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An alkaloid extracted from the coca leaf, cocaine is a powerful stimulant. Acting directly on the limbic system, the brain’s “pleasure center,” cocaine creates a short-lived, but intense, state of euphoria and hyperactivity, followed by depression and anxiety. Imprinted on memory cells, the intense stimulation causes the brain to crave another euphoria jolt.

Cocaine causes the release of dopamine and adrenaline in the brain, unleashing impulsive and aggressive behavior. Any continuous use of cocaine can produce paranoia, hallucinations, violence and self destructiveness. Like any stimulant, cocaine may initially increase sexual energy and desire. However, studies show heavy use causes disinterest and impotence.

In addicts, cocaine craving can override family instincts of protection and affection, leading to child abuse and neglect. Cocaine constricts blood vessels, decreasing the blood flow to the brain. Computerized PET scans reveal that decreased blood flow persists 10 days after cocaine use is stopped. Tests show cocaine use also accelerates the heart beat, raises blood pressure and has resulted in heart attacks or stroke after only one small dose.

Other problems associated with cocaine use can include damage to the lungs and nerve system, as well as the human immune system. Pregnant women who use even small doses of cocaine restrict blood flow to the fetus and may give birth to babies with low birth weight, small heads, deformed kidneys and defective urinary tracts. Addicted babies suffer withdrawal pains and demonstrate learning and psychological difficulties as they grow older.

So-called “street” terms for cocaine include: “coke,” “snow,” “leaf,” “dust,” “blow,” “nose candy”, “speedball” when mixed with heroin, and “crack” when cooked into a rock form.