Cocaine is the main psychoactive alkaloid obtained from coca leaves. It is generally encountered in two forms which differ in their route of administration. Cocaine hydrochloride, which is insufflated or injected, and cocaine base, which is a smokable form.

Crack and freebase are terms used for different forms of cocaine base generated from purified cocaine hydrochloride through specific conversion processes to make them suitable for smoking. Inhalation of the heated vapours of cocaine base results in a quick onset of effects due to the rapid absorption of the substances in the lungs. However, inhalation of cocaine pyrolysis products can be toxic and cause respiratory problems.

Cocaine, coca leaf, and ecgonine (including its esters and derivatives, which are convertible to ecgonine and cocaine) are under Schedule I of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961. The illicit production processes may vary from one laboratory to another; there are at least five reported methods for obtaining coca paste, cocaine base or cocaine hydrochloride. Illicit supplies of cocaine are often heavily adulterated with a variety of “cutting agents” and may contain as little as 10 per cent cocaine.

Mechanism of action and resulting effects

The stimulatory properties of cocaine use are a result of its action on the dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin neurotransmitter systems. To a certain extent, the effects of cocaine are similar to those of amphetamine and methamphetamine. However, cocaine has a more pronounced effect on the levels of dopamine than amphetamine or methamphetamine.

Source: Terminology and Information on Drugs (Third edition).

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