Sometimes the line between life-saving and life-threatening drugs is a little blurry. One drug may improve quality of life while another spawns misery. Opium is a miracle drug for killing pain, but also kills people. Then there are marijuana and cocaine. Cannabis and coca plants have been cultivated for millennia for medical, recreational and even religious purposes. Both have had their proponents, but more importantly both have victims.
Coca leaves contain a mild stimulant and have been chewed for ages by Indians of the Andes Mountains. The process to extract cocaine didn’t emerge until the late 19th-century, and the drug was used for medicinal purposes until its addictive properties became understood early in the 20th century. Similarly, marijuana has a long history that predates its emergence as a modern recreational drug. It is touted by some as medically legitimate but has been a target of law enforcement since the 1930s.
Marijuana’s active chemical agent, THC, is a mild hallucinogen that produces a pleasurable high. Although viewed by some as a “soft” drug, marijuana causes psychological dependence, affects cognitive processes, impairs motor skills, dulls initiative and can trigger anxiety and paranoia.
“Using marijuana is a hard habit to break, especially for young people,” said Adolescent Program Coordinator Melissa Body of the Knox County Alcohol and Drug Freedom Center. “They have heard of its harmful effects, but they don’t want to believe it, and that’s a hard mindset to break.”
Risks of marijuana use pale in comparison to highly addictive cocaine, which is generally sniffed in powder form or smoked after being processed into rocks known as crack. Cocaine is a powerful nervous system stimulant that provides a brief, euphoric high characterized by increased energy and alertness. As dependency develops, users increase their consumption and tend to go on sleepless binges. Cocaine elevates blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature, and can cause auditory hallucinations, tremors, convulsions, anxiety and psychosis.
Cocaine overdoses are common, especially when the drug is combined with alcohol, medications or other illegal substances. Overdose fatalities usually result from sudden cardiac events or their complications. Cocaine is sometimes used as a topical anesthetic, but otherwise has no legal applications. Reduced purity and increased prices over the past several years have led some habitual users to abandon cocaine as their drug of choice, but it is still widely available.