What it looks like and how it is taken

Powder Cocaine, Freebase and Crack are all forms of cocaine - powerful stimulants, with short-lived effects.

They temporarily speed up the way your mind and body work, but the effects are short-lived.  Both ‘freebase’ cocaine (powder cocaine that’s been prepared for smoking) and ‘crack’ cocaine (a ‘rock’ like form of cocaine) can be smoked. This means that they reach the brain very quickly, while snorted powder cocaine gets to the brain more slowly. It comes in folded wraps of paper or in knotted corners of poly bags.

Paraphernalia traditionally associated with Cocaine use includes razors, mirrors to place the powder on and something to snort the powder through such as a rolled up paper money or a glass pipe. 

Cocaine can have varying levels of purity and can be cut with anything from Phenancetin, a painkiller now banned in many countries due to its links to cancer and kidney damage, Lidocaine a local anaesthetic and drug designed to suppress abnormal rhythms of the heart and Levamisole a de-worming drug used by vets, to substances such as caffeine, sugars and starch.

In Scotland in 2008, police seizures of powder cocaine had an average purity of 13% and crack cocaine an average purity of 37%.


  The effects of taking Cocaine

Cocaine leaves the users feeling confident, strong and alert and craving for more. 

Taking cocaine makes users feel on top of the world, wide-awake, confident and on top of their game – but some people are over-confident on it and so may take very careless risks. All types of cocaine are addictive, but by reaching the brain very quickly freebase or crack tend to have a much stronger effect and be more addictive than snorted powder cocaine. The effects of crack smoking are virtually immediate, peaking for about two minutes and lasting for only about 10 minutes.

When snorting coke it takes longer to peak but the effects still don’t last that long, only around 20-30 minutes.

When the effects of any cocaine use start to wear off there can be a very strong temptation to take more, particularly with the long ‘come down’, the crash period sometimes lasting for days afterwards. 

Cocaine and the law

‘Coke’, ‘freebase’ and ‘crack’ are all Class A drugs – that means they’re illegal to have, give away or sell.

Possession can get you up to seven years in jail.

Supplying someone else, including your friends, can get you life and an unlimited fine.

A conviction for a drug-related offence could have a serious impact. It can stop you visiting certain countries – for example the United States – and limit the types of jobs you can apply for.

Like drinking and driving, driving when high is illegal - and you can still be unfit to drive the day after using cocaine. You can get a heavy fine, be disqualified from driving or even go to prison.

Allowing other people to use cocaine in your house or any other premises is illegal. If the police catch using cocaine in a club they can prosecute the landlord, club owner or person holding the party.

 The short-term risks of taking Cocaine

It raises the body’s temperature, makes the heart beat faster and reduces your appetite.

When the effects start to wear off, people experience a long ‘comedown’, when they feel depressed and run down. This crash can happen for days afterwards. 

After a big night on cocaine, it's not unusual for people to feel like they've got the flu. 

Some users may feel tense and anxious while using and afterwards feel very tired and depressed.  It can also cause convulsions, chest pain and sudden death from heart attack or stroke.  

 The long-term risks of taking Cocaine

Snorting the drug can damage the inside of the nose. Injecting any form of cocaine will also reach the brain more quickly but this has serious additional risks, including damaging veins and spreading blood borne viruses, such as HIV and Hep C.

Frequent use can lead to paranoia, hallucinations, aggression and weigh loss. Cocaine, especially crack cocaine is highly addictive.  Chronic use causes severe damage to heart and circulatory system. With brain damage and severe mental health problems 

Cocaine users have died from overdoses. High doses can raise the body's temperature, cause convulsions and heart failure. Risk of overdosing increases if cocaine is mixed with other drugs or alcohol.

Over time, snorting cocaine will seriously damage the cartilage in your nose that separates the nostrils; and it is not unknown for heavy users to lose their cartilage and end up with just one really big nostril and a misshapen nose.

Cocaine is highly risky for anybody with high blood pressure or a heart condition. Even perfectly healthy, young people can have a fit or heart attack after taking too much. 

Using cocaine a lot makes people feel depressed and run down. It can lead to serious problems with anxiety, paranoia and panic attacks.

Cocaine can bring previous mental health problems to the surface. If a relative has had mental health problems, there might be an increased risk for you.

Taking cocaine when you're pregnant can damage your baby. It may cause miscarriage, premature labour and low birth weight.

Regularly smoking crack can cause breathing problems and pains in the chest.

Frequent users find they begin to crave more – so it can become an expensive habit to keep.

Injecting drugs can damage veins and cause ulcers and gangrene. Sharing needles or other injecting equipment can spread HIV and hepatitis infections.

It's easier to overdose if you’re injecting cocaine.

Heavy crack users may take heroin to try to dull their cravings, so they may get hooked on heroin as well.

 ‘Speedballing’, injecting a mixture of cocaine and heroin, can have fatal results