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Street names

White, wash, toot, snow, percy, coke, ching, charlie, chang, C, nose-candy, nose-powder.


Cocaine (cocaine hydrochloride) is a white powder derived from the leaves of the coca shrub, a plant that grows in parts of South America.

Seen for a long time as a exciting and glamorous drug for rich and famous people, it’s street price has dropped since the mid 1990’s. However, the fall in price was matched by the deterioration in the purity of the drug over the same period. Cocaine is now second only to cannabis as the most popular recreational drug in the UK, yet the substance’s glamorous associations appear undiminished. It’s use spans is wide cross range of the population, including manual workers, clubbers, media, city, young people and professionals from a range of backgrounds.

Cocaine powder can be turned into a liquid and injected. It is most often snorted, or rubbed in to gums. Typically, when snorted, the powdered drug is placed on a flat surface; the crystals are made as fine as possible by chopping them with a credit card. The resulting powder is then snorted, often through a tube of rolled-up paper in to the nostril. It dissolves, enters the capillaries and then passes into the circulatory system.

One newspaper reports that every bank note in the UK is contaminated with cocaine within weeks of entering circulation.

Cocaine and its derivative crack have very strong effects on both body and mind. They increase the heart rate, raise blood pressure and may produce a dry mouth. There may be strong urge to drink or smoke, but the user probably won’t want to eat or sleep. Some people feel sick, irritable or aggressive. The higher dose, the more pleasurable the feelings and the greater the risk of negative effects. It is, in some respects, similar to speed, but offers a more euphoric and less “harsh” experience. It has been described the champagne of drugs, instead of a rough £4 bottle of plonk.

Using cocaine and alcohol in the same session is relatively common. Cocaethylene is the the toxic compound formed in the body when cocaine and alcohol are mixed. Cocaethylene takes twice as long for the body to process than alcohol alone. This increases the risk of liver damage. There is over 20 times the risk of sudden death when cocaine and alcohol are taken together.

Drug services have been slow in creating effective services for people with cocaine, and especially crack-related issues.

Paraphernalia / what to look out for

  • Paper wraps, small pieces of paper.
  • Small, clear plastic bags or vials, sometimes containing white powder.
  • Rings, necklaces, pens, and other innocuous items with hidden compartments
  • A flat surface with “chop” lines or white residue, ogten a CD case or mirror
  • Something to “chop” the cocaine, e.g. a credit card
  • A hollow tube to snort the drug with, usually a small piece of straw or rolled up banknote
  • A small lever, used to snort with, perhaps a pen cap or key (white residue may remains).

The Guardian and others reported that drug dealers were using spoons from McDonalds to measure out heroin and cocaine. Read more about this story at

Possible short-term indicators

Short term indicators of cocaine use may include:

  • Pupil dilation.
  • Restlessness and more talkative.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature.
  • Contracted blood vessels.
  • Increased rate of breathing.
  • Disturbed sleep patterns.
  • Nausea.
  • Hyper-stimulation.
  • Bizarre, erratic, sometimes violent behaviour.
  • Hallucinations, hyper excitability, irritability.
  • Tactile hallucination that creates the illusion of bugs burrowing under the skin.
  • Intense euphoria.
  • Depression.
  • Intense drug craving.
  • Panic and psychosis.

Possible longer-term indicators

  • Can lead to paranoid thinking, aggressiveness and psychotic behaviour.
  • If snorted, possible damage to the nasal passages and perforation of the septum, and rubbing cocaine into the gums can cause gum disease and cavities.
  • Smoking crack can cause black phlegm, chest pain, lung damage and bronchitis, with a partial loss of voice.
  • Users can become dehydrated, have digestive disorders or anorexia.
  • Long term use: the heart and blood vessels can weaken, increasing chances of a stroke.
  • Regular heavy cocaine use is linked to general physical ill health becoming run down, along with mental health problems. Because it stops people feeling hungry, coke can make them vulnerable to malnutrition.
  • Liver damage when combined with alcohol.

Harm reduction

There is no completely safe way to take cocaine or crack, but information can be given on how to use them more safely.

  • Avoid taking other stimulants.
  • Avoid mixing with alcohol – with cocaine, the unintended negative effects of both alcohol and cocaine are increased.
  • Avoid keeping taking cocaine or crack to put off coming down.
  • The body has to come down sometime, so the longer it is left the worse it will be.
  • It is advisable that users set a limit on the money they can spend on crack – avoid borrowing off friends or buying on credit from dealers.
  • Make sure the user gets plenty of rest and food after taking cocaine.
  • If you’re working with someone who uses crack, explain about health risks: local burns, damage to the lungs, heart and liver.

Drink and Drug News (5 September 2005) provides this additional list:

  • Always advise about sharing any injecting, piping or snorting equipment.
  • Advise pipers to switch from using plastic bottles or cans to quality glass pipes, and to avoid inhaling ash, paint, dust, water and other particles to the lungs.
  • Encourage the move towards non-injecting routes, such as chasing or piping.
  • Get the user to set themselves rules and stick to them, e.g. putting off the first pipe of the day for as long as possible.
  • Understand signs of overdose and how to manage it. Call an ambulance early.
  • Encourage individuals to bring in their paraphernalia to show you what they do, so you can work together to minimise the harm caused by using crack.

Legal status

Class A of the Misuse of Drugs Act