Cocaine: Ingestion methods

Last modified: Thursday, 25. December 2008 - 10:03 am

The way cocaine is ingested greatly determines the intensity of the effect it will have on the brain and the body. As Ingestion methods increase the speed at which cocaine reaches the brain, it also increases the “high” and the risk of addiction.

Mouth and stomach

South American natives chew coca leaves mixed with lime or plant ash to gradually release small amounts of cocaine alkaloid. Some of the cocaine is absorbed by the mucous membranes of the mouth and the intestines absorb some of the juice as it is swallowed. The small amount of cocaine entering the bloodstream numbs the mouth, decreases the feeling of hunger, and has a stimulant effect similar to drinking several cups of strong coffee. It does not cause a “high,” but the feeling of well-being can last one to two hours.


Typically, a line of 20-30 mg of powder cocaine is placed on a mirror or glass and is snuffed into the nose. In less than one minute, this blood-vessel-rich nasal area transports the cocaine to the brain, resulting in a “high” or “euphoria.” Because of the constricting effect cocaine has on the blood vessels, absorption is slower than when cocaine is smoked or used intravenously. The “high” from snorting is less intense, but it lasts longer. Snorting cocaine is addictive.


Powder cocaine can be dissolved in water and injected into the veins. In less than 16 seconds, the cocaine is mixed with the blood, sent to the lungs, returned to the heart and received by the brain. The intense euphoria is greater than a “high” and is referred to as a “rush.” The “rush” generally lasts only a few minutes and the remaining “high” drops off quickly. This is the least socially acceptable way to ingest cocaine. Injecting cocaine is highly addictive.


Powder cocaine and coca leaves cannot be smoked. The heat required to smoke these forms of cocaine destroys its psychoactive properties. In order to smoke cocaine, it must be changed to a free-base form. In South America, the most common free base is coca paste. In the West, people smoke crack, and to a much lesser extent, free base made with ether. The free base or crack is put into a glass pipe, heated, and the vapors are inhaled.

If it is inhaled deeply into the lungs, the vapors will come in contact with over 300 million alveolar sacs representing 171 yd2 (143 m2) of surface area. Within three seconds, cocaine is absorbed into the blood and pumped directly to the brain. This immediate brain “rush” or “spike” is slightly faster than the injection method and is achieved without the use of needles. Smoking cocaine by inhaling free-base vapors creates the fastest and most intense “rush” and subsequent “high.” This is highly addictive.

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