What is cocaine?

Cocaine is a white crystalline powder. The active substance is cocaine hydrochloride (cocaine HCl). Other names for cocaine include coke, charlie, blow, snow, nose candy, flake and white.

The drug has a stimulating and mood-enhancing effect. It is extracted from the leaves of the coca plant. This is a flowering shrub that mainly grows to heights from five hundred to two thousand meters in the Andes Mountains in South America. The best known species of the coca plant are Erythroxylon coca and Erythroxylon novogranatense. The leaves contain up to one percent cocaine. This means 1 kilogram of leaves produces more than 10 grams of cocaine. 

What is crack?

Cocaine hydrochloride can be made into freebase cocaine when, for example, sodium bicarbonate or ammonia are added. This substance becomes cooked coke (freebase), crack, rock, pure coke or simply white.

History and the law


In the Andes Mountains, coca leaves have been used for at least five thousand years. They were used as a remedy for altitude sickness, to reduce fatigue, to prevent hunger and as an anaesthetic in surgery, and they still are. The coca plant was sacred to the Incas and the leaves are still chewed by South Americans nowadays.

In the early 1500’s, Europeans came in contact with coca for the first time. Chewing coca did not become popular in Europe because the leaves lost their effect during transport across the ocean. Around 1850 coca extract was commonly used during throat surgery. A fun fact: from 1886 to 1901 Coca Cola contained real cocaine.

In 1900 the Dutch Cocaine Factory was established. This caused the Netherlands to become market leader in the production of cocaine. In 1928 the Netherlands adopted the Opium Act. This law prohibits the non-medical use of cocaine. As a result, the sales of the Dutch Cocaine Factory reduced greatly. It is true that the first bottles of Coca-Cola also contain cocaine, which nowadays has been replaced by caffeine.

In the late ’70s and early’ 80s, cocaine became popular again in the Netherlands.

Check out ATTN‘s video on the real history of cocaine in the US:

The law

Cocaine is listed in Schedule I of the Opium Act and it is considered a hard drug. Possession, production and trafficking are punishable.


Chewing coca leaves

When you chew coca leaves, it takes a up to two hours before the highest concentration in the blood is reached.

Snorting cocaine

Snorting is the most common way of using cocaine in the Netherlands. The cocaine powder is divided into lines and then snorted up the nose through a snorter. There, the cocaine is absorbed by the nasal mucosa. The coke is transported from the mucosa into the blood and it finally reaches the brain about three minutes later. When you snort coke like this, the effect does not last longer than thirty minutes.

Injecting cocaine

When cocaine is injected into the bloodstream it reaches the brain in fourteen seconds. Then it only works for a few minutes.

Smoking cocaine

When you smoke cocaine in a cigarette you burn the majority of it. Cocaine is not very suitable for smoking. It could evaporate at about 200 degrees Celsius, but at that temperature the powder will fall apart or burn. Before it evaporates, it is no longer cocaine. Nevertheless, cocaine it is smoked very occasionally. A small portion of the coke can pass through your lungs into the bloodstream. That gives a short and intense effect, but it is in fact a “waste” of most of your coke.

Small particles of burnt cocaine can end up in your airways and lungs when you smoke cocaine this way. Other released substances can harm your lungs as well.

Smoking crack (freebase)

Most of your cocaine (the snorting kind) is lost when you smoke it and only part of it reaches your lungs. If you want to smoke cocaine, it has to be changed into crack cocaine or crack first. This is something very different than regular cocaine. In order to make crack, the cocaine is mixed with water and sodium bicarbonate or ammonia, and then cooked. When you smoke crack cocaine it works even faster than regular cocaine. Within eight seconds it reaches the brain. The rush only lasts twenty seconds. Users normally use a so-called base pipe to smoke it. Crack gets its name from the crackling sound that is produced during the heating of crack cocaine.

The duration of cocaine’s immediate effects depends on the method of use:

  • Snorting: up to about 30 minutes;
  • Injecting: a few minutes;
  • Smoking (crack): a few minutes


There is no such thing as a safe dose. It is certain that the risks increase as you use more and more each time. The only thing we can give you is “what is customary”. 1 gram of coke is often divided into 10 to 15 lines and sometimes even 20. Many users need about a quarter of a gram for one night. How much someone snorts strongly depends on his or her experience. Coke works for about half an hour and most users take several lines during an entire evening.  Cocaine is often cut with other substances. This means there might be harmful substances in your cocaine. It is possible to test your cocaine at one of the drug testing centres in the Netherlands. They can also tell you about the different adulterants and their possible risks.  Please also read our information about an overdose under “Risks”.

Cocaine effects

Effects always depend on your mental and physical condition (set) and the situation/environment (setting) in which you are using. Personal factors can play a big role as well. For instance, one person can become very violent from using while someone else becomes mild. Every body, every person and every situation is different.

Cocaine makes the user normally feel more energetic, more confident and “on top of the world.” It becomes easier to talk and to connect with others. You become more creative and think more easily. Cocaine increases alertness, enhances your mood and it causes euphoria. You will be excited and happy and you feel clearheaded. Also, it suppress your hunger feelings.

At low doses it can be erotically stimulating. The effects and side effects may be stronger for women and frail people. Cocaine is a stimulant and has a bitter taste.

Check out this short animation from the BBC documentary ‘How Drugs Work’ (in English) about the effects of cocaine in your brain: 

Crack/freebase coke

The effects of crack are very similar to those of cocaine, but they are much more intense and they last shorter. When the effect of the crack has worn off, your cravings for the next dose are almost irresistible. This means there is a high risk of losing control and addiction: you might soon use more than you actually want.

Psychological effects

  • Clear minded
  • Excited and happy
  • Fears and inhibitions disappear
  • You talk easily; you talk a lot
  • More confident, you feel like you perform better
  • Forget about your problems
  • Exited about everything
  • More creative
  • You’re able to think clear
  • Sometimes people behave very aggressive


Physical effects

  • Temporary increase in muscle strength and endurance
  • Energetic
  • Feelings of hunger are suppressed
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Fast breathing
  • Sexually aroused
  • Increased alertness
  • Slight increase in body temperature
  • You feel no or less pain because of blocked sensory nerves
  • Dry (nasal) mucosa;
  • Cocaine stimulates the bowel movement. It works as a laxative and also has an irritating effect on the bladder, causing you to urinate more often


Under the influence of cocaine you can wear yourself out because it suppresses your feelings of tiredness. You draw on your reserves and the following days you can feel exhausted and depressed. The more you use, the longer these feelings can persist.

When you are on cocaine, you use up extra energy. At the same time cocaine inhibits the appetite. This may cause a reduced resistance and it can make you lose weight.

Cocaine has a great influence on your heart and blood vessels. Your blood vessels constrict, blood pressure rises and your heart beats faster. This puts a heavy burden on the heart and can cause heart arrhythmias, a heart attack, high blood pressure and a stroke.

When you inject or smoke cocaine these risks are even higher.

Please note that cocaine is often cut with other substances. Your coke may be mixed with substances that have their own risks. Levamisole is an adulterant that is used in veterinary medicine as a worm remedy. If you regularly snort coke cut with levamisole, this can lead to dangerously low levels of white blood cells which might reduce your resistance against diseases. In 2014, two-thirds of the cocaine samples handed in at the drug testing service contained levamisole.

Phenacetin is a painkiller that has been taken from the market because it can cause kidney damage, and it is also often found in coke. Moreover, coke is regularly cut with caffeine. So please, get your cocaine tested!

Short-term risks

  • Exhaustion and fatigue
  • Cocaine can end up in your forehead cavity and cause a blockage and a headache there
  • When you snort cocaine this might cause an inflammation in the nasal mucosa. The mucosa produce more mucus and the user gets a runny nose; it can also severely hurt your nose
  • When sharing a snorter, you run the risk of hepatitis C (liver disease)
  • When you inject coke in a careless and unhygienic way, this can cause infections and inflammations. When sharing needles, and possibly also when sharing a base pipe when your lips are cut up, there is a risk of spreading infectious diseases. Moreover, your resistance to infections decreases when you use cocaine.
  • It is hard to get an erection or orgasm with higher doses
  • Overdosing


It is possible to overdose on cocaine when you snort it. When you inject or smoke it, or when you use crack, the chance of an overdose is much higher.

The causes of a fatal overdose are:

  • Malfunctions of the cardiovascular system,
  • several seizures and
  • disturbances in the respiratory system.

Sometimes an overdose is just a very bad experience for the user, but it can also result in death. This is both possible when snorting cocaine.

A negative experience with cocaine (due to an overdose) can include feelings of restlessness, anxiety and suspicion. Sometimes this suspicion can become so severe that it ends up as a complete delusion. For example, it can make you think you are being followed. An overdose can have even more severe consequences: it can lead to heart and respiratory problems resulting in death. When you’re injecting too much cocaine, you can be dead after only a few minutes. When you are smoking or freebasing, it can go really fast as well.

Whether or not a dose is lethal depends on the individual. Some people will live after taking a few grams, whereas for people who are allergic to cocaine a small dose can be too much.

Your physical condition and any diseases that you may have are of course of great importance too. Someone with a heart defect or a blood vessel defect in the brain runs great risk. The combination with other drugs, such as alcohol, can provide an additional risk as well. That is why it is difficult to determine a standard for high doses, especially when you consider that cocaine is often cut with other substances.

Long-term risks

  • The use of cocaine leads to narrowing of the blood vessels, an increased heart rate and increased blood pressure. Because the blood vessels constrict, the heart muscle receives less blood and less oxygen. However, due to the increase in heart rate the heart may actually need more oxygen. This may overburden the heart muscle. Cocaine use can lead to cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis, arrhythmias, heart attacks and strokes. This risk increases when the blood vessels are already affected by atherosclerosis, which can come with old age.
  • Loss of sense of smell
  • Frequent use can lead to a hole in your septum
  • Regular use of cocaine changes how you interact with people. You can become cool, arrogant and selfish. Moreover, you are often irritable, annoyed and restless. This can lead to all sorts of hassles. When someone is a heavy user he may lose contact with reality and feel suspicious and threatened. This can lead to aggressive and paranoid behavior.
  • Frequent use of cocaine can cause the feeling that there are bugs under your skin. You may experience severe itching which leads to scratching, sometimes until you bleed.
  • Regular use of cocaine can cause a psychosis
  • The use of crack comes with extra physical risks because it is smoked, such as lung damage
  • Prolonged use can reduce your interest in sex and the quality of your sperm


Addiction is the greatest risk for cocaine users. You’re not addicted immediately after having used cocaine a few times. There are many people who use cocaine in a recreational way. Users can become tolerant to the effects of the cocaine, however. This means that they need to use more and more to achieve the same effect.

When you stop after prolonged use, you can suffer from depression, fatigue, disturbed sleep and appetite for a few days. Many people suffer from depressive moods after they have stopped using. They also often have problems with their sleep patterns and appetite.

It is possible to become psychologically dependent on cocaine. The effect is short and the contrast between the positive feeling and the feeling afterwards can be huge. When you are exhausted and feeling down, your cravings for cocaine can increase rapidly. A cocaine addiction is persistent and troublesome and can inflict a lot of damage both mentally, socially and financially. Many users indicate that they like the effect so much that they cannot stop using until all their cocaine is finished.

When smoking or injecting cocaine the effects of come up a lot faster, they last shorter and are experienced as more intense. This causes an even higher risk of addiction. The addiction is also more problematic than when the cocaine is snorted.

Physically, cocaine is not very addictive. Heavy users can get withdrawal symptoms, however, such as a “crash”, paranoid thoughts, depression, exhaustion, anxiety, itching, changes in mood, irritability, sleeplessness and a desire to use cocaine again.

If you’re wondering whether your cocaine use is becoming a problem, you could ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is it hard to get in a good mood without using?
  • Am I mentally preoccupied with the drug?
  • Has using changed me as a person?
  • Do I have to use more and more to achieve the same effect?
  • Have I been using more lately? Do I take a higher dose, in more different places and on various occasions?
  • Do I use more than I planned beforehand?
  • Do I suffer from withdrawal symptoms when I don’t use, such as sleeping poorly, moodiness, shaking, headaches, dizziness, nausea and sweating?
  • Do I sometimes use to eliminate negative effects from the last use, such as a hangover?
  • Does it take me a long time to recover from using?
  • Do I spend more and more money on it?
  • Do I use it despite the fact that I have important things to do? Do I neglect hobbies and work?
  • Does using lead to more and more problems with people around me, for instance friends and family?
  • Do I use constantly, even though I know it causes damage to both my body and my social life?

The more times you answer these questions with “yes”, the more dangerous your cocaine use has become.

Combinations with other drugs

Combining different types of drugs is extra risky and unpredictable. When you combine drugs you have a higher risk of health problems. In the following paragraphs you can read about the effects and the risks of a number of combinations that occur frequently and also a about few that are extra hazardous.

Cocaïne and alcohol

When you combine alcohol and cocaine, the substance cocaethylene is produced in your body. This psychoactive substance is harmful to the liver, it provides an extra burden on the heart and blood vessels and it is more addictive than alcohol or cocaine alone. The half-life for cocaethylene is 4 times as long as the half-life for cocaine (so it works 4 times longer) and therefore it takes longer to break down, causing a higher risk of toxic effects. You may also come to associate alcohol with cocaine use, so when you are drinking you want to snort and when you snort you want to drink. Plus coke may give you the feeling that you are not as drunk as you really are. Some people come to think that they are perfectly able to drive a car (which is not the case). You may also drink more alcohol than you would have done when you had not snorted cocaine.

Cocaïne and ecstasy

This combination causes an increased pressure on heart and blood vessels and it can truly exhaust the body. It may have negative effects on your memory, concentration and mood. The hangover is often much worse than the hangover you would have with coke or ecstasy alone. Cocaine reduces the ecstasy’s love effect.

Cocaine and cannabis

This combination increases the risk of psychological problems such as anxiety and restlessness.


Detection time

Different factors influence the detection time of a substance in your blood or urine. How often and how much you use, for instance, just as your personal metabolism (how fast a substance is broken down in your body, especially by the liver). Drugs are absorbed in the blood after which they are broken down by the liver and leave the body through the kidneys in your urine. Therefore, drugs are longer traceable in urine than they are in blood.

Cocaine is detectable between three to seven days. It can be detected both in urine and in blood. The more and longer you have used, the longer it is detectable.

Unity tips

You can never be 100% safe when using cocaine. The risks can be limited, however, so please read our Unity tips:

  • Have your cocaine tested!
  • Use only when you feel well, both physically and mentally
  • People who have a weak heart, weak veins, a high blood pressure, diabetes or epilepsy have additional health risks and are advised not to use cocaine
  • Do not use it to forget about your tiredness or depression or to eliminate the unpleasant effects of last use
  • Be aware of infectious diseases. Use your own snorter and do not share it with others
  • Rinse your nose after snorting with tepid salt water, for example by using a nasal spray or nasal douche
  • Use moderately. Keep track of how much you use
  • Think about how much you want to use beforehand
  • Do not use before you participate in traffic
  • Please note that cocaine is bad for your heart and blood vessels
  • Eat and rest well to give your body the chance to recover
  • Do not use you if you are on medication or suffer from depression, anxiety or psychosis
  • Do not use during pregnancy. Cocaine is harmful to the unborn child.

Do you want more information about cocaine, do you have any questions or do you want to talk to someone about your cocaine use? Click here for our contact details in your area or e-mail us via

Here’s a short animated video that shows how the risks of cocaine do not only relate to the risks to your own health:


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