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Cocaine Information and Risk Reduction

About cocaine

Cocaine is a stimulant type drug that can make people feel more alert, energetic and confident. It can cause significant health risks and long terms harms such as dependency.

Each person can react differenty to a substance and have a different experience based on personal factors, if they use with other substances and the setting they use in.

The effects of cocaine 

The effects of cocaine start quickly but are short lived meaning they wear off quickly which can lead a person to re-dose. Cocaine causes the release of the chemical dopamine in brain circuits which results in a euphoric feeling or ‘high’. The high is sometimes followed by what is known as a ‘crash’ or ‘comedown’ where theperson can feel very low.

Learn more about the effects here

Cocaine and alcohol

When cocaine and alcohol are used together they combine in the body to produce cocaethylene which increases the risk of damaging organs such as the liver and heart.
Cocaethylene is more toxic than cocaine and alcohol alone and produces a greater increase in heart rates and blood pressure


Cocaine has potential to cause addiction. This is due to the long term changes that repeated use of cocaine can cause to the brain’s reward system. The reward circuit eventually adapts to excess dopamine brought on by the drug. Therefore, people take more frequent doses to achieve the same high but also to prevent the onset of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms such as depression, fatigue, increased appetite and insomnia. 

Cocaine Contents

Cocaine is often diluted (‘cut’) with other substances and bulking agents such as lignocaine or levamisole.Cocaine purity in Europe is increasing which can mean increased risks for the person using. Be mindful that you can never be fully sure of the contents, purity or how you will react to a product. 

Cocaine Harm Reduction 

It is always safest not to use at all and there are always risks. If you do, 

  1. Think about your health: Avoid using if you are feeling low, experience mental health problems, high blood pressure,a heart condition or become pregnant.
  2. Think about the contents: There is a risk of substances or adulterants appearing in drugs. Remember, drugs from the same batch can sometimes vary in strength and purity
  3. Avoid using alone, use with trusted friends and in a safe environment. 
  4. Grind cocaine before snorting. This will remove any lumps or crystals. Ensure the powder is as fine as possible before snorting.
  5. Don’t use bank notes and avoid snorting off unclean surfaces. Use clean paraphernalia such as a metal tooter, straw or unused card. Don’t share your tooter. as this increases the risk of spreading bloodborne viruses such as hepatitis C and HIV.
  6. Start with a small test dose and leave at least two hours in between use Small doses can still be dangerous depending on the contents and how you react to the drug.
  7. Use one drug at a time and don’t mix substances. This includes using cocaine with alcohol and prescription medication. Mixing substances can be unpredictable and increases the risks.
  8. Be aware of your use. Take breaks in between use to give yourself some time to recover. Consider talking to a
    professional if you are finding it difficult to stop using cocaine.
  9. Avoid using if you are or became pregnant: Talk to your GP or maternity care team if you need support with cocaine use.
  10. A comedown is a common experience: Talk to a professional about how you are feeling. If you or someone you know is at risk of
    suicide, you should contact a local doctor, the Accident and Emergency Department of your nearest hospital or call 112
  11. Don't be afraid to get medical help if you or a friend become unwell or feel suicidal after cocaine use. Be be honest with emergency services about what you think was taken. 

Concerned about your cocaine use?

Search for a local support service through the National Directory of Drug and Alcohol Services or call The HSE Drugs & Alcohol Helpline on 1800 459 459 Monday – Friday 9:30 – 5:30 or email

This content was taken from the 'Reduce The Harms' cocaine campaign, learn more here. 

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The HSE and Union of Students in Ireland (USI) ask students to think about drug safety measures when using club drugs
Harm reduction messages from the #SaferStudentNights campaign.
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