Harm Reduction: Cocaine


Whilst Oxford SU does not condone the use of illegal drugs or the misuse of prescription drugs, we recognise that some students may use drugs during their time at University. We hope that the information provided in this booklet will help readers to be better informed about their/ their friends drug use, the risks posed, how these can be mitigated, and where to seek help for drug use.

Drug use always carries risks:

People cannot use drugs without a risk of being harmed. Oxford SU cannot be held responsible for any harm, however it occurs, in connection with information provided here. We also bear no responsibility for the content of external sites accessed through links provided. Scienti c understanding is always developing, so information here, as anywhere else, is not guaranteed to be valid and new evidence may overturn it. Information provided in this booklet does not explain every possible risk, nor does it provide practical, personalised guidance for drug taking.


If you are worried about your or your friends drug use, you can seek confidential support through the following services:

Student Advice is the only independent advice and information service exclusively available to University of Oxford students.

Advisors are trained to deal with a wide range of issues such as academic appeals, money management, accommodation problems, disciplinary matters, harassment and many other aspects of student wellbeing and welfare.

Student Advice can also signpost students to organisations who o er specialist support, including local substance abuse and addiction services.

How to speak to an Advisor

Email advice@oxfordsu.ox.ac.uk

Drop In
2-4pm Wednesdays (term time only)

Appointments (Telephone or face to face)

Email us or request an appointment via our website oxfordsu.org/advice

Turning Point in Oxfordshire o ers information and advice for alcohol and drug issues. They provide a wide range
of treatment options including harm reduction advice, structured group work programme, activities and one-to-one key working sessions to promote recovery. The Wellbeing Cloud is Turning Point’s dedicated website promoting wellbeing and recovery. It includes some helpful online tools. Take a look and find out more:

www.wellbeing.turning-point.co.uk/ oxfordshire

01865 261 690

Ground Floor, Rectory Centre,
27-29 Rectory Road

What is Cocaine?

Cocaine is a stimulant drug which disables mechanisms that mop up and recycle the noradrenalin, serotonin and dopamine released in the brain. This leads to a temporary increase in the amounts of these neurotransmitter chemicals in the brain.




Numbness of the throat/ back of the tongue/mouth depending on method of ingestion. (This is because Cocaine is a local aesthetic)

Feelings of self-confidence and energy – often resulting in a desire to talk, dance, have sex, or otherwise do something with the energy they have.

Low appetite

Alcohol and cigarette cravings > Anxiety


Increased heart rate


Impulsive, arrogant and aggressive behaviour > Intense euphoria






Loss of appetite



Addiction: Cocaine is a powerful central nervous system stimulant. It causes its e ects by disabling mechanisms that mop up and recycle the noradrenalin, serotonin and dopamine released in the brain. This leads to a temporary increase in the amounts of these chemicals, which stimulates many circuits in the brain. Dopamine is involved in ‘reward’ pathways in the brain, which is thought to be why cocaine can be highly addictive.

Bingeing: Bingeing on cocaine can result in heart attacks, strokes, organ failure, and seizures through overheating. Sometimes, a long binge can cause psychosis, especially if more is taken instead of sleeping.


Harm reduction:

things to consider


The riskiness of cocaine use varies hugely. It is important to be cautious about how much you consume, remembering that because purity is so variable, a line from one batch could be the equivalent of five lines from another batch. It is always possible to take more, but never possible to un- take what you have already taken! Snorting cocaine is thought to be less frequently harmful than injecting it or smoking crack. Consider the risks in method of ingestion:

Damage to lips, mouth and lung tissue (smoking cocaine)

Destruction of membranes, cartilage and even bone inside of the nose and head (snorting cocaine)

Risk of infected wounds, heart damage and blood-borne diseases like hepatitis and HIV (injection of cocaine)


Anyone can get addicted. Having a little, once in a while, with other people around is obviously less risky than taking it in uncontrolled amounts, regularly, alone. However, the addictive qualities of this drug make it quite easy for moderate, social use to slide into chaotic, constant use. Being very vigilant over your use is vital. If you are taking more and more cocaine, more and more regularly, you may be on a slippery slope, as tolerance builds up encouraging higher doses, and cravings intensify. If you are struggling to control your use, or think you are addicted, seek professional help. The earlier you get help, the better the chance of avoiding lasting harm to your life.


Cocaine addiction often spreads through social and familial networks. Many people who end up struggling with the harms of the drug first try cocaine when it is shared by well-intentioned friends and family. If you o er cocaine to others, there is a small but significant risk that the recipient will become addicted as a direct or indirect result.

European consumption of cocaine fuels the demand that leads to thousands of deaths in South and Central American conflicts between the gangs involved in the drug tra icking, and between them, armies and police forces.


Harm reduction:

combinations to avoid

Mixing drugs makes the effects on your body and mind even harder to predict and manage. Many people who die after taking cocaine had also taken other drugs at the same time.

Alcohol: combining alcohol and cocaine is especially dangerous. The two drugs combine in a way which seems to cause the e ects of cocaine to last much longer, putting stress on the body. Alcohol is a sedative and so may mask the e ects of cocaine, causing a person to take more cocaine as they cannot feel the effects.

Other Stimulants: increases the chance of overloading your body, causing overdoses and even death through heart attacks, getting overheated, seizures, or the toxic effects of a flood of too much serotonin in the brain.


Medical conditions:


Underlying mental health issues (e.g. psychosis, anxiety or depression) cocaine, or the comedown, may exacerbate symptoms. Taking cocaine can be especially dangerous when taken with MAOI antidepressants and similar medications.



You are at a greater risk of heart attack/stroke if you use cocaine with a pre-existing heart conditions.


Cocaine reduces seizure threshold, which means that it takes less to cause a fit when a person is on cocaine. In combination with Tramadol and other drugs which also reduce seizure threshold, there could be a high risk of seizures.

What to do in an emergency

Symptoms and signs – not all may be present?

drowsiness, loss of coordination and collapse

confusion or hallucinations

altered breathing pattern or breathing difficulty

mood changes including excitability, aggression or depression

pale, cold and clammy skin

nausea or vomiting


abdominal pain

evidence of poisons, containers, smells, etc

How you can help


Check the level of consciousness. If the patient is not fully conscious and alert, turn them onto their side and ensure they are not left alone.


Talk to the patient in a quiet and reassuring manner.

Sometimes patients may become agitated. Enlist friends or family to calm and reassure the patient. Consider calling the police if the safety of the patient or others becomes threatened.


Ask what the patient has taken, how much was taken, when it was taken, and whether it was swallowed, inhaled or injected.

Look for evidence that might assist the hospital sta with treatment and keep any container, syringe or needle and any vomit to aid analysis and identification.

Some drugs create serious overheating of the body, and if this is noticed, remove unnecessary clothing to allow air to reach the skin surface to assist with cooling.