Cocaine Basics

Cocaine is a fast-acting nervous system stimulant, extracted from the leaves of coca bush, a high altitude plant which grows in the Andes of Bolivia, Peru and Colombia. The Incas used the leaves of the coca plant as part of their religious ceremonies.

The coca plant was also used by workers in the Andes to ward off anoxia, or altitude sickness. This disorder is caused decreased levels of available oxygen at higher elevations. Altitude sickness causes the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Swelling of the hands and face

Unfortunately, physical activity aggravates these symptoms. The leaves of the coca plant were chewed or brewed into a tea. When ingested, they had more energy, felt less hungry, and were able to work longer hours.

It usually comes as a fine white powder (a salt, cocaine hydrochloride) which is snorted in lines and rapidly absorbed through the nasal membranes. It can also be dissolved in water and injected or smoked.

Many users also dab it on their teeth and gums. Cocaine has local anesthetic properties that numb the mucous membranes of the mouth, vagina, rectum, and eye - if directly applied. Novocaine, the local anesthetic commonly used by dentists, is a synthetic cover-version of cocaine.

Street price of coke varies between $20 and $100 per gram, depending on area, the supplier and the purity of the product.

Coke and Purity

To get from the highlands of Colombia (the largest producer in the world) to your back pocket, cocaine has passed through many pairs of hands. The lab where the coke is extracted from the leaves of the coca bush may produce a product that is between 90-100 percent pure. The product is sold to drug smugglers, who may pay between $3,000 a kilo for the cocaine.

The smugglers move the coke to the United States, where they sell it to a distributor. The distributor will pay somewhere between $18,000-$22,000 per kilogram for the drug. Depending on the quality of the product, the distributor may pay over $30,000 for a single kilo of high-grade coke.

From the distributor, the drug is sold to a number of dealers. Along the way, the drug is cut to increase profits, so that when it gets from the dealer to the customer's hands, it has been diluted a number of times. The dealer then sells the product in grams.

For that reason, the average gram 'wrap' is usually between 20 and 65 percent pure cocaine. The rest is probably baking soda, corn starch, Vitamin C powder, sugar, talcum powder, Italian baby milk powder or local anesthetic (to simulate the numbing effect). Blow is sometimes cut with amphetamines.

There's a myth that coke is regularly cut with anthrax, bleach or strychnine. This, however, is not true.

Crack Cocaine

Processed cocaine is known as "crack," a smokeable version of cocaine with a shorter but more intense hit (around five minutes). The processing of the drug, known as freebasing, makes it more potent. The Drug Enforcement Agency has estimated that a gram of crack is approximately 75-90 percent pure cocaine.

To turn cocaine into crack, the drug is dissolved in a solution of water and baking soda or ammonia. The ingredients are boiled down until they turn into a solid substance. At that point it is removed from any remaining liquid and dried. Once it's dried, it is broken off into chunks, which are then sold to users. The chunks, also called rocks, are either white or off-white in color. The size and shape varies, and they are sold by weight.

It's called 'crack' after the snapping sound it makes when you light it. Crack is usually packaged in small plastic bags or vials, and it is sold in 300-500 mg quantities. This provides enough crack for the buyer to use two or three times.

Crack has become popular more popular since the mid-1980s due to its relatively low price compared to cocaine and the intense high it produces. The price of crack varies depending on the size of the rock, which can range from 0.10-0.5 of a gram. Prices generally range from $10-$20, but some dealers will sell a rock for as low as $3 or as much as $50.

At these relatively low prices, the market for the crack is larger than for cocaine, which was considered a rich person's drug. Even adolescents can and do start using crack. Another reason the drug is so popular may be that is it smoked, rather than snorted or injected.

Smoking is considered more socially acceptable than the other methods of ingestion, and the user may feel less like an addict by doing so. No matter what method is used, cocaine and crack are both highly addictive substances, and the potential for addiction is not only possible, but very likely.

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