Cocaine facts

In this article, we take a closer look at cocaine, what it is, how it is used, the side effects of cocaine use and more.

What is cocaine?

Cocaine is a stimulant drug produced from the leaves of the coca plant (Erythroxylum coca), a plant that grows across Central and South America. However, it can also be manufactured synthetically.

Cocaine is available in two forms: cocaine hydrochloride (a white powder) and cocaine base (cream-coloured rocks).

When a person uses cocaine, it is converted by the body into the metabolites benzoylecgonine and norcocaine.

What are the street names for cocaine?

Some of the most common street names for cocaine include:

  • Coke
  • Charlie
  • C
  • Snow
  • Rock
  • Dust
  • White

What does cocaine look like?

Cocaine is available in several forms including a powder, which is often white/off-white in colour, a white or light brown paste, or white/off-white crystals. These crystals are known as crack cocaine.

How is cocaine used?

Recreational drug users typically snort, smoke, or inject cocaine. It is also rubbed into the gums.

How do people behave when they take cocaine?

After using cocaine, a person may experience a ‘cocaine high’ leading to increased confidence, agitation, and/or feelings of intense pleasure, power, and increased energy.

However, it can also make a person more prone to violence, anxiety, panic attacks, aggression and risk-taking.

What are the side effects of cocaine?

The physical side effects of cocaine can vary and depend on several factors, including how the drug is ingested, frequency of use, and the metabolism and weight of the person.

Some common side effects include:

  • Headaches
  • Seizures
  • Stomach cramps
  • Paranoia
  • Raised body temperature
  • Erosion of the nasal cavity over time (if snorted)

More serious risks of taking cocaine include heart attacks and strokes.

What happens when you use cocaine with other drugs?

Below is an overview of the side effects of using cocaine alongside other drugs.


Consuming alcohol alongside cocaine can be extremely risky, leading to increased heart rate and high blood pressure. This can increase a person’s risk of a heart attack.

When a person consumes alcohol and cocaine together, this causes cocaethylene to be formed in the body: a metabolite that is only present when cocaine has been used alongside ethanol (the intoxicating agent in alcoholic drinks).


Heroin and cocaine have opposing effects on the central nervous system, with heroin being a depressant and cocaine being a stimulant.

When the two are used together, this can cause breathing difficulties, as well as putting strain on the heart.

MDMA (Ecstasy)

Both MDMA (ecstasy) and cocaine are stimulant drugs. When used together, this can lead to over-stimulation and increased heart rate, which can prove fatal.

Which legislation covers cocaine use?

Cocaine is a Schedule 2 controlled substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977.

This means that the import, export, production, possession, sale, or supply of cocaine is illegal in Ireland.

Anyone who commits one of these offences could be liable for a fine, prison sentence, or both. However, several factors will be considered for sentencing including the type, quantity, and total value of the drugs found.

Can cocaine be used in medicine?

Although rarely used in medical settings, cocaine hydrochloride can be used as a local anaesthetic.

When applied to certain areas of the body such as the nose, mouth, or throat, it can cause loss of feeling or numbness, allowing minor procedures to be performed without causing pain.

It can also be used prior to surgery involving the oral, laryngeal, and nasal cavities, helping to narrow the blood vessels.

How long does it take for cocaine to show up in a drug test?

Even after the ‘high’ has worn off, and long after the drug was first consumed, cocaine use can be detected by a drug test, depending on the type of test you take.

The drug testing detection windows for cocaine are as follows:

  • Oral fluid (saliva) – up to 48 hours
  • Urine – up to 4 days
  • Hair – up to 12 months (depending on the length of hair available)
  • Nails – up to 12 months (up to 6 months for fingernails and up to 12 months for toenails)

Oral fluid and urine drug testing are known as ‘narrow-window’ forms of testing and can be used to detect drug use from 30 minutes after consumption, up to a few days.

This can vary depending on the type of substance and how much was used.

The rate at which hair and nails grow means that both hair drug testing and nail drug testing can provide a ‘wide-window’ of detection for drugs and their metabolites (up to 12 months).

Where can I buy a drug test?

Our Home Drug Testing Kit has been designed to give you peace of mind or enable you to seek support for a friend or loved one who is struggling with substance misuse.

This easy-to-use, self-contained screening kit can detect drugs and their metabolites in a urine sample, with built-in test strips that allow you to read the results in just 5 minutes

Please be aware that our home drug test kits are for peace of mind only, and the results cannot be used in court. If you require a drug test for official matters, you will need a legally-instructed drug test.

For confidential advice about which test might best suit your needs, you can also call our Customer Services team on 01 402 9466 or email

Home Drug Testing Kit

Order your home drug testing kit online now for just €20.

Marie Law AlphaBiolabs

Marie Law

Head of Toxicology at AlphaBiolabs

A highly-skilled and respected scientist with over 13 years’ experience in the field of forensics, Marie joined AlphaBiolabs in 2022 and oversees the company’s growing toxicology team.

As Head of Toxicology, Marie’s day-to-day responsibilities include maintaining the highest quality testing standards for toxicology and further enhancing AlphaBiolabs’ drug and alcohol testing services for members of the public, the legal sector, and the workplace sector.

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