Health Care and Cocaine

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Cocaine is a white flaky powder made from the leaves of the coca plant, which grows in South America and South East Asia. ‘Coke’, ‘white lady’, ‘snow’ and ‘gold dust’ are just some of the street names for cocaine. In Ireland cocaine comes in two forms: cocaine powder and crack cocaine. Cocaine powder is usually used by snorting it through the nose. It is sometimes injected and can also be eaten. Crack cocaine is a more addictive form of cocaine and is usually smoked.

Cocaine used to be seen as an upper-class drug. However, since the Celtic Tiger years it has become much more widely available and for many people has become the illegal drug of choice. Regular and even daily use of cocaine is increasing. It is thought that about 7 per cent of Irish men have taken coke. In many ways the increase in cocaine usage has been a good analogy for the excesses of the Celtic Tiger and the ‘I want it all and I’ll have it all now’ mentality. Attitudes to cocaine have accordingly changed with increased prosperity and the desire for instant gratification. Unfortunately, cocaine can have devastating effects on both physical and mental health and leave a trail of destruction in its wake.

What Are the Effects of Cocaine?

Cocaine is a powerful stimulant drug and is highly addictive. The initial effects can include increased energy, confidence and alertness, and an increase in sex drive. The user may also feel less hungry, more aggressive, more excited and more prone to taking risks. Cocaine can also give you headaches, nausea and stomach or chest pains. Some users feel paranoid or suffer from hallucinations. As cocaine is used more often, tolerance develops, which means larger amounts of the drug are needed to achieve the same ‘high’ and the good feelings experienced tend to lessen. This can lead to serious adverse health effects. Cocaine is highly addictive and dependence (both physical and psychological) can develop rapidly, with strong cravings for cocaine.

Withdrawal effects can include sleep disturbance, exhaustion, irritability, restlessness and feelings of depression. Some people can experience severe seizures. ‘Snow bugs’ is an unpleasant crawling sensation that can be felt under the skin during cocaine withdrawal.

What Are the Medical Complications of Cocaine Abuse?

Cocaine is usually snorted into the nostrils. This causes the blood vessels in the nose to narrow, damaging the lining (septum) between both sides of the nose. Eventually a hole can appear in the septum. A tell-tale sign of regular cocaine use is a red, runny stuffed-up nose. Cocaine can also cause loss of smell, hoarseness and nosebleeds.

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