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6-minute read

What is cocaine?

Cocaine is a 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 comes in 3 main forms: cocaine hydrochloride, freebase and crack. Cocaine hydrochloride is a white powder usually mixed or ‘cut’ with other substances. It is typically snorted through the nose, but it can be injected, rubbed into the gums or added to food and drinks.

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 or stardust.

What are the effects of taking cocaine?

People who use cocaine get a rush, which can make them feel happy, confident and alert. Other physical and psychological effects may include:

  • feeling excited, alert and energetic
  • feeling upset
  • feeling numb
  • wanting sex
  • taking risks
  • moving more quickly than usual
  • not feeling hungry

Some side effects of taking cocaine include:

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

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

When you are coming down from cocaine, you may experience irritability, paranoia, mood swings, exhaustion, or feeling uncomfortable.

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

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

What can go wrong with cocaine?

Users might feel happy, bright and alert after taking cocaine, but there are downsides. Users can feel paranoid and agitated, have hallucinations, take risks, ignore pain and display unpredictable or violent behaviour.

An overdose can cause seizures (fits), a stroke or a cardiac arrest, leading to 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.

Find out about party drugs, including where to find help and support.

Can cocaine cause long-term problems?

People who use cocaine regularly can experience poor mental function and sexual performance, bronchitis, anxiety, high blood pressure, paranoia and seizures (fits).

They are at higher risk of stroke, heart disease and kidney failure, as well as infectious diseases, such HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, if they share needles.

Snorting cocaine can also damage the septum (middle part) of the nose, leading to collapse of the nose. 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 and behave out of character. These effects usually disappear when the person stops using cocaine.

Long-term users risk social and financial problems, and use has been linked to criminal behaviour.

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

If you take other drugs to help you cope with the side effects of cocaine, such as tranquilisers, alcohol, marijuana or heroin, you may develop dependence on several drugs at ones.

Mixing drugs also makes people more likely to overdose.

Can I become dependent on cocaine?

Cocaine is highly addictive, and users crave the same experience over and over again. People withdrawing from cocaine can experience:

  • cravings
  • feeling angry or upset
  • nausea and vomiting
  • shaking
  • feeling tired and weak
  • being anxious and depressed
  • hunger
  • disturbed sleep
  • muscle pain
  • feeling suicidal

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

Resources and support

  • Find information about cocaine on the Alcohol and Drug Foundation website or by calling DrugInfo on 1300 85 85 84.

  • You can find help on the Drug Help website or by calling the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015. You can also call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

  • If you or someone you know are finding it difficult to manage issues as a result of drug use, use healthdirect’s Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek professional help.

  • Injecting drugs with needles and sharing them can put you at risk of HIV and other blood-borne diseases, such as hepatitis B and C. You can reduce this risk through needle and syringe programs (NSPs), which provide clean needles or syringes to people who inject drugs and is sometimes referred to as ‘needle exchange’. Find an NSP in your state or territory here.

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

Last reviewed: January 2021

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