Is cocaine a narcotic?

In the U.S., cocaine is legally a narcotic. Medically, it is not. More on the classification of cocaine under the Controlled Substances Act here.

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Yes. Legally, cocaine is a narcotic in the U.S.

But is is medically a narcotic? We explore the differences here. Then, we invite your questions and comments in the section at the end. Note that we try to respond to all legitimate queries with a personal and prompt reply.

Do you think you have a problem with abuse or addiction to a narcotic drug? Learn more about narcotic addiction, available treatment options, and what does the rehab process look like in this comprehensive outline of Narcotic Addiction Treatment Programs and Help.

What is a narcotic? (medical)

Cocaine is not considered a medical narcotic. Technically, a medical narcotic is one that causes pain relief by changing the way the brain perceives pain. Also called opioid pain relievers, narcotics are usually used only for pain that is severe and is not helped by other types of painkillers. Narcotics work by binding to receptors in the brain, which blocks the feeling of pain. When used carefully and under a doctor’s direct care, they can be effective at reducing pain. In most cases, you should not use a narcotic medicine for more than 3 to 4 months.

What is a narcotic? (legal)

Under legal terms, narcotics are:

1) technically, drugs which dull the senses.

2) a popular generic term for drugs which cannot be legally possessed, sold, or transported except for medicinal uses for which a physician or dentist’s prescription is required.

Cocaine is included among these “controlled substances”. In fact, cocaine is a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning it has a high potential for abuse and limited medical usage. Schedule II drugs are defined as drugs with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence. Cocaine abuse typically leads to addiction. These drugs are considered dangerous. Furthermore, dealing in any narcotic is a felony (subject to a prison term) under both state and federal laws.

Medical uses for cocaine

The history of cocaine is charted with specific reference to its usefulness as a medicine and local anaesthetic. It is common knowledge that coca leaves were used as a panacea and local anaesthetic throughout the history of the Incan Empire of Peru. In Europe, however, its medical usefulness was not fully recognized until Carl Koller used it to anaesthetize the cornea of the eye. Over the next 20 years, cocaine became a popular medicine and tonic in Europe and America, where it was credited with curing a wide variety of diseases and illnesses. However, cocaine’s addictive quality has provoked a slow down in it medical use.

Today, cocaine is still used by some physicians to stop nosebleeds, and for pain control before minor nose surgery. Cocaine hydrochloride solution (4% and 10%) is used primarily as a topical local anaesthetic for the upper respiratory tract. Dentists or oral surgeons can also use cocaine for anesthesia before procedures. Cocaine is used by health care professionals to temporarily numb the lining of the mouth, nose, and throat (mucous membranes) before certain medical procedures (e.g., biopsy, stitches, wound cleaning). It is an anaesthetic that works quickly to numb the area about 1-2 minutes after application.

Cocaine also causes blood vessels to narrow, an effect that can decrease bleeding and swelling from the procedure. However, better products have been developed for these purposes, and cocaine is rarely used medically in the U.S.

Cocaine as a narcotic: Why is cocaine a Schedule II drug?

Schedule II drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as:

  1. Having a high potential for abuse;
  2. Having currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, or currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions;
  3. Abuse of the drug or other substances may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.

Is cocaine addictive?

Yes, cocaine is highly addictive.

There are several properties of cocaine that contribute to its addiction potential: first, cocaine has many effective methods of delivery. Second, the more rapid the onset of cocaine’s effect, the higher the addictive potential (most rapid onset is smoking and injecting into a vein). Third, cocaine has a short half-life; it is broken-down by the body quickly. Considering all of these properties, drugs with a fast rapid onset and fast metabolism will have a high addictive and abuse potential.

Should cocaine classification change?


There is an argument that cocaine has a long tradition of medical use that modern science has unfairly ignored. Some have made the case that the powerful stimulant is useful for treating mental health disorders. This is the reason why some people want cocaine to legalize medicinal cocaine.


When cocaine use becomes uncontrolled, an individual’s links to the social and economic world can disintegrate. Cocaine and crack users suffer from a variety of health problems. A recent study found drug users are about six times more likely to suffer a drug-related stroke that may result in death or lifetime disability. Cocaine was identified as the drug used most often among these stroke victims. In addition to drug problems, cocaine abusers have also been found to have high rates of mental disorders, including addiction (How can you help a cocaine addict?). This is why there is no discussions about changing cocaine classification.

Cocaine narcotic questions

Do you still have questions about cocaine’s role in medicine or its legal classification as a narcotic? Please share your opinion or leave us any question you have about cocaine here. We will try to respond to you personally and promptly.

Reference Sources: DEA Drug Data Sheets: Cocaine
DEA: Drug Info
MedlinePlus: Pain medications – narcotics
ACMT: Cocaine
MedicineNet:Cocaine hydrochloride – topical
Wikipedia: Controlled Substances Act
USSC: Report on Cocaine and Federal Sentencing Policy
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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