How does cocaine work?

Cocaine is a stimulant which acts on the central nervous system. More on how cocaine works, cocaine’s uses, side effects, and dangers here.

minute read

Cocaine is a stimulant that’s occasionally used as a topical anesthetic, but is also available as an illicit street drug used to achieve a euphoric high.  In fact, cocaine works so well that you can get addicted to cocaine quickly. Here we’ll review how cocaine affects the body and brain, as well as its dangers and side effects. And we invite your questions about cocaine and how cocaine works at the end.

How does cocaine work in the body?

When cocaine is inhaled, snorted, or injected, it enters the bloodstream and is delivered to the brain. Cocaine works by interfering with the normal processes of the brain, flooding the pleasure-center of the brain with the chemical dopamine, creating a feeling of euphoria.  Cocaine stays in urine and is detectable via drug screens 2-4 days after use.

Cocaine also effects other systems of the body. As a stimulant, cocaine creates a feeling of alertness and energy, increases body temperature, and raises heart rate. However, the cardiovascular effects of cocaine can put cocaine users at risk of heart attacks and stroke.

How does cocaine affect the brain and nervous system?

Cocaine directly affects the central nervous system. As mentioned earlier, cocaine interferes with normal brain processes, causing dopamine levels to spike in the brain. As a result, cocaine can cause a variety of central nervous system effects, including:

  • anxiety or panic attacks
  • changes in behavior
  • euphoric feelings
  • paranoia
  • restlessness

How fast does cocaine work?

Depending on how cocaine is taken, it can begin to work within minutes. Smoking the crack form of cocaine will result in a high within seconds, but snorting cocaine will take several minutes for cocaine to work. Cocaine is not often administered orally, but takes about 30 minutes to take effect when ingested (as in the case of coca leaves).

How long does cocaine work?

The duration of cocaine’s effects depend on the method of administration. When cocaine is snorted the effects last longer, 15-30 minutes. When smoked, the effects of cocaine may only last 5-10 minutes. In other words, cocaine is not effective for a lasting high.

What makes cocaine work better

Cocaine works most quickly and efficiently when it’s snorted or smoked. However, because so much cocaine is flooding the brain all at once, these methods of administration come with their own particular dangers. Using cocaine can also damage the nasal tissues and the lungs.

Does cocaine work for everyone?

No, cocaine won’t work for everyone. Taking cocaine is always risky when it’s not used for medical purposes, particularly because street cocaine is often mixed with other drugs or potentially toxic substances. Furthermore, using cocaine opens you up not only to potential health problems, but also to the risks of addiction and overdose.

How cocaine works questions

Still have questions about cocaine and how cocaine works? Please leave your questions and comments about cocaine below. We will be happy to try to answer your questions personal and promptly.

Reference Sources: MedlinePlus: Cocaine
NIDA InfoFacts: Cocaine
DEA: Drugs and Chemicals of Concerns: Cocaine
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.


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  1. Can this affect the person you are having intercourse with ?

    Is there a risk of not being able to get your partner pregnant ?

  2. Hello. I used very recreationally about 8 years ago. I take an anti anxiety med called effexor 75mg. Anyways I was at a party 9 days ago and was offered some. After some hesitation I gave in. Did less than 1 gram. I did drink a lot that night. However I was a mess for 2 to 3 days. Couldn’t sleep or eat. Felt very depressed. Now I’m still feeling that way. I dont

  3. My son has been taking Cocaine.
    He is living at home at the age of 25. He dropped our of education. He is very bright he hardly communicates. He works in a cafe. He doesn’t contributee financially saying he hasn’t got any money.
    8 am extremely anxious and don’t know how to help him as I only know because a friend told me and I have read his diary

  4. Hi my daughters boyfriend suddenly broke up with her hasnt come home for a week left his kids with her he is sending her nasry messages when he left the house everything was normal he is drinking and snorting coke is this normal behaviour he has been on it for a long time

    1. Hi Vanessa. People who use cocaine usually act in a similar way as the one you described. They frequently get irritable and anxious. Cocaine effects might even escalate to the point where they make a person paranoid and violent.

  5. Hi, I have been a user for about a year. I stop using but I seem to for get a lot and cant seem to focus, do you know what could be going on with my Brain?

  6. My friend is on cocaine,when he go on his jouney he don’t come home in days, sometimes months..hundry,sleeply,thirsty,and has a attitude..when he comes back WHY? Is that..

  7. I snorted a line I hurt my nose and gave me a really bad headache and it’s their burning my nasal I thought I was going to die what was that?

  8. Dr have me anxiety medication is it safe to take it if i was useing cocaine for about six months everyday but stop use it for about six days now

    1. Hi Missy. Did you speak with your doctor about your cocaine use? Maybe, anxiety developed due to cocaine use.

  9. i want to get rid out of this cocaine .. because i want to be like a normal person .. but m not understanding that what i have to do ? .. i’m using it form 6 months .. and i am feeling taht i am addicted .. but i dont want this more .. i want to leave this , beacuse i’m worried to think about this the all time .. please tell mee solution .. and aso tell me the whole procedure .. please help me ..

    1. Hi, Zesh. If you have questions about addiction treatment and your options, call our free hotline to speak with a trusted treatment provider.

  10. Hello. I tried cocaine for the first time in my life. I did about 10 average rails. I snorted it. I don’t drink or do any other drugs besides my prescription. For my back injury. And in a 24 hr period I consume 40 mg of morphine.

    My question is when I snorted the Coke it didn’t do anything. Never felt or any pleasure. My friend she became so chatty and said she was so horny she knew she was stoned. But me. Nothing.

    So is it possible that cocaine doesn’t or won’t make me high or I have to snort much more then I was doing to achieve a high.

    Because I never received a high I think it’s a waist of money, I’d rather smoke or consume pot

  11. @Asti

    I’m no crack pro by any means… Never smoked it, actually… However, I had a bid with taking a LOT of MDMA&Meth (I thought it was just MDMA/Molly, but later found out that the capsule with mixtures, and at times, all meth… I was NOT happy! My skin was breaking out with little whiteheads that I just HAD to pop, causing lesions all over; I was literally tweakin’… just a bunch of crazy stuff that just doesn’t happen with E/Molly.

    My point is, once I found out and stopped taking those shitty capsules, my mind, body, spirit all began to heal. I unfortunately still have some scars from picking, but I’m kinda thankful for that bc it reminds me why I’ve never even wanted to use meth/heroin/crack…

    I think you’ll be okay, that’s just my honest, humble opinion though – I’m defn no dr!

  12. I enjoy a lil’ snow in my life on occasion, not gonna lie. The key for me was learning how to stay in control of myself at all times. For example, I only obtain a fairly small amount at a time 1-2grams maybe), in addition to making sure that I have AT LEAST 2-3 blunts worth of a good indica or indica dominant strain of Mary Jane.

    Let’s face it, the white girl is EXPENSIVE, and worse – HIGHLY addictive. It’s not something you wanna play around with too often, and when one chooses to, they’ve got to educate themselves and be freakin smart. If you don’t think you can handle keeping hold of control of yourself, then party WITH someone you trust can snap you back to reality or cut you off if need be.

    Seriously, be careful… But by all means, LIVE YOUR LIFE!! After all the ppl I’ve lost already, I learned fast that I’ve only got one life, and damnit – I’m gonna LIFE it at much as I can!!

  13. Hi I’ve only smoked crack 3 times, and I think I have overdosed on either one of the occasions. I have only realised recently after smoking crack that I have small trembling in my hands, and also when I am nervous my hands shake and it has only been noticeable after I have smoked crack. I was told it is tremors & I am wondering if I have damaged my Central Nervous System? And is it permenant or can it heal in time? I hope to God it will go away just bcos of a stupid mistake I’ve made.

  14. Hi, My partner uses cocaine fairly regularly… every weekend at the moment and occassionally during the week. He has stopped for periods of 3 months when in rehab and continued the same behaviour gradually introducing the drug back into his weekly/weekend intake. Please could you confirm whether is is possible as a non-user who has had intercourse with my partner whether I would test positive in a urine test because of his semen that may still be present in me. I look forward to your answer. Thank you

    1. Hi Catherine. It’s highly unlikely that any cocaine will be detected in your urinalysis because you had intercourse with someone who may have used cocaine. I hope this answers your question.

  15. If the brain is flooded with dopamine is that simaler to dopamine from say anti depressants?
    also on personal SWIN said it raised there sex drive and also make getting drunk impossible which causes you to binge big time and ironical not die directly cause of cocaine but the vast amount of alcohol taken

  16. Hello Sarah. Don’t worry, there is no chance cocaine has entered your system and there is no way you are high from it. You can talk to your roommate quietly and calmly. If you don’t want it in your room tell her that. And, you cannot just put weird stuff you find in your mouth-What if it was a poisonous substance?

  17. I think i found my roommates crack.. i wanted to know what it was and for some reason decided to lick it to see if i could figure out what the hell it was. i barely tasted it for a second. my tongue is numb in that spot. Am i ‘high’ or is the cocaine in my system? how do i confront her that i found this?

  18. I would like information of the long term effects of cocain/crack. Ive been clean for over eight years and can still see, what I feel are from my pass usage. Are there videos to help guide me of what I should expect year after year as I stay Clean and what to expect as permanent damage.

  19. Hello Edward. There is no formula by which I can say for sure. Every individual is different and whether coke is out of your system or not depends on many factors. The complete elimination of cocaine depends on how often you used, what amount, your methabolism, age, body mass, level of hydratation, was dependence and/or addiction developed, etc.

  20. Hi Ty. Yes, if you eat or lick cocaine it can enter your body. Cocaine stays in the system for about 2-4 days after ingestion.

  21. Hi Samuel. I’m a little confused by your question. Are you asking if the nasal epithelium and the olfactory bulb works to stimulate memory?

  22. hi, im wondering if the neurons of the nasal epithelium and the olfactory bulb serve as channel to stimulate the central nervous system as/or like smell does stimulates the brain to bring remembrances.

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