Some cocaine powder arranged into two lines on a mirror
Cocaine powder
Remember: this drug is illegal!
Cocaine occurs naturally in the leaves of the South American coca plant, although it's usually treated before it hits the streets. It comes as a white powder - cocaine hydrochloride - though people still chew the original coca leaves sometimes. Most coke users sniff it up their noses using a rolled up piece of paper, or banknote. Scientists think it works by overdosing your nerves on a natural brain messenger that tells them to feel pleasure, called dopamine. However, cocaine stops your body making dopamine after you sniff it for a while, so you can't feel happy again until you get more cocaine. Then you have to have more cocaine just to feel normal, otherwise you feel sad and irritable. The West discovered cocaine in the 1870s and thought it was fantastic. Lots of energy drinks had sprinkles of it, including Coca-Cola. It wasn't until 1900 or so that doctors realised how dangerous it is. Coca-Cola stopped using it in 1902 but kept the name.


Some white crack crystals.
Crack crystals
Remember: this drug is illegal!
Crack is a derivative of cocaine which comes in small white crystals. When heated they make a 'crack' or 'popping' sound. Crack smoke rushes to your brain and you get an intensive rush or 'high' which only lasts for 2 minutes, followed by a buzz for about 20 minutes and then a totally massive crash. It is very, very very addictive.

Effects of cocaine

Cross section of the brain with a two lightning bolts overlayed
Remember: this drug is illegal!
Cocaine can affect your mind causing you to be bad tempered, restless, paranoid, and hear voices in your mind (auditory hallucinations). It can affect your body leading to an irregular heart beat and heart attacks. Strokes, seizures and headaches are common in heavy users. Cocaine also acts as a local anaesthetic so it will numb your nose or mouth if you take it.

The law on cocaine

Pair of handcuffs against a white plaster background
Cocaine is very illegal - a serious Class A drug, which means that you can get up to 7 years in prison and huge fines for possessing it, and life imprisonment for supplying it.

Amazing fact: 99% of banknotes in London have tiny traces of cocaine on them.