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War On Drugs

Cocaine is a powerful, addictive stimulant made from the coca leaves, a plant which is native to South America. The drug offers a short term energy or euphoria. The use of coca leaves in America dates back to the 1970’s when the US Drug Enforcement Agency noted a large amount of cocaine being shipped to America, causing the price to plummet and the conversion of the solid cocaine to a powder form, called “crack” which could be smoked. By breaking up the solid cocaine into powder form, people were able to produce higher quantities and make a bigger profit.

The biggest surge of crack cocaine in America took place between 1984 and 1990, when the number of people who routinely smoked crack cocaine increased from 4.2 million to 5.8 million. Crack could be found across 28 stated by the end of 1986 and by 1987 could be found in all but four states. This epidemic spread overseas such that in 2002 the United Kingdom’s rate of crack cocaine users increased nearly 50%. In 2013, it was found that of those who were between 12 and 26, 3.6% had tried crack cocaine in their lifetime, 0.20% of whom had tried it in the past year. Of people who were 25 years of age or older, 4.1% had tried it in their lifetime and 0.3% had tried it within the past year.

Crack cocaine will increase the amount of dopamine in your brain circuits. The most dramatic effect that crack cocaine has on the brain is the release of dopamine. This is the primary neurotransmitter in the pleasure part of the brain. It is released in association with a pleasure and well-being. This is typically released as a reward for particular behaviours. But once it is excreted by the brain, it is recycled back into the cell from which it was released and the signal between the neurons is shut down. But cocaine prevents the dopamine from recycling back into the cell, which then causes large amounts of dopamine to build up in the area between the neurons known as the synapses. This increases the signal of dopamine in your brain, but it also disrupts the normal communication of the brain.

Cocaine will increase the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine as well, both of which are essential neurotransmitters. Norepinephrine is responsible for increasing blood pressure, alertness, and preparing the body for a “fight or flight” situation. Serotonin is responsible in part for regulating sleep, appetite, and mood. Repeat use of cocaine will cause an instant release of these neurotransmitters, but once they are released an overall depletion occurs, altering their homeostatic levels.


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