The Two A’s of Cocaine

by Sakura Yamamoto-Tarpin

The next substance we will be examining is cocaine.

Cocaine is a stimulant which is extracted from the leaves of the Coca plant native to South America. In the 1900s it was commonly prescribed as a tonic for many ailments, and even used as an additive in soft drinks for its ability to keep the user “up”. Cocaine is now recognized as a Schedule II drug. This means that despite its high potential for abuse it can be administered by doctors for legitimate use such as for local anesthesia.

What systems does it impact?

As it enters the brain, cocaine causes a blockage in the dopamine receptors responsible for regulating motivation and pleasure. This results in a spike of euphoric or pleasurable feelings, followed by a “crash” of opposite sensations. Studies suggest that chronic cocaine use has adverse effects on the orbitofrontal cortex, which is responsible for sound reasoning and  decision making as well as self-insight. Long term use can have detrimental effects on other parts of the body such as impaired motor function, gastrointestinal tears and toxic strain on the heart, which may put the user at risk for strokes, seizures and heart attacks.

Due to its short lived effects, users of cocaine often repeatedly consume many doses in one sitting. Because of this, tolerance to the drug develops rather quickly, which is one of the reasons why cocaine is so dangerously addictive. It is important to note that while the probability of overdose increases with tolerance, sudden death can occur after first time use.

Does ingesting cocaine cause an altered state? — Yes.

Does that state cause impairment in the average person? — Yes. After the initial effects the user may experience anxiety, paranoia, restlessness and muscle twitches.

What functions are specifically impaired? — Long term use of cocaine leads to impaired memory, motor function, impulse inhibition, and the ability to discern from right and wrong. Former addicts are at high risk for relapse, even after years of avoidance.

What are the activities affected by this type of impairment? Yes – activities involving judgment, prolonged focus or concentration may be affected.

Does this impairment cause harm to oneself or others? — If the user engages in dangerous or sexually risky behaviors, absolutely.