National Families in Action
A Guide to Drugs and the Brain



Drug Effects

Drug Research

Drug Street Names

Back to NFIA

Search NFIA


Cocaine and crack come from the leaves of the coca plant, which grows primarily in South America. Cocaine is processed into a white powder which people snort or melt and inject. Crack is further processed into a substance that can be smoked

Cocaine acts on the brain and is a highly
addictive drug. Because crack is smoked,
and allows high doses to reach the brain
rapidly, crack is even more addictive. Both forms of the drug trap a chemical called dopamine in the spaces between the brain's nerve cells in a part of the brain called the reward system. Dopamine stimulates and restimulates these nerve cells, making the user feel intense pleasure. The brain responds to the overabundance of
dopamine by destroying some of it, making less of it, and shutting down the cells' receptors so they can no longer receive dopamine's messages. The person consumes more cocaine more often in an effort to re-experience the pleasure felt at first use, gradually losing control over his or her cocaine-taking behavior and becoming addicted.

Addicts are preoccupied with getting their drug, and most of their thoughts and behaviors are directed to that end.
Cocaine interferes with judgment and produces exaggerated feelings of well-being and confidence. High doses can produce paranoia, and users can become aggressive and violent. In rare cases, cocaine can produce death, after first use or after prolonged use. Death occurs from cardiac arrest (the person's heart stops beating), or seizures followed by respiratory arrest (the person stops breathing). Pregnant mothers should never use any drug during pregnancy. Scientists
are trying to understand the precise effect of cocaine on the developing fetus. They know that a mother who is addicted to drugs
does not take care of herself properly, that her fetus does not
receive adequate nutrition needed to develop properly, and that
addicted mothers rarely care for their newborns properly.

Common Street Names
Coke, blow, powder, sugar, nose
candy, rock, crack, base.

Legal Status
Cocaine is a Schedule II drug in the U.S. Controlled Substances Act. It is illegal to grow, process, sell or use cocaine or crack. However, because cocaine has limited use in medicine as an anesthetic, doctors may use it in surgery.

About Site Map Privacy
© Copyright 2001 National Families in Action. All rights reserved.
Questions? Write to