Cocaine: Types of cocaine

Last modified: Thursday, 25. December 2008 - 10:02 am


Cocaine was the first local anesthetic to be discovered and this is its only legal use in the United States. Cocaine is particularly effective as a local anesthetic because it numbs the site of application almost immediately and it minimizes bleeding. Typically a 1-4% solution is used clinically. This highly diluted solution does not have a psychoactive or changing effect on the brain.

While cocaine is still used for ear, nose, and throat surgery, Lidocaine, a synthetic derivative of cocaine, is the most widely used local anesthetic.

Coca leaves

Cocaine is ingested in its mildest form by chewing coca leaves. Alkalines such as lime or ash are added to the leaves to release the cocaine alkaloid. In addition to cocaine, the leaves contain protein, minerals, vitamins, and over 14 alkaloids. Instead of experiencing a “rush” or a “high,” chewers first notice numbness of the mouth followed by alertness and a sense of well-being. The stimulant effect is about as potent as the caffeine in several cups of strong coffee. Regular coffee breaks in the United States is the social equivalent of regular coca leaf breaks in the mountains of South America. Chewing coca leaves is also part of the religious tradition. In addition to chewing coca leaves, the people also make the leaves into tea. Coca leaves are not smoked because the temperature needed to burn the leaves destroys the cocaine alkaloid before it can be inhaled.

Coca paste

Sometimes called “bazooka,” coca paste is an impure free-base form of cocaine that is smoked. It contains 20-90% cocaine and it is psychoactive. Smokers experience a “rush” or a “spike” similar to the effects of smoking crack or injecting powder cocaine. This is followed by a “high.” Coca paste is highly addictive. To make the paste, lime water, kerosene, and sulfuric acid are added to coca leaves. By removing the bulky leaf matter, 250 lbs (114 kg) of coca leaves are converted into 22 lbs (10 kg) of coca paste. Solvent residues give the paste an unpleasant taste and odor. It is usually added to tobacco or marijuana cigarettes. Use of coca paste is restricted mainly to South America as it is bulky and difficult to ship. With additional processing, coca paste can be converted into powder cocaine, which is easier to smuggle and is much more profitable for South American cartels.

Powder cocaine

Powder cocaine (cocaine hydrochloride) can be over 100 times more potent than coca leaves. By adding acids and purifying agents, 22 lbs (10 kg) of coca paste can be refined to 2.2 lbs (1 kg) of powder. This powder approaches 100% purity, but it is diluted with fillers before it is sold on the streets in the United States. Common fillers are cheaper drugs such as amphetamines or sugars such as lactose or inositol. Average street powder purity is 60%. The most common way to use powder is to snort it into the nose, but it can also be dissolved in water and injected into the veins. Powder cocaine cannot be smoked. Powder cocaine is addictive when snorted and highly addictive when injected.

Free base

Free base is a form of cocaine that can be smoked. There are three free-base forms of cocaine: coca paste, free base, and crack. Coca paste is made directly from coca leaves with solvents and acids. It is not available in the United States. Another form called “free base” was developed in the mid-1970s. In this process, powder cocaine is changed into free base by using water, ammonia, and highly flammable ether. It is a dangerous process because the volatile chemicals sometimes explode or ignite. Comedian Richard Pryor was badly burned while “freebasing.” By far, the most common free base is crack. In a very stable process, cocaine and sodium bicarbonate are combined. The precipitate, crack, is nearly 100% pure cocaine. All three forms of free base are highly addictive.

Crack cocaine

Crack is free-base cocaine extracted from powder cocaine using water and sodium bicarbonate. The resulting precipitate is dried and cut into “rocks” weighing between one-tenth to one-half a gram. Ten grams of powder cocaine will convert to 8.9 grams of nearly pure crack. A rock is placed into a glass pipe, heated, and the vapors are inhaled. It is called “crack” because when it is heated, the sodium bicarbonate makes a crackling sound. Because crack is inexpensive and delivers large amounts of cocaine to the lungs, it has become the most popular form of cocaine. Crack is highly addictive.

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