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Cocaine is a highly addictive central nervous system stimulant extracted from the leaves of the coca plant, Erythroxylon coca.
In its most common form, cocaine is a whitish crystalline powder that produces feelings of euphoria when ingested.
Now classified as a Schedule II drug, cocaine has legitimate medical uses as well as a long history of recreational abuse. Administered by a licensed physician, the drug can be used as a local anesthetic for certain eye and ear problems and in some kinds of surgery.
In powder form, cocaine is known by such street names as "coke," "blow," "C," "flake," "snow" and "toot." It is most commonly inhaled or "snorted." It may also be dissolved in water and injected.
Crack is a smokable form of cocaine that produces an immediate and more intense high. It comes in off-white chunks or chips called "rocks." Little crumbs of crack are sometimes called "kibbles & bits."
In addition to their stand-alone use, both cocaine and crack are often mixed with other substances. Cocaine may be mixed with methcathinone (a more recent drug of abuse, known as "cat," that is similar to methamphetamine) to create a "wildcat." A hollowed-out cigar filled with a mixture of crack and marijuana is known as a "woolah." And either cocaine or crack used in conjunction with heroin is called a "speedball." Cocaine used together with alcohol represents the most common fatal two-drug combination.
Cocaine is one of the oldest known psychoactive drugs. Coca leaves, the source of cocaine, were used by the Incas and other inhabitants of the Andean region of South America for thousands of years, both as a stimulant and to depress appetite and combat apoxia (altitude sickness).
Despite the long history of coca leaf use, it was not until the latter part of the nineteenth century that the active ingredient of the plant, cocaine hydrochloride, was first extracted from those leaves. The new drug soon became a common ingredient in patent medicines and other popular products (including the original formula for Coca-Cola). This widespread use quickly raised concerns about the drug's negative effects. In the early 1900s, several legislative steps were taken to address those concerns; the Harrison Act of 1914 banned the use of cocaine and other substances in non-prescription products. In the wake of those actions, cocaine use declined substantially.
The drug culture of the 1960s sparked renewed interest in cocaine. With the advent of crack in the 1980s, use of the drug had once again become a national problem. Cocaine use declined significantly during the early 1990s, but it remains a significant problem and is on the increase in certain geographic areas and among certain age groups.
Author Info: Peter Gregutt, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 2002
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