What does it look like?
There are three types of cocaine: coke, crack and freebase.
- Coke looks like a fine white powder
- Crack looks like small lumps or rocks
- Freebase looks like a crystallised powder
What does it taste/smell like?
Cocaine powder has a bitter ‘chemical’ taste and smell, while crack cocaine can smell like burnt plastic or rubber.
By snorting it as a powder
Most people snort cocaine – they crush it into a fine powder, divide it into lines and snort it through the nose. This is the most common way to take cocaine.
Snorting cocaine can damage your nose, especially if it’s not been chopped very finely. Some people find that switching between nostrils helps, and some people rinse out their nostrils with water or saline solution after taking it.
By smoking it as crack or freebase
Crack or freebase can be smoked through a glass pipe, tube, plastic bottle or in foil, but this is less common.
By injecting it
Powdered coke and crack can be prepared to make a solution for injecting, which is much more dangerous than snorting or smoking cocaine.
How does it make you feel?
Taking cocaine can make you feel:
- wide awake
- on top of your game
It can also:
- make your heart beat faster
- raise your body temperature – so you feel hot
- stop you feeling hungry
- make you feel sick
- make you need to poo
- make you anxious and panicky
- make you paranoid
- make you so confident that you do things you wouldn’t normally do (which might be risky)
How does it make people behave?
Cocaine affects people differently, but most users become:
- more animated
- more confident
Some people become:
- overconfident and arrogant
Cocaine can increase your sexual desires too, and some people take it to have more intense sex, but taking lots of cocaine can actually reduce your sex drive.
Generally speaking, a user’s sex drive should go back to normal once they stop taking cocaine excessively.
How long the effects last and the drug stays in your system depends on how much you’ve taken, your size, whether you’ve eaten and what other drugs you may have also taken.
To kick in
When snorted, cocaine can take from around 5 to 30 minutes to kick in, whereas the effects of smoking crack are almost instant.
How long it lasts
The initial high from cocaine doesn’t last that long, around 20 to 30 minutes – although this depends on the purity of the cocaine and the person’s tolerance. You might still experience some physical effects after the high has gone, such as a faster heart beat.
The effects of smoking crack are even shorter lasting, around 10 minutes, with the peak lasting for about two minutes after smoking it.
Some people find that cocaine makes them feel down, anxious and paranoid the next day, or longer.
How long will it be detectable?
Cocaine can be detected in a urine test for up to 3 days after snorting it.
How long a drug can be detected for depends on how much is taken and which testing kit is used. This is only a general guide.
Physical health risks
Cocaine is risky for anyone with high blood pressure or a heart condition, but even healthy young people can have a fit or a heart attack after taking too much.
The risk of overdose increases if you mix cocaine with other drugs or alcohol.
Over time, snorting cocaine damages the cartilage in your nose that separates your nostrils. Heavy users can lose this cartilage and end up with one large nostril and a misshapen nose.
Taking cocaine when pregnant can damage your baby, cause miscarriage, premature labour and low birth weight.
Regularly smoking crack can cause breathing problems and pains in the chest.
Injecting cocaine can damage veins and cause ulcers and gangrene. Sharing needles or other injecting equipment can spread HIV and hepatitis infections too. It's also easier to overdose from injecting cocaine.
Speedballing (injecting a mixture of cocaine and heroin) can have fatal results. A form of heroin called white heroin, is easily mistaken for cocaine and people have died or been hospitalised after snorting it thinking it was cocaine.
Mental health risks
Regular use of cocaine can make people feel:
Cocaine can bring previous mental health problems to the surface too, and if a relative has had mental health problems, there might be an increased risk for you.
Frequent users find they begin to crave more of the drug – so it can become an expensive habit to keep up with.
Cocaine doesn't just damage the people who take it. It wrecks the communities that it's grown in and leads to deforestation. Find out more about how cocaine wrecks communities.
What is cocaine cut with?
The purity of cocaine goes up and down depending on the market.
A wrap of cocaine powder can be cut with many things, such as sugar or starch, but benzocaine is the most common.
Benzocaine is a local anaesthetic that produces a numbing effect similar to cocaine, but without the cocaine high.
Is it dangerous to mix with other drugs?
Mixing drugs is always risky but some mixtures are more dangerous than others.
Alcohol and cocaine together can be particularly dangerous, for example. Once they mix together in the body they produce a toxic chemical called cocaethylene.
Cocaethylene stays in the body much longer than cocaine or alcohol alone, and this increases the damage done to the heart and liver.
Can you get addicted?
Yes, cocaine is very addictive. This is because regular use changes the way the brain releases dopamine, a brain chemical that makes you feel happy.
Cocaine is mostly known for causing psychological dependence (addiction), but users can sometimes continue to use cocaine just to overcome the negative after effects of using. This can lead to a binge pattern of use and increase the risk of dependence.
This is a Class A drug, which means it's illegal to have for yourself, give away or sell.
Possession can get you up to 7 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both.
Supplying someone else, even your friends, can get you life in prison, an unlimited fine or both.
Like drink-driving, driving when high is dangerous and illegal. If you’re caught driving under the influence, you may receive a heavy fine, driving ban, or prison sentence.
If the police catch people supplying illegal drugs in a home, club, bar or hostel, they can potentially prosecute the landlord, club owner or any other person concerned in the management of the premises.
If you are worried about your use, you can call FRANK on 0300 1236600 for friendly, confidential advice.
Frequently asked questions about cocaine
I’ve spent all my money on coke, what can I do?
Organisations like Citizens Advice can provide financial advice and explain what options are available if you’re struggling with money or can’t pay your rent, etc.
Depending on the amount and – importantly – whether you are going to continue spending money on cocaine, you might be able to borrow from family and/or friends to help you move on.
Remember though, friends and family may feel genuinely worried that lending you money could just make things worse longer-term, and might refuse.