A precursor to the therapeutic use of cocaine, Freud used the drug, in very small doses, in the treatment of a morphometer. The initial success of the experiment was compromised by the severity of the side effect: free of morphine, the patient became addicted to cocaine.
Cocaine is an alkaloid of the chemical formula C 17 H 21 NO 4 , extracted from the leaves of coca ( Erythroxylun coca ), a natural shrub from the Andean highlands belonging to the erythroxylaceae family. Its leaves are oval or elliptical; the flowers, small and white, and the fruit, red and shiny. Many Amerindian peoples chew coca leaves to withstand hunger, thirst and tiredness for long periods. The habit still lingers among the poor populations of some of the South American countries, especially Bolivia.
Once refined, cocaine comes in the form of white, crystalline powder. In contact with the mucous membranes, it is absorbed and begins to exert a toxic action on the central nervous system; therefore, it is most often consumed by inhalation. Over time, the practice can lead the user to perforate the nasal septum. The drug is also consumed by intravenous injection, isolated or associated with morphine.
EFFECTS AND PROBLEMS
One of the main effects of cocaine, like other toxic substances, is euphoria, a state of variable duration that combines feelings of power, security and sufficiency with the elimination of fear or anxiety. As these effects dissipate in a short time, there is a need to use new doses.
Depending on the frequency of use, the substance causes toxicity to varying degrees. In the acute setting, due to multiple aspirations or injections in a short period of time, it can cause the user to have major dysfunctions in the central and neurovegetative system, with symptoms such as loss of appetite, tachycardia, elevated blood pressure, tremors, delusions, hallucinations and seizures. . Death can occur due to collapse of the respiratory system.
The chronic condition occurs after weeks or months of moderate but frequent use. It involves delusional mental activity, of the paranoid type, with symptoms similar to those of schizophrenia. The user has clear visual and tactile hallucinations and often describes sensations such as being bitten on the skin, suffering abrasions or having the body infested with parasites.
A characteristic that differentiates cocaine from other toxic substances with similar effects is the fact that it does not raise the body’s tolerance. After the first dose, the following applications continue to produce the same effect, and it is not necessary to increase the dosage in order to produce the same sensations. Studies carried out with chronic users show that, after interruption of applications, they can resume the use of the drug in the usual amount and frequency without entering into acute intoxication.
It is still debatable whether cocaine causes organic dependence, which is characterized by significant changes in the functional conditions of the organism resulting from the prolonged use of a substance. Dependence requires continuity in the use of the drug and its suspension leads to the so-called withdrawal syndrome. As with other similar substances, stopping the use of cocaine does not cause the typical withdrawal condition, but its effects are more or less equivalent: the patient who suddenly stops using cocaine has drowsiness, fatigue and lassitude, in addition to increased appetite and sleep disorders. Such symptoms disappear with the resumption of use.
A variety of the same narcotic became popular with drug users in the late 1980s: crack, derived from cocaine that is more potent than this and potentially more dangerous in terms of its immediate effects on the user’s conduct and on his body. Extracted from the same plant, the powder is pressed and consumed by aspiration through a pipe.
The crack also takes much more quickly to dependence condition. There are indications that its consumption, like that of other drugs, stimulates the user to antisocial or criminal practices.
Cocaine trafficking has become one of the most lucrative businesses in the world, the cornerstone of internationally organized crime. Until the end of the twentieth century, the repression exerted by governments of almost all nations and the high prices of the drug were not effective in reducing its trade and consumption.