 17 December 2013

The world's first cocaine bar


"Tonight we have two types of cocaine; normal for 100 Bolivianos a gram, and strong cocaine for 150 [Bolivianos] a gram." The waiter has just finished taking our drink order of two rum-and-Cokes here in La Paz, Bolivia, and as everybody in this bar knows, he is now offering the main course.

The waiter lowers the tray and places an empty black CD case in the middle of the table. Next to the CD case are two straws and two little black packets.

Guardian, 19 August 2009

Parents Understanding Drugs