April 12, 2023

Is Cocaine a Stimulant?

A woman is standing on a dock looking out at a lake to represent the question: Is cocaine a stimulant?
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Cocaine is a fiercely addictive illicit drug classified by the DEA as a Schedule II controlled substance. Drugs in this schedule have some medical applications – cocaine is indicated as an anesthetic – coupled with a strong potential for misuse and addiction. In this guide, we will answer: “Is cocaine a stimulant?”,

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Before we continue, it should be noted that sustained use of cocaine in any form causes tolerance and physical dependence to develop. Addiction often follows in the form of stimulant use disorder.

Is Cocaine a Stimulant Or Depressant?

Cocaine is a stimulant drug. All stimulants increase activity in the CNS (central nervous system), speeding up the transmission of messages between the brain and body.

Stimulant drugs are informally known as uppers. While many stimulants like cocaine and meth are illegal, prescription medications such as Ritalin and Adderall are also classified as stimulants. Nicotine and caffeine are substances also categorized as stimulants. Data from NSDUH 2021 (National Survey on Drug Use and Health) show that 4.7 million U.S. adults abused cocaine in 2021, while 3.7 million over-18s misused prescription stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin in the same year.

Depressant drugs, by contrast, are nicknamed downers and induce the opposite effects on the CNS to stimulants, slowing activity in the brain and central nervous system. Alcohol, opioids, and benzodiazepines are the most abused depressants. Combining stimulant and depressant drugs is especially dangerous, with polysubstance abuse intensifying the effects of each drug. Mixing cocaine and alcohol is a particularly dangerous combination.

Why is Cocaine a Stimulant?

Cocaine is a stimulant because it affects the central nervous system, specifically the brain. Ingesting cocaine increases the levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin in the brain, resulting in feelings of pleasure, euphoria, and increased energy. These neurotransmitters or chemical messengers are responsible for regulating mood, motivation, and attention. When they are released in high levels, this creates a sense of heightened alertness and increased activity.

Cocaine also affects the body by increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration, which are all characteristic effects of stimulant drugs. These physical effects are caused by the drug’s ability to constrict blood vessels, which leads to decreased blood flow to certain parts of the body, including the heart.

What Part of The Brain Does Cocaine Affect?

Cocaine affects several parts of the brain, but its primary target is the dopamine system. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is involved in reward, motivation, and pleasure. When cocaine enters the brain, it blocks the reuptake of dopamine, which increases the levels of dopamine in the synapses and prolongs its effects. This leads to a surge of dopamine in the brain’s reward pathway, which is responsible for the pleasurable effects of the drug.

Cocaine also affects other neurotransmitters in the brain, including norepinephrine and serotonin, which are involved in regulating mood, attention, and other cognitive functions. Cocaine increases the levels of these neurotransmitters by blocking their reuptake, similar to its effects on dopamine.

The brain regions that are most affected by cocaine include the striatum, prefrontal cortex, and amygdala. The striatum is a key component of the brain’s reward system, while the prefrontal cortex is involved in decision-making, impulse control, and other higher-order cognitive functions. The amygdala is responsible for processing emotions and regulating the body’s response to stress.

Over time, cocaine use can trigger changes in the brain’s structure and function, which can contribute to addiction and other negative consequences. Chronic cocaine use can also damage the brain’s reward system and impair its ability to experience pleasure, leading to depression and other mood disorders.

Is Cocaine a CNS Stimulant?

Cocaine is a central nervous system stimulant. When cocaine enters the brain, it increases the levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin by blocking their reuptake. This prolongs their effects and leads to a surge of activity in the brain’s reward pathway.

Cocaine also affects the body by increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration, which are all characteristic effects of CNS stimulants. These physical effects are caused by the drug’s ability to constrict blood vessels, which leads to decreased blood flow to certain parts of the body, including the heart.

What Is a CNS Stimulant?

A CNS stimulant is a drug that increases activity in the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord. These drugs work by increasing the levels of neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that transmit signals between nerve cells in the brain.

Common CNS stimulants include drugs like amphetamine, cocaine, meth, methylphenidate (Ritalin), and caffeine. These substances can increase alertness, attention, and energy, and may also produce feelings of euphoria or pleasure. They may also have physical effects on the body, such as increased heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration.

CNS stimulants are often used to treat conditions like ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), narcolepsy, and obesity. That said, stimulants can also be abused and lead to addiction and other negative consequences, especially when taken in large doses or over sustained periods. It is crucial to use CNS stimulants only as directed by a healthcare provider and to seek professional help if you or someone you know is struggling with addiction.

Cocaine Effects

The route of cocaine administration dictates the immediate effects that are delivered. For instance, smoking cocaine causes the coke drug to enter the bloodstream rapidly, triggering an almost instantaneous high.

Injecting cocaine induces an immediate high but also involves the most severe risks, including an increased chance of infections like sepsis and a heightened risk of contracting HIV, AIDS, or hepatitis C.

Snorting cocaine carries the risk of damage to the nose, throat, and mouth.

The immediate psychological effects of cocaine use include:

  • Euphoria
  • High energy levels
  • Increased confidence
  • Excitement
  • Extreme agitation
  • Severe paranoia

The immediate physical effects of cocaine use include:

  • Nausea
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Raised body temperature
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Tremors
  • Muscle twitches

Ingesting cocaine constricts blood vessels in the body, reducing oxygen flow and exposing the individual to the risk of heart attack or stroke.

What is Cocaine?

Cocaine is a highly addictive illicit drug that is derived from the leaves of coca plants, used for thousands of years throughout South America for its stimulant properties.

In the early twentieth century, cocaine was used as an active ingredient in various tonics sold over the counter. Before the development of synthetic local anesthetic, cocaine was also used as a pain reliever. Today, the substance is an illicit Schedule II substance with limited medical uses.

Cocaine abuse takes one of two forms:

  1. Powdered cocaine abuse: Powdered cocaine is water-soluble hydrochloride salt. The white powder is snorted nasally or dissolved into a solution and injected.
  2. Crack cocaine abuse: Crack cocaine is made by processing powdered cocaine with ammonia or baking soda and water. The solution is heated to eliminate the hydrochloride salt, resulting in a freebase form of cocaine that is smokable and even more addictive than powdered cocaine – see more on crack cocaine below.

Cocaine Side Effects

Any use of cocaine use is associated with a range of adverse side effects.

Cocaine abuse may bring about life-threatening heart attacks, even in young, healthy individuals.

Consuming large quantities of cocaine is linked to episodes of erratic and hostile behavior that may extend to violence.

The other principal side effects of cocaine use are:

  • Increased blood pressure levels
  • Raised heart rate
  • Twitches
  • Tremors
  • Dilated pupils
  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Impaired sexual function
  • Paranoia

What’s Crack Cocaine?

Crack cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant drug that is derived from powder cocaine. It is typically smoked, which allows it to be rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and produces an intense but fleeting high.

Crack cocaine is made by dissolving powder cocaine in a mixture of water and baking soda or ammonia, then heating it to form a solid that can be broken into small rocks that crack when smoked in glass pipes. Crack is cheaper and more potent than powdered cocaine, making it popular among people with limited financial resources. Although each rock of crack may be cheap, the powerfully addictive nature of this form of cocaine stimulant means that those who abuse crack may soon find their lives revolving around cocaine bags.

What Part of The Brain Does Cocaine Affect?

Cocaine primarily affects the brain’s reward pathway, a network of structures that is responsible for feelings of pleasure, motivation, and reinforcement. Specifically, cocaine affects the levels of neurotransmitters – chemicals that transmit signals between nerve cells in the brain.

When cocaine enters the brain, it blocks the reuptake of neurotransmitters like dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, which leads to an accumulation of these neurotransmitters in the synapses. This increases the levels of dopamine in the reward pathway, prompting a surge of activity and producing feelings of pleasure and euphoria.

The brain regions that are most affected by cocaine include the striatum, prefrontal cortex, and amygdala. The striatum is a key component of the reward pathway and is involved in processing rewarding stimuli and motivating behavior. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for executive functions like decision-making, impulse control, and attention, and is involved in regulating the activity of the reward pathway. The amygdala is responsible for processing emotions and regulating the body’s response to stress.

Over time, cocaine use can lead to changes in the brain’s structure and function, which can contribute to addiction and other adverse outcomes. Chronic cocaine may also damage the brain’s reward system and impair its ability to experience pleasure, leading to depression and other mood disorders.

Get Help for Cocaine Addiction at Gratitude Lodge

If you have developed a stimulant use disorder, kickstart your sustained recovery with our cocaine addiction treatment program at Gratitude Lodge rehab in Southern California.

Although there are currently no medications approved by the FDA to treat cocaine withdrawal and addiction, engaging with our supervised medical detox program will streamline the cocaine withdrawal process and minimize the likelihood of complications or relapse derailing your recovery.

After a week of detoxing from cocaine or crack cocaine, you can transition into one of these cocaine addiction treatment programs at our pet-friendly rehab in Long Beach and Newport Beach, CA:

  • 30-day inpatient program
  • IOP (intensive outpatient program)
  • Dual diagnosis treatment program (for co-occurring disorders)

All treatment programs for cocaine addiction at Gratitude Lodge combine evidence-based and holistic interventions that include psychotherapy, family therapy, and counseling.

Call 888-861-1658 today and move beyond cocaine addiction – we’ll help you from detox to discharge and beyond.

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Joe Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
Jenni Bussi

Jenni Russe MS, LPCC

Jenni Busse MS, LPSS is the Clinical Director at Gratitude Lodge. Jenni oversees the clinical program and the clinical team at Gratitude Lodge as a whole. Jenni has worked in treatment for almost 14 years. Her background as a licensed therapist and her passion for helping others intersected with addiction recovery when she started working primarily in detox residential treatment.

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