Cocaine facts

Marie Law Alphabiolabs

By Marie Law, Head of Toxicology at AlphaBiolabs
Last reviewed: 02/02/2023

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.
Table of contents
  • What is cocaine?
  • What are the street names for cocaine?
  • What does cocaine look like?
  • How is cocaine used?
  • How do people behave when they take cocaine?
  • What are the side effects of cocaine?
  • What happens when you use cocaine with other drugs?
  • Which legislation covers cocaine use?
  • Can cocaine be used in medicine?
  • How long does it take for cocaine to show up in a drug test?
  • Where can I buy a drug test?

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
  • Candy
  • Flake
  • Snow
  • Stardust
  • White Lady
  • Nose Candy
  • Percy
  • Pebbles

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?

Misuse of Drugs Act 1971

Under UK law, cocaine is classified as a Class A drug.

Controlled drugs refer to any substances that are tightly controlled by the government, because they pose a risk of addiction or misuse.

It is an offence for a person to have controlled drugs in their possession, unless in exceptional circumstances, such as when they have been prescribed by a doctor. This also covers activities relating to the production, supply or preparation of controlled drugs.

Possession Up to 7 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both
Supply Up to life in prison, an unlimited fine or both

Drug Driving Road Traffic Act 2015

Drug driving Up to 6 months in prison, an unlimited fine or both
Criminal record
Driving licence endorsement for 11 years
One-year driving ban
Causing death by dangerous driving Up to 14 years in prison

Can cocaine be used in medicine?

Although rarely used in UK 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?

AlphaBiolabs offers two types of home drug tests, 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.

  • Home Urine Drug Test Kit (£18) – this easy-to-use home drug testing kit can detect drugs and their metabolites in a urine sample. The self-contained screening kit includes built-in test strips, allowing you to read the results in just 5 minutes
  • Drug and Alcohol Nail Test (from £99) – this test can detect drug use for a period of up to 12 months prior to samples being collected, with only a sample of fingernail clippings or toenail clippings required. Simply follow the instructions included in your test kit to collect your nail clipping samples and return them to our accredited laboratory for testing

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 0333 600 1300 or email

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Marie Law

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.