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7-minute read

Key facts

  • Cocaine is an illegal drug.
  • Cocaine use can cause unwanted side effects, such as psychosis and dependence.
  • A cocaine overdose can be fatal.
  • If you want to stop using cocaine, speak to your doctor.

What is cocaine?

Cocaine is an illegal, highly addictive drug made from the leaves of the South American coca bush. It is a central nervous system stimulant, which causes high levels of dopamine to be released. Dopamine is a brain chemical associated with pleasure and reward.

Cocaine is a white powder with a bitter, numbing taste. It is typically snorted through the nose, but it can also be:

  • injected
  • rubbed into the gums
  • added to food and drinks

It comes in 3 main forms: cocaine hydrochloride, freebase and crack. Cocaine hydrochloride is a white powder usually mixed or 'cut' with other substances. Freebase is a white powder and crack cocaine is generally found in the form of larger crystals. Freebase and crack are usually smoked.

Cocaine is also known as:

  • C
  • coke
  • crack
  • nose candy
  • snow
  • white lady
  • toot
  • Charlie
  • blow
  • white dust
  • stardust

What are the effects of taking cocaine?

People who use cocaine get a rush, making them feel:

  • happy
  • confident
  • alert

Other physical and psychological effects may include:

  • feeling excited and energetic
  • feeling upset
  • feeling numb
  • having a higher sex drive
  • taking risks
  • moving more quickly than usual
  • a loss of appetite

Some side effects of taking cocaine include:

  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • chest pain
  • large pupils
  • high temperature
  • feeling restless
  • finding it hard to concentrate
  • losing motivation
  • losing interest in sex

The effects start a few minutes after taking cocaine and may last from a few minutes to a few hours.

Cocaine can affect people differently based on:

  • how much they take
  • how strong it is
  • their size, height and weight
  • whether they are used to taking it
  • whether they take other drugs at the same time

What can go wrong with cocaine?

After taking cocaine, a user may:

  • take risks
  • feel anxious or agitated
  • ignore pain
  • display unpredictable or violent behaviour

When coming down from cocaine, you may experience:

  • irritability
  • paranoia
  • mood swings
  • exhaustion
  • feeling uncomfortable

You can also overdose on cocaine if you have too much, or if you have used a strong batch. Sometimes cocaine batches are mixed with other substances, so a user may not know how much they are taking.

A person who has overdosed may:

  • be very panicked, agitated or paranoid
  • hallucinate
  • have muscle twitches
  • feel nauseous (feel sick)
  • vomit (be sick)
  • have a high temperature

An overdose can cause:

  • seizures
  • a stroke
  • a cardiac arrest (where your heart stops beating — this is a medical emergency)

These can lead to a coma and death.

If you think someone has overdosed on cocaine, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance.

Ambulance officers don't have to call the police.

Can cocaine cause long-term problems?

People who use cocaine regularly can experience:

They are at higher risk of:

Snorting cocaine can also damage the lining of your nose, increasing your risk of nose bleeds and nose infections.

Cocaine can harm your baby if you use it while you are pregnant.

Some long-term users may develop psychosis, which makes them:

  • paranoid
  • experience hallucinations or unusual thoughts
  • behave out of character

These effects usually disappear when you stop using cocaine.

Long-term users are at risk of social and financial problems. Cocaine use has also been linked to criminal behaviour.

What if I use other drugs or alcohol together with cocaine?

You should not take cocaine with other drugs, including:

If you take other drugs to help you cope with the side effects of cocaine, you may become dependent on several drugs at once. Mixing drugs also makes people more likely to overdose.

Can I become dependent on cocaine?

In time, some users become tolerant to cocaine. This means that they need to take larger and larger doses to get the same effect. Doing this puts them at higher risk of effects and overdose.

Cocaine is highly addictive, and users crave the same experience over and over again. People addicted to cocaine may spend a lot of time thinking about the drug and trying to get it. This can impact their:

  • life
  • work
  • relationships

People can also be dependent on cocaine. They may find it difficult to stop using cocaine or control how much they use. This is often due to withdrawal symptoms.

People withdrawing from cocaine can:

  • have cravings
  • feel angry or upset
  • have nausea and vomiting
  • shake
  • feel tired and weak
  • feel anxious
  • feel hungry
  • have disturbed sleep
  • have muscle pain
  • have depression and suicidal thoughts

These symptoms usually disappear quite quickly, but intermittent cravings for cocaine can last for months.

How can I stop using cocaine?

Getting off cocaine can be difficult. It's important that you speak to your doctor. They can help you manage withdrawal symptoms, and advise you on treatment options, such as:

  • participation in support groups
  • counselling and therapy
  • referral to an addiction specialist
  • inpatient detox and rehabilitation

Resources and support

See 'What are the effects of taking drugs?' on the Department of Health website for more information.

Find out more about how drugs and alcohol can impact your health, including where to find help and support.

If you (or someone you know) are finding it hard to manage issues related to drug use. You can try healthdirect's Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek professional help.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare step for you. This could be:

  • self-care
  • talking to a health professional
  • going to a hospital
  • calling triple zero (000)

You can also call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

You can find support and more information about cocaine through:

Support for injection behaviour

If you inject cocaine, you can reduce your risk of blood-borne disease by attending a Needle and Syringe Program (NSP).

Needle and Syringe Programs provide clean needles or syringes to people who inject drugs. It's sometimes referred to as 'needle exchange'.

The types of Needle and Syringe Programs vary, from pharmacies to vending machines.

You can also find a local Needle and Syringe Program using the healthdirect Service Finder. Select 'By name' and type 'needle' into the search bar.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: April 2023

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