Cocaine

All drug use has risks. This page is for information only and does not constitute or replace medical advice. If you have medical concerns about your drug use, please speak to a medical professional.

Cocaine is a stimulant drug made from the leaves of the coca plant which is mainly found in South America. Crack is a smokeable form of cocaine.

Other names

Cocaine powder (charlie, ching, coke, council, fishscale, flake, prop, snow) , Crack cocaine (rock, stones, white)

Appearance

Cocaine powder - white, pearly powder; Crack cocaine – white/yellow rocks

Drugs Wheel Category

Stimulants

Legality

Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) – Class A.

Penalties for possession are up to 7 years in prison and/or an unlimited fine. Penalties for supply are up to life in prison and/or an unlimited fine.

How it’s taken

Powder is usually snorted but it may be dabbed on gums, swallowed in a cigarette paper (bombed) or injected. Be aware that when snorting or injecting, a smaller dose is required to achieve the intended effect than when swallowing. Injecting is almost always the riskiest way of taking drugs and is strongly discouraged. Crack cocaine is most commonly heated and vapourized in a pipe. 

Dose

The following information on dosage was taken from PsychonautWiki, but this should not be taken as a recommendation: duration and effects of any drug will depend on purity, regularity of use, other medications or drugs you have taken, your body and how it is taken (route of administration).  

Insufflate (snort): 

  • Light: 10-30 milligrams (mg) – this would give 33 to 100 lines from a gram 
  • Common: 3060 milligrams (mg) – this would give 17 to 33 lines from a gram 
  • Strong: 6090 milligrams (mg) – this would give 11 to 17 lines from a gram 

Accessed March 2020  

It is essential to use accurate scales – ones that are capable of measuring to 10 milligrams (0.01 of a gram). Knowledge of how to use them and how to ensure they are measuring accurately is important.  

A slight difference in dose can create a different experience or effect. Find out more about reducing the risk from dosing including volumetric dosing.

General information on dosing.

Effects

Cocaine is a central nervous system stimulant which means it increases your heart rate and breathing. When snorting, it will take a few minutes to feel the effects of cocaine. These effects wear off after around 30 minutes and aftereffects may be felt for up to one hour.  

Cocaine may make you temporarily feel happy, confident and alert. People taking it report experiencing an initial rush, followed by a short-lived high, followed by a strong urge to re-dose.

Some may experience reduced anxiety, become chatty and feel energetic. It can also increase focus and sex drive whilst reducing the desire to eat or sleep. Other effects include restlessness, aggression, paranoia, arrogance and over-confidence.  

As well as physical and mental health harms, problematic cocaine use is linked to issues including loss of employment, suspension of driving license, breakdown of relationships, problem gambling and drug-related debt.  

Cocaine is particularly harmful to the heart. It increases heart rate and blood pressure and disrupts the heart’s electrical signals, causing it to beat rapidly or erratically. It also causes the muscles of the heart to thicken and the blood vessels to stiffen and constrict, making it more difficult to circulate blood normally. This can cause a heart attack.   

Cocaine use can be fatal and can cause health problems in the healthiest of people. Risks are further increased for those with a pre-existing health condition, those who are mixing drugs and those who are taking it frequently and/or in large amounts. 

Download our NEW cocaine resource here

Harm reduction

If you choose to take powder cocaine then the following steps can help to reduce harm.

GENERAL

  • Spend at least two hours researching the drug you are planning to take. 
  • Test the drug. If you don’t have access to a drug testing service, reagent testing kits are available online and can give a greater understanding of what the drug contains, but they may not be suitable for identifying newer compounds or adulterants and can tell you nothing about purity or strength.
  • Avoid taking drugs alone and have a ‘sober’ friend around if possible. 
  • Grind or crush substances down as fine as possible before use. This makes it easier to judge a dose, speeds up absorption into the body and reduces the damage to soft tissue from abrasion. 
  • Plan your doses and use a watch or timer to keep track of how frequently you are dosing. 
  • Only carry what you plan on taking. If you have a couple of grams in your pocket it is easy to take more than you anticipated. Leave what you don’t need at home (in a safe place). 
  • There is no standard amount of cocaine in rocks or powder. Purity can vary, even within the same batch. You can’t judge content or purity by appearance. 
  • Cocaine often contains other substances such as levamisole, creatine, lactose, caffeinebenzocaine and lidocaine. Benzocaine and lidocaine are anaesthetics that can make the administration site go numb. Be aware that if your nose is numb, for example, you won’t be able to feel any pain or damage in the nasal tissue until the effects wears off.  
  • Use scales to measure the dose – you can’t judge an accurate dose just by looking. Start with a small dose and go slow! Remember, that the more of a drug you take, the riskier it is and the more likely you are to experience negative effects. 
  • Avoid mixing different drugs including alcohol and medicines as this can cause dangerous, unintended or unpredictable effects. Take time to research possible interactions with your medication or health condition. 
  • If you do mix drugs, do your research, ensure you are somewhere safe and take way less of both substances than you would if you were only taking one. 
  • The increased risk when mixing different drugs, includes drugs like Viagra. Anyone who has an erection for more than four hours should seek urgent medical attention.  
  • Cocaine can cause vasoconstriction (narrowing of the blood vessels) which increases the risk of high blood pressure, headaches, cramps and strokes – avoid mixing with drugs that also cause vasoconstriction such as amphetamine and caffeine. 
  • Mixing cocaine with cannabis, psychedelics (such as LSD) or dissociatives (such as ketamine) can increase bodily sensations, increase heart rate and increase the risk of experiencing nausea, feeling anxious and/or losing control. Reduce feelings of anxiety by staying calm, controlling your breathing and telling someone how you are feeling! 
  • Mixing cocaine with downers including opioids (such as heroin) or depressants such as (alcohol, GHB and benzodiazepines like Valium and Xanax) is dangerous. Depressant drugs depress your central nervous system which means they slow your heart rate, response time and breathing. It is also dangerous to mix cocaine with monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs – a type of anti-depressant). 
  • Mixing cocaine and alcohol creates a third substance in your body called cocaethylene which is thought to be more harmful and takes longer to leave the body. 
  • Some people think that taking cocaine when drinking can ‘sober you up’ but this isn’t really the case. Mixing cocaine with alcohol (or other drugs) can mask the effects of each drug while increasing the risk – you will still be intoxicated but your perception of how drunk or high you are will change.
  • If you are taking cocaine and can’t avoid alcohol completely, try to limit yourself to only a few drinks, choose drinks with a lower alcohol content and drink water or soft drinks between alcoholic ones.
  • Avoid taking cocaine if you are experiencing anxiety or if you don’t feel completely comfortable, as you may heighten these feelings.
  • Reduced inhibitions mean you may not spot dangers, so be careful. Look out for any potential hazards (e.g. water, glass tables, heights or things you may fall over). 
  • People should sleep on their side to avoid choking on vomit in their sleep. 
  • If you experience vomiting this could reduce the effectiveness of the contraceptive pill – use alternative methods to avoid unintended pregnancy.  
  • Think about safe sex – grab condoms, dams and whatever else will help keep you safe depending on how you have sexLike other stimulant drugs, cocaine can increase your feelings of arousal so it’s important to think about consent. Are you really feeling it? Are they? Ensure you have full consent before, and during, any sexual activity.
  • If you start to feel any negative effects, simple things like changing your environment may help. If the effects are too strong, try to stay relaxed and take small sips of water or flat sugary juice. Let someone know how you are feeling – sometimes just sharing that feeling can help ease it. 
  • Take regular breaks, stay hydrated (about half a pint of water or isotonic drink per hour) and look out for signs of overheating.
  • Look after your pals and seek medical help as soon as possible if needed. Be honest about what has been taken. 
  • Make sure you have time to rest afterwards and chill out. Like all stimulant drugs, cocaine can affect your sleeping pattern which can have an impact on your mental wellbeing. 
  • Think you’re taking too much? Find out how risky your use is with our check it out tool!

FOR SNORTING 

Over time cocaine can degrade the septum (the cartilage separating the nostrils). It can also lead to a reduced sense of smell, nosebleeds, pain when swallowing, a runny/blocked nose and recurring nose or throat infections. 

  • Grind it down as fine as possible and divide it into small lines. Ensure the surface is clean – unclean surfaces such as toilets, phones and keys can spread disease. Use an alcohol wipe to disinfect surfaces before use. 
  • Avoid using bank notes as a tool to snort drugs, as they aren’t disposable and can cut the inside of your nose – post-its or paper straws are a good alternative to notes. 
  • Sharing tools can spread infections and blood borne viruses (e.g. hepatitis C, HIV) – only use your own equipment. Get tested regularly for BBVs.
  • Position the tool as high up the nostril as possible and alternate nostrils for each dose.
  • Rinse your nose out with clean water at the end of a session, to prevent the powder causing further damage to the inside of your nose. 
  • Apply a thin layer of vitamin E oil to the inside of the nose after rinsing. 

FOR ORAL ADMINISTRATION 

Swallowing cocaine isn’t efficient and is therefore not common. Cocaine can also be dabbed by putting it under the tongue and some people may rub it onto the gums – this can cause rapid gum decay and long-term dental problems. 

  • Powder can be put into a capsule, wrapped into a cigarette paper or mixed into a drink and swallowed.  
  • If mixed into a drink, care should be taken to accurately dose and the bottle/cup marked to ensure no one else accidentally drinks it. Never leave your drink unattended and avoid drinking from bottles/cups if you are unsure of what’s in it. 

FOR BUMPING 

Taking drugs ‘up the bum’ is also called shelving, plugging, bumping or rectal administration. This route is efficient at absorbing drugs into the bloodstream (i.e. more cocaine enters your system than when snorting) but regularly shelving cocaine can cause soft tissue damage, rectal bleeding and increased sensitivity. 

  • Ensure all equipment is clean and sterile before use – this includes washing your hands. 
  • Dissolve the crushed powder in sterile water (0.5 millilitres is usually more than enough). 
  • Use a clean, needleless syringe (or single use straw or lube launcher) to draw up the water containing the drug. 
  • Add lube to the outside of the syringe to allow for easier entry and to prevent soft tissue damage. 
  • Lie on your side, insert the syringe into the anus and slowly press the plunger all the way in. After a few minutes, gently and slowly pull the syringe out. 
  • You can also insert the drugs in a gel capsule or cigarette paper, but this is more physically damaging than dissolving the drugs in water. Use lube and wash your hands before and after administration.
  • Cocaine and other drugs can make the bum numb and you may not be aware of damage – take care and check the area with clean hands. Be aware that this can make it harder for you to feel when you need to go to the toilet.
  • Some drugs (such as GBL) and adulterants (unexpected contents) might burn or damage tissue, which increases the risk of infection.  
  • If you plan to have anal sex, use a condom and check for any reduced sensation or damage beforehand.
  • Sharing water, mixing cups, syringes, straws, lube launchers and lube can spread infections and blood borne viruses (e.g. hepatitis C, HIV) – only use your own. Get tested regularly for STIs and BBVs.
  • Look out for the signs of haemorrhoids (lumps inside and around your bum) or signs of infection and treat them quickly. 
  • Use a vitamin E capsule or apply a thin layer of vitamin E oil to the inside of the anus after a session.

FOR SMOKING 

Inhaling crack can damage the mouth, throat and lungs and can cause breathing difficulties, wheezing, chest pain, shortness of breath and in extreme cases, respiratory failure. It can also impact negatively on oral health and can cause sores, cuts and blisters on the lips and in the mouth. 

  • Crush the crack rock into small pieces. 
  • When smoking, the effects are intense but short-lived. This may leave you immediately craving more. Use a timer to keep track of use and try to wait as long as possible between doses. 
  • If smoking from foil, use clean foil each time. This is available from injecting equipment providers (IEPs or needle exchanges). 
  • If smoking from a pipe, use a clean glass pipe with a metal gauze. Pipes made from bottles and cans release fumes when heated. Glass pipes are less harmful and more efficient. They can be purchased cheaply from a headshop, or on online.
  • Allow the pipe to cool down between uses and hold the pipe as far away from the flame as possible to reduce the chance of burns. Keep all burns clean and dry. If they do not start to heal, and instead become more red, hot or inflamed, please seek medical help. 
  • Stay hydrated. Smoking crack dries out the mouth so it’s important to use lip balm, drink small sips of water regularly and brush your teeth twice a day.
  • Sharing pipes can spread infections and blood borne viruses (e.g. hepatitis C, HIV) – only use your own equipment. Get tested regularly for BBVs.
  • Avoid holding the smoke in your lungs, as this can damage tissue without giving a better ‘hit’.  

FOR INJECTING 

There is a higher risk of overdose if cocaine is injected. Injecting cocaine also risks damaging veins or the injecting site and can cause life-threatening infections and abscesses. 

  • Only use new, sterile supplies. These are available from injecting equipment providers (IEPs or needle exchanges) or can be bought online.  
  • People who inject stimulant drugs may inject frequently and will therefore need to ensure that they access enough supplies from their IEP. Always ask for extra equipment in case you need more than intended. 
  • Sharing equipment including needles, filters, containers, spoons and water can spread infections and blood borne viruses (e.g. hepatitis C, HIV) – only use your own. Use colour coded equipment to avoid confusion and get tested regularly for BBVs.
  • Follow good hygiene practice and wash your hands and injection sites (before and after).
  • Citric acid, vitamin C and heat aren’t needed to dissolve cocaine powder and their use can increase harms. Cocaine powder can be dissolved in water. Crack cocaine needs a small amount of citric acid, but no heat to dissolve.
  • Once dissolved in water, it is important to use a sterile filter to remove non-soluble substances which can cause harms if injected. 
  • Use the smallest needle you can without it becoming blocked or breaking.  
  • Keep the needle sterile and avoid licking the needle as this can transfer bacteria from the mouth into the skin and cause infections.
  • Use a new needle each time – needles become blunt after one use. 
  • Rotate injection sites but try to avoid injecting in high-risk areas such as the neck and groin. 
  • Dispose of equipment responsibly. It can be returned to an IEP.  
  • Seek medical help if the injecting site is painful, tender or hot, or there is swelling for more than a few days.  
  • Cocaine is sometimes mixed with heroin before being injected. This is extremely risky. Anyone who is at risk, or knows someone who is at risk, of an opioid overdose (e.g. heroin, methadone), should carry naloxone: www.naloxone.org.uk 

Download our cocaine resource here.

Detection time

People taking powder cocaine have reported the following detection time, but this cannot be taken as a recommendation; detection of any drug will depend on purity, regularity of use, other medications or drugs you have taken, your body and how it’s taken.
  • 3-4 days in urine