Usage Patterns & Administration of Cocaine

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  • 0:01 Cocaine Use
  • 1:43 Cocaine Abuse
  • 4:08 Cocaine Tolerance and…
  • 6:17 Cocaine Overdose and…
  • 8:24 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley has a JD degree and is an attorney. She has taught and written various law courses.

The use and administration of cocaine has a long history. Cocaine has become the most heavily abused stimulant drug in the United States. This lesson briefly discusses patterns of cocaine use, abuse, tolerance, dependence, overdose and withdrawal.

Cocaine Use

Have you ever been to Dallas, Texas? It's a large, sprawling city. Over one million people live there. That's the same number of people over the age of 12 who have used cocaine in just the past month, according to a 2012 study.

Cocaine is the most abused stimulant drug in the United States. Cocaine is defined as a highly addictive, psychoactive, stimulant drug. Psychoactive drugs are those that affect the brain and alter mood, behavior and cognitive processing. Stimulant drugs produce extra brain activity and promote feelings of euphoria.

The drug was first widely used in the U.S. in the 1800s, when it was marketed to the medical community because it seemed to offer positive effects. Keep in mind that people did not yet know it was addictive. Cocaine was first regulated in the early 1900s, after its addictive qualities came to light and the U.S. experienced its first wave of cocaine addiction.

Cocaine was then further regulated in 1970, when the Controlled Substances Act classified it as a Schedule II drug. This means it is a controlled substance with a high potential for addiction and abuse, but can be administered by a physician for legitimate medical purposes. Cocaine is actually still available by prescription and is a medically recognized local anesthetic, but is very rarely used.

Cocaine Abuse

Let's take a quick look at the history of cocaine abuse in the U.S. Cocaine abuse in the early 20th century was due in large part to the wide availability of cocaine products. Cocaine was used in all sorts of tonics, potions, and elixirs. It was marketed as a cure to everything from toothache pain and dandruff to fatigue. Cocaine's popularity soared, mostly due to its euphoric effects. These are extreme feelings of happiness and delight.

Early Coca Cola ads touted feelings of rejuvenation and euphoria, as the soft drink included cocaine as a main ingredient at that time. By 1914, the U.S. government recognized large-scale cocaine abuse and instituted the country's first cocaine regulations.

Cocaine's next surge in popularity came in the 1970s. This type of cocaine was crystal cocaine. It's a hydrochloride salt form of cocaine that is distributed as a powder. This cocaine resembles small crystals. It's most often 'cut,' meaning it's mixed with another substance such as cornstarch, sugar or another drug. The powder is usually administered by snorting into the nose, but it can also be ingested, injected or smoked.

By the mid-1980s, innovative drug suppliers found that they could sell smaller quantities of cocaine for a higher price by using crack cocaine. This form is a type of cocaine made by evaporating the hydrochloride out of the powder cocaine and drying the residue into a rock. The crack rock is then typically smoked and the vapors are inhaled, which is known as freebasing.

By the late 1980s, the U.S. recognized a nationwide crack epidemic largely focused in lower income neighborhoods and linked to an up-tick in drug-related crime. In 1985, an estimated 5.7 million Americans used some form of cocaine. Today, crack remains the most popularly used form of cocaine in the U.S.

Cocaine Tolerance and Dependence

Cocaine use in the U.S. has decreased since its peak in the 1980s, but it remains a primary health concern. Adverse health effects often depend on the method used for cocaine administration.

For example, medical professionals first saw permanent damage to nasal membranes, caused by snorting cocaine, in the early 1900s. Snorting powder cocaine can also cause other problems, such as nosebleeds, loss of the sense of smell and throat damage. Injecting cocaine brings about other risks associated with the administration of the drug, such as an increased risk for contracting HIV and hepatitis C through the use of shared or dirty needles.

No matter the method, continued use of cocaine often leads to cocaine tolerance. Tolerance means a user must take larger amounts of cocaine in order to achieve the desired effect. Repeated use of cocaine can also lead to cocaine dependence. Dependence generally means a user is reliant on cocaine and may be physically addicted to cocaine.

Dependence comes in two forms. A user can be one, or the other or both. Psychological dependence refers to a perceived need for a substance, based on a strong compulsion or urge to use the substance. Physical dependence refers to the human body's reliance on a substance to the point that the body cannot function without it.

Tolerance and dependence often lead a user to use more cocaine and to use cocaine more frequently. Many users also resort to poly-drug use, which means a user combines cocaine with other drugs or with alcohol in order to magnify cocaine's effect. For example, taking cocaine and heroin together is known as a speedball and resulted in the death of comedian John Belushi.

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