Cocaine is an alkaloid found in leaves of a South American shrub. It is a
powerfully reinforcing stimulant. The drug induces a sense of exhilaration in
the user primarily by blocking the dopamine from going into your brain.

Life-long happiness will be genetically pre-programmed. "Peak
experiences" will become a natural part of everyday mental health. Cocaine,
alas, offers merely a tragically delusive short-cut. Before Columbian times, the
coca leaf was reserved for Inca royalty. The natives subsequently used it for
mystical, religious, social, nutritional and medicinal purposes. They exploited
its stimulant properties to ward off fatigue and hunger, enhance endurance, and
to promote a benign sense of well-being. It was initially banned by the Spanish.

But the invaders discovered that without the Incan "gift of the gods",
the natives could barely work the fields - or mine gold. So it came to be
cultivated by the Catholic Church. Coca leaves were distributed three or four
times a day to the workers during brief rest-breaks. Returning Spanish
conquistadores introduced it to Europe. Coca was touted as "an elixir of
life". In 1814, an editorial in Gentleman's Magazine urged researchers to
begin experimentation so that coca could be used as "a substitute for food,
so that people could live a month, now and then, without eating..." The
active ingredient was first isolated in the West around 1860. Freud, who
believed in the virtues of self-experimentation, described cocaine as a magical
drug. He wrote a song of praise in its honour. To Sherlock Holmes, cocaine was
"so transcendentally stimulating and clarifying to the mind that its
secondary action is a matter of small moment". Doctors dispensed cocaine as
an antidote to morphine addiction. Unfortunately, some patients made a habit of
combining them. Cocaine was soon sold over-the-counter. Until 1916, one could
buy it at Harrods. It was widely used in tonics, toothache cures and patent
medicines; and in chocolate cocaine tablets. Prospective buyers were advised -
in the words of pharmaceutical firm Parke-Davis - that cocaine "could make
the coward brave, the silent eloquent, and render the sufferer insensitive to
pain". When combined with alcohol, it yielded a further potently
reinforcing compound, now known to be cocaethylene. Thus cocaine was a popular
ingredient in wines, notably Vin Mariani. Coca wine received endorsement from
prime-ministers, royalty and even the Pope. Coca-cola was introduced in 1886 as
as "a valuable brain-tonic and cure for all nervous afflictions". It
was promoted as a temperance drink "offering the virtues of coca without
the vices of alcohol". The drink was invigorating and popular. Until 1903,
a typical serving contained around 60mg of cocaine. Sold today, it still
contains an extract of coca-leaves. Coca Cola imports eight tons from South

America each year. Nowadays the leaves are used only for flavouring since the
drug has been removed. A coca leaf typically contains contains between 0.1 and

0.9 percent cocaine. If chewed in such form, it rarely presents the user with
any social or medical problems. When the leaves are soaked and mashed, however,
cocaine is extracted as a coca-paste. The paste is 60 to 80 per cent pure. It is
usually exported in the form of the salt, cocaine hydrochloride. This is the
powdered cocaine most common, until recently, in the West. Drug testing for
cocaine aims to detect the presence of its major metabolite, the inactive
benzoylecgonine. Benzoylecgonine can be detected for up to five days in casual
users. In chronic users, urinary detection is possible for as long as three
weeks. Yet old-fashioned cocaine hydrochloride still wasn't good enough.

Sensation-hungry thrill-seekers have long sought the ultimate high from the
ultimate "rush". They haven't been satisfied with the enhanced mood,
sexual interest, self-confidence, conversational prowess and intensified
consciousness to be derived from just snorting cocaine. Normally, only the
intravenous route of administration could be expected to deliver the more potent
and rapid hit they have been seeking. Yet there are very strong cultural
prejudices against injecting recreational drugs. So a smokable form was
developed. Since the hydrochloride salt decomposes at the temperature required
to vaporise it, cocaine is instead converted to the base form. It is
concentrated by heating the drug in a solution of baking powder until the water
evaporates. This type of base cocaine makes a cracking sound when heated; hence
the name crack". Crack is base-cocaine which vaporises at a low
temperature. It can thus be easily inhaled via a heated pipe. Crack-cocaine
delivers an intensity of pleasure completely outside the normal range of human
experience. It offers the most wonderful state of consciousness, and the most
intense sense of being alive, the user will ever enjoy. (S)he will access
heightened states of being whose modes are unknown to chemically-na´ve
contemporaries. Groping for adequate words, crack-takers sometimes speak of the
rush in terms of a "whole-body orgasm". Drug-naive
psychopharmacological virgins - slightly shop-soiled or otherwise - cannot be
confident (unless in thrall to ill-conceived logical behaviorist theories of
meaning) that they have grasped the significance of such an expression. For to
do so, it would be necessary to take the drug via its distinctive
delivery-mechanism oneself. This is at best very imprudent. Ultimately, the
emotional baseline, and affective analogue of Absolute Zero, characteristic of
post-humanity in its hedonically enriched modes of awareness may be greater than
anything we can now grasp. It may be higher than the rapturous transports of the
most euphoric coke-binge in paleo-human history. In the meantime, a drug which
induces a secular parody of Heaven commonly leads the user into a biological
counterpart of Hell. *ALIGN=CENTER When Is It Best To Take Crack Cocaine?
*/ALIGN=CENTERAs a rule of thumb, it is profoundly unwise to take crack-cocaine.

The brain has evolved a truly vicious set of negative feedback mechanisms. Their
functional effect is to stop us from being significantly happy for any length of
time. The initial short-lived euphoria of a reinforcer as powerful as crack will
be followed by a "crash". This involves anxiety, depression,
irritability, extreme fatigue and possibly paranoia. An intense craving for more
cocaine develops. In heavy users, stereotyped compulsive and repetitive patterns
of behaviour may occur. So may tactile hallucinations of insects crawling
underneath the skin ("formication"). Severe depressive conditions may
follow; agitated delirium; and also a syndrome sometimes known as toxic paranoid
psychosis. The social consequences of heavy cocaine use can be equally
unpleasant. Non-recreational users are likely eventually to alienate family and
friends. They tend to become isolated and suspicious. Most of their money and
time is spent thinking about how to get more of the drug. The compulsion may
become utterly obsessive. The illusion of free-will is likely to disappear.

During a "mission", essentially a 3-4 day crack-binge, users may
consume up to 50 rocks a day. Whereas "empathogens" such as ecstasy -
which trigger the release of far more serotonin than dopamine - will typically
promote empathy, trust, compassionate love and sociability, mainly dopaminergic
drugs, if taken on their own and to excess, can easily have the reverse effect.

Simplistically, cocaine tends to be a "selfish" drug. There is perhaps
a single predictable time of life when taking crack-cocaine is sensible,
harmless and both emotionally and intellectually satisfying. Indeed, for such an
occasion it may be thoroughly commended. Certain estimable doctors in England
were once in the habit of administering to terminally-ill cancer patients an
elixir known as the "Brompton cocktail". This was a
judiciously-blended mixture of cocaine, heroin and alcohol. The results were
gratifying not just to the recipient. Relatives of the stricken patient were
pleased, too, at the new-found look of spiritual peace and happiness suffusing
the features of a loved one as (s)he prepared to meet his or her Maker. Drawing
life to a close with a transcendentally orgasmic bang, and not a pathetic and
god-forsaken whimper, can turn dying into the culmination of one's existence
rather than its present messy and protracted anti-climax. There is another good
reason to finish life on a high note. In a predominantly secular society,
adopting a hedonistic death-style is much more responsible from an ethical
utilitarian perspective. For it promises to spare friends and relations the
miseries of vicarious suffering and distress they are liable to undergo at
present as they witness one's decline. A few generations hence, the elimination
of primitive evolutionary holdovers such as the ageing process and aversive
experience will make the social institutionalisation of the hedonistic death
advocated here redundant. In the meanwhile, one is conceived in pleasure and may
reasonably hope to die in it.