Cocaine and the Nervous System
All drugs have a negative effect on the nervous system, but few can match the dramatic impact of cocaine. Cocaine is one of the most potent, addictive, and unpredictable recreational drugs, and thus can cause the most profound and irreversible damage to the nervous system. The high risk associated with cocaine remains the same regardless of whether the drug is snorted, smoked, or injected into the user¡¯s bloodstream. In addition to the intense damage cocaine can cause to the liver, intestines, heart, and lungs, even casual use of the drug will impair the brain and cause serious damage to the central nervous system. Although cocaine use affects many components of the body, including vision and appetite, the most significant damage cause by cocaine takes place in the brain and central nervous system.
Spanish explorers first observe South American natives chewing the cocoa leaf, from which cocaine is derived, when they arrived on the continent in 16th century. The South Americans chewed these cocoa leaves in order to stay awake for longer periods of time. Centuries after this initial discovery, Albert Neiman isolated cocaine from the cocoa leaf in 1860. Neiman used this extraction as an anesthetic. Over the ensuing years, cocaine use became increasingly common and was even sanctioned by doctors, who prescribed the drug to aid recovering alcoholics. Cocaine was even a key ingredient in such popular beverages as Coca- Cola. It was not until the long-term health problems associated with cocaine use emerged that the public realized that the drug was harmful
and highly addictive (2).
Cocaine is a versatile drug which can be ingested in a variety of ways. In its purest form, cocaine is a white powder extracted directly form the leaves of the cocoa plant. However, in the modern drug market, pure cocaine is often tempered with a variety of substances in order to make cocaine more profitable for drug dealers (5). The most common way to ingest powdered cocaine is to inhale the drug through one¡¯s nasal passage, where the cocaine is absorbed into the bloodstream by way of the nasal tissues. Cocaine can also be injected directly into a vein with a syringe. Finally, cocaine smoke can be inhaled into the lungs, where it flows into the bloodstream as quickly as when injected into a vein. In 1985, crack cocaine was invented, which is the optimal form of cocaine for smoking (2). While most cocaine is created through a complex process requiring ether and other unstable and expensive substances, crack cocaine is processed with ammonia or baking soda. Crack cocaine has gained popularity as the drug is cheaper and provides a more potent immediate high than snorting cocaine (6). However, those who smoke cocaine run a higher risk of becoming addicted to the drug, as more cocaine is absorbed into the bloodstream through this method of ingestion (1).
Cocaine produces its pleasurable high by interfering...