Does our content help you? We take great care to provide the best harm reduction information, but we need your help to continue. Please consider donating
Cocaine, or ‘coke’, is the second most consumed recreational drug worldwide, second only to cannabis. It’s a stimulant drug extracted from the leaves of the coca south american plant, Erythroxylon coca (E. coca). Cocaine gives you a euphoric feeling and lots of energy but also highly addictive and can be dangerous for your body.
In many native South American tribes, coca leaves have traditionally been consumed to provide an energy boost or in response to sickness, and even used for ceremonies or religious reasons. It even started being used as an anaesthetic during surgery in the late 19th century.
Cocaine is most commonly snorted as a powder, but can also be injected, or smoked, in crack rock form. Duration and intensity of effects vary depending on how you take it, as well as the potential for abuse.
It’s often mixed with cornstarch, talcum powder or flour to increase profits for dealers. Cocaine is also sometimes mixed with other drugs such as amphetamine, levamisole or synthetic opioids like fentanyl, which can have dire consequences.
Using cocaine and alcohol at the same time leads to the formation of cocaethylene, which is very harmful to your heart and liver, and increases your risk of sudden death.
Cocaine is often cut with other substances which can be toxic or increase your risk of overdose. Test it.
Avoid sharing anything you use to take cocaine. Try to use a clean surface as well. Use a clean straw instead of a rolled up bill to snort.
Substitutes and adulterants of cocaine
Sometimes the drugs we think we are buying turn out to be something very different. Knowing of the common substitutes that dealers swap them for and adulterants they add in is an easy way to protect yourself and your friends. Here are some of the most common things other than cocaine found in recreational samples.
Levamisole is used to treat inflammatory conditions and cancer but in a small proportion of people it is extremely harmful, even at low doses. Over the past years, it’s been found in the majority of tested cocaine samples in Europe and the U.S, so be careful. Read more here.
Local anaesthetics (e.g. lidocaine)
Local anaesthetics are similar to cocaine and can trick you into thinking that the batch is very pure by increasing the numbing effect on your nose and mouth. Unfortunately they can also increase the toxic effects of cocaine, such as changes in heart rhythm or seizures.
Phenacetin is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (or NSAID). It’s occasionally added because it makes the powder look shiny and tastes bitter (like cocaine → so the Tongue test can't help to detect this adulterant).In high doses it can damage your kidneys and increase your risk of cancer.
Caffeine pills are relatively cheap and white, so they’re commonly crushed and mixed into cocaine powder. Caffeine is also a stimulant so it will add strain on your heart and can slightly increase your risk of overstimulation/overdose.
How to test your cocaine
The absolute best way to test your cocaine is to get it tested by a proper agency with a spectrophotometer (like The Loop). Sadly, that’s quite rare. The next best thing is using a reagent testing kit. Although they aren’t perfect, they can give you a good idea of whether your cocaine is contaminated, but can’t tell you anything about strength. Get one here.
If you don’t have a reagent testing kit then there are still some ways to check your cocaine powder for some adulterant drugs. These are not ideal, but can still give you help a bit.
Tongue test – place a small amount of cocaine around your gum and lip. Pure cocaine should cause a numb feeling in that area, and should have a bitter taste.
Melting test – melt a small amount of cocaine. Pure cocaine will melt almost immediately. If it takes longer or some parts melt faster or slower than others, your cocaine may be mixed with other substances.
Effects of cocaine
Below, we’ve listed some of the most common effects experienced when consuming cocaine; this list is not definitive, nor exhaustive. You may not experience all these effects, nor the same every time, and your friends around you may have a vastly different experience. The way you consume cocaine also affects the intensity of the effects. Remember, the likelihood of experiencing negative effects is much greater at high doses.
Within minutes, the sights and sounds of the world around you become brighter and more vibrant. Any hunger you might have had will disappear as you start to feel more energetic and alert. A general sense of euphoria will arise, coupled with increased confidence and you’ll feel more social and talkative. Be careful of becoming aggressive and making rash decisions which might end getting you or others hurt.
After a while, you may start to feel restless, irritable, and even anxious. You might get tremors, a pounding heart and start sweating. And if you take it late, you’ll probably find it difficult to fall asleep. Drink plenty of water, have a heart breakfast, and make sure to catch up on the lost sleep.
- Energy and alertness
- Talkativeness and sociablility
- Hypersensitivity of sight, sound, and touch)
- Decreased appetite
- Repetitive behaviour
- Sweating and increased heart rate
- Pupil dilation
- Aggressivity and risk-taking
- Restlessness and irritability.
Sometimes we take too much. Here are some signs to look out for, internal and external, to help you spot the signs of overdose in others. If you think someone is suffering from an overdose, the most important thing to do is to get medical help immediately.
- Difficulty breathing
- Fast heart rate
- High body temperature
- Anxiety or panic
Dose and onset of cocaine
How? How much? When? For how long?
The way you consume cocaine can vastly impact the experience during the ‘high’ and especially after. The dose taken, the way it’s taken and the purity of the cocaine are all important factors. Even then, the effects of using cocaine will vary depending on many factors, such as your weight, gender, metabolism and tolerance from previous use.
The purity of cocaine and which substances are added vary greatly, and this can change how much you can take. The advice below is based on the effects of pure cocaine. We understand that it is difficult to find pure cocaine, so it is best to start off taking less and seeing how you feel.
How you take cocaine matters...
This is the most common way of taking cocaine. Lines or bumps of powdered cocaine are taken into a nostril and enters the bloodstream via the membrane inside your nose. Use a clean straw and clean surfaces where possible. Avoid bills, they’re very dirty.
Be careful: repeated use can cause damage to your nasal septum (the part in the middle) and makes you more susceptible to infections.
Slightly less common, powdered cocaine is rubbed onto the inside of the lips, on the gums, or left under the tongue. This will cause localised numbness.
Be careful: this can cause damage to your gums, lips and/or teeth.
Requires a glass pipe and only works with crack cocaine, a slightly different form of cocaine popularized in the 1980s. Do not try to smoke powdered cocaine.
Be careful: if you smoke crack cocaine you are at high risk of becoming dependent, it is also harmful to your lungs. Do not not smoke crack cocaine if you have asthma. Learn more about crack cocaine in our blog post.
A thankfully less common way of taking cocaine, directly injected into a vein, using a needle or syringe. Do not use injection methods if you are not properly trained or supervised, you can seriously injure yourself. Never share needles, you will be at risk of contracting serious infections such as HIV and Hepatitis C.
Be careful: injecting cocaine (or any drug for that matter) makes you much more likely to become dependent to it.
References: 9. Tashkin, 2001; 10. Brand et al., 2008; 11. Novak and Kral, 2011; 12. drugabuse.gov
How much cocaine?
The purity of cocaine can vary greatly. To avoid taking too much, always start low and go slow. If you increase the dose, do so gradually. Bear in mind that the effect of a certain dose of cocaine is different for each way of taking it. If you inject you must significantly lower the dose compared to snorting!
- Threshold: 5 - 10 mg
- Light: 10 - 30 mg
- Common: 30 - 60 mg
- Strong: 60 - 90 mg
- Heavy: 90+ mg
- Common: 15-50 mg
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to find reliable sources for other ways of taking cocaine. If you have a reliable source please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org :)
References: 13. DanceSafe; 14. PsychonautWiki
When do the effects of cocaine kick in and for how long?
It’s crucial to know what to expect so you can know if anything is off when you’re taking cocaine, or if you plan on mixing other drugs with it (e.g. with opposing effects).
START → when you can expect to begin to feel the effects of cocaine
PEAK → length of time that you should feel the strongest effects for
DURATION → total amount of time you can expect to experience the effects of cocaine
After that, effects will start to wind down and you might start to feel comedown effects. Remember, these times can vary also depending on the factors mentioned above, e.g. weight, metabolism, dose, and tolerance.
- Start: 3 - 5 min
- Peak: ~15 min
- Duration: 10 - 20 min
- Start: 3 - 5 min
- Peak: N/A
- Duration: 10 - 20 min
Smoking (crack cocaine)
- Start: seconds
- Peak: 1 - 5 min
- Duration: 5 - 20 min
- Start: seconds
- Peak: 3 - 5 min
- Duration: 10 - 20 min
How often can I take cocaine?
It’s important to know how often you can take cocaine. In the short-term you might overdose by having too much too soon. In the long-term, you might harm your body or predispose yourself to mental health issues.
Think about how you can be more mindful in your use of cocaine. Save it for special one-off occasions and try not to form a habit. Cocaine is damaging to your nose so this will also help save it from damage and allow it to recover.
If you do plan on taking cocaine, start with a small dose and pace yourself (with a new batch wait at least half an hour before redosing).
Cocaine has high addictive potential, the less often you do it, the less chances of becoming dependent. The speed at which you become addicted depends on many factors, no one person will have the same experience with cocaine.
Don’t take more cocaine to counteract the effects of a crash after using: let your body and mind recover, seek help if you are having trouble handling it.
If there’s one thing that can really be dangerous, it’s mixing drugs. We’ve compiled here the safety profiles of various mixes with cocaine (legal and illegal), but don’t swear by them. If you’re taking prescribed medication, be extremely wary when taking recreational drugs. These interactions are often poorly researched and you will definitely not be warned by your doctor about it.
This tool is based on the TripSit drug combinations chart as well as our own additional research, cited at the end of each tailored message. We can’t stress enough that you should always do additional research before mixing drugs. Everyone is different and you can still have an adverse reaction even if the combination is marked as low risk.
Harm Reduction for cocaine
Taking drugs is risky business. If you are going to take cocaine then there are certain precautions that can reduce that risk. We’ve separated these into tips for preparing yourself beforehand, taking care of yourself and others during, and ways to mitigate the after-effects once the cocaine has worn out.
It doesn’t take a lot of effort but is very beneficial. Avoid sharing equipment.
For snorting use a clean straw, or a post-it not a bill, and clean surfaces.
For smoking, make sure the pipe is clear, not too hot or broken.
We strongly recommend that you don’t inject cocaine, or any drug for that matter. If you choose to, use a sterile syringe and a new one for every shot. Try to disinfect unclean surfaces.
Grinding your cocaine will remove clumps and prevent you from snorting too much at once. If you’re smoking crack cocaine, try not to use a full rock.
Pre-existing health conditions
If you have any heart conditions, seizure disorder, mental health condition or are pregnant, you should avoid using cocaine altogether. Read more about dangerous conditions below.
Avoid mixing cocaine with other drugs, especially alcohol.
Cocaine can make you engage in riskier behaviour. It can also cloud your judgement and lead you to make irrational decisions. Try not to do it alone, especially if you are new to the drug.
Start low and go slow
Always start with a small dose, especially if it's a new supplier. Wait to see if you feel the effects, at least half an hour, before thinking about taking more.
Alternate nostrils every time you snort. Flush out your nose with warm water after if possible. It’s also possible to dilute your cocaine in water to reduce harm to your nasal tissue.
Find a quiet room to rest. Become aware of your breathing and try to relax by slowing down your breathing rhythm. Drink some water and get some fresh air if you feel too warm.
Taking cocaine in excessive amounts can cause heart attacks, seizures or death. In the event that you overdose, be sure to call emergency services immediately. You will not get into any trouble. See the effects section for symptoms.
Taking cocaine is likely to affect your sleep pattern and appetite. Take care to recover properly afterwards by staying well hydrated, having healthy, nutritious meals, and full nights of sleep.
Do it sparsely
Cocaine can make you feel on top of the world. It can be tempting to take it over and over again when the effects wear off. Repeated use of cocaine increases your chance of becoming addicted and developing the harmful long-term effects of cocaine. As with any drug, we highly advise you to not binge. Moderation is key! Keep it for special occasions.
Risks of cocaine
How you take cocaine
The way that you take cocaine changes some of the harms that you can experience from it.
Snorting can lead to frequent nosebleeds and runny nose, loss of smell, and problems swallowing.
Gumming can cause damage to your lips, gums and teeth.
Smoking crack cocaine can worsen an already existent asthma condition, and cause lung damage. It also increases your chance of contracting infections (e.g. pneumonia)..
Injecting cocaine is especially dangerous because of the high risk of contracting diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C, among others. Injecting can also lead to collapsed veins and scarring.
Mental Health and Wellbeing
After using cocaine, it's common to experience mood swings and low mood. Try to reflect on your use as regularly as possible to make sure that it isn't negatively affecting your life. Look at your relationships, your work, and your behaviour.
Cocaine is a highly addictive drug. Although you won’t necessarily become addicted after only using it once, repeated use can cause dependence down the line. About 17% of people who try cocaine end up becoming addicted. We advise that you limit cocaine consumption for very rare occasions and never introduce it into your daily lifestyle.
Keep in mind that the addictiveness of cocaine is dependent on the way you use it. Chewing coca leaves rarely leads to addiction, but it’s now one of the least common ways of consuming cocaine. On the other hand, smoking crack cocaine and injecting cocaine are much more likely to lead to addiction.
When you stop using cocaine, your body enters a state of withdrawal. The effects of this depend on how often you use cocaine and how much you take. If you experience withdrawal symptoms, they can be a sign of cocaine dependence and you should seek help. Most importantly, don’t take more cocaine to overcome a crash or withdrawal.
These symptoms of cocaine withdrawal include:
- Increased appetite
- Unpleasant dreams and insomnia
- Slowed thinking
Learn more about withdrawal in our guide.
How to get help
About 70% of people who go into treatment for powdered cocaine problems either stop taking the drug completely or take a lot less within 6 months. The hard but important part is recognizing that you or someone you know is addicted; this is the first step towards getting help.
If you think you or someone you know are showing signs of dependence, seek help immediately by contacting emergency services or drug treatment facilities in your area. Treatments available include:
This includes contingency management (CM), cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and/or therapeutic communities (TCs)
If cost is an issue, telephone counseling is a less expensive type of treatment that can be very effective as well.
While there is no accepted medication that treats cocaine dependence, many drugs are being tested at the moment.
It’s important for anyone with a cocaine dependence to try different types of treatment to see what best fits and helps them. Sometimes a combination of therapies is the best strategy. In addition, people with dependence on cocaine or any other drug need to address any social, familial or mental health troubles.
Long-term effects of cocaine...
When cocaine is used over a long period of time, it can have damaging long-term effects on a few of the body’s systems. Each method of using cocaine (snorting, smoking, injecting etc.) also has its own physical effects.
Gastrointestinal Tract (Stomach and Digestive System)
Cocaine reduces blood flow to your stomach, which can cause tears and ulcerations. Chronic users often lose their appetite and find themselves losing a lot of weight.
Heart and Cardiovascular System
Chronic cocaine use can lead to a high risk of stroke and inflammation of the heart muscle. After long-term cocaine use, the heart can lose its ability to pump blood properly and it can become easier to tear the aortic muscle. As a result, heavy cocaine users often experience chest pains, heart attacks and even heart failure.
Brain and Nervous System
Long-term cocaine use can cause bleeding within the brain to occur. There is some evidence that important mental functions such as attention, memory and decision making become impaired as well. This may be due to a reduction in the amount of blood reaching the brain with frequent cocaine use.
Regular cocaine use can worsen your mental health. Depression and anxiety are common results of chronic use.
Using cocaine can worsen pre-existing physical and/or mental health conditions. For any of the following conditions, beware that you may be at higher risk of dangerous effects if you use cocaine.
Liver and kidney conditions
Avoid taking cocaine if you have a liver or kidney condition. Cocaine is broken down by the liver and kidney so you will be in serious danger of overdosing and experiencing drug toxicity.
Avoid smoking crack cocaine if you have asthma. It has been proven to exacerbate respiratory issues.
Avoid taking cocaine if you have an existing condition affecting your heart or circulatory system (e.g. coronary artery disease, heart valve disease, high blood pressure). Cocaine is a stimulant and will exacerbate the strain on your heart.
Avoid taking cocaine if you have, or think you may have, anxiety or depression. There is a high risk that using it will worsen your mental health.
Avoid taking cocaine if you have a seizure disorder. Cocaine will increase your risk of experiencing one.
How long will cocaine stay in my system
How long cocaine can be detected after it was last used depends on the way the drug was taken (snorted, smoked, injected etc), the type of test being used and a range of other factors, such as how often you’re using.
The most common way of testing if cocaine is in your system is through a urine test. In general, cocaine can be detected up to 2-3 days after consumption in a urine test. In heavy cocaine users though, it’s possible that cocaine can be detected for up to two weeks after using.
Other ways to test cocaine use include blood, saliva or hair samples. Hair samples provide the longest period of detection after consumption. In general, cocaine can be detected in hair follicles for up to three months after using.
The Law on cocaine
The legal status of recreational drugs sometimes evolves, always do additional research.
Careful. The legal statuses below refer to possession, and not supply/trafficking, which may still be illegal despite possession being legal/decriminalised. In such cases, selling/giving it to friends may get you into trouble, possibly even buying.
- UK: Illegal. Class A drug. Legal under medical conditions.
- Germany: Illegal (possession of small amounts affords possibilities other than prosecution). Legal under medical conditions.
- France: Illegal.
- Netherlands: Illegal. Schedule I drug.
- Spain: Decriminalised for small amounts and private use. Public consumption or possession punishable by fines.
- Russia: Illegal. Note, there has been concern over Russian agencies and police forces violating human rights and abusing Article 228 that outlines the law for drug crimes.
- Czech Republic: Legal for personal use.
- USA: Illegal. Schedule II drug. Legal under medical conditions.
- Canada: Illegal. Schedule I drug.
- Mexico: Decriminalised under 500mg of personal use. Individuals caught with any amount at or below this limit will still be encouraged to seek treatment.
- Hong-Kong: Illegal.
- Singapore: Illegal. Class A drug.
- Israel: Illegal. Individuals without a criminal record that are caught with possession of a small amount of a drug for the first time are generally not subjected to full enforcement of the law.
- South Africa: Illegal. Classified as ‘Dangerous-Dependence Producing Substance’.
- Australia: Illegal (referred to as ‘Controlled Drug’). Schedule 8 drug.
- New Zealand: Illegal. Class A drug.
References: 73. EMCDDA