What Makes Cocaine a Stimulant?
Cocaine hydrochloride, which is generally what people are discussing when they talk about cocaine, is a drug derived from the coca plant, a South American plant that has similar effects to cocaine but is generally milder.
Cocaine (and coca) is a stimulant because it speeds up messages traveling between the brain and the body. Put another way, it stimulates activity in the brain.
Differences Between Stimulants & Depressants
To fully address one of the central questions of this article, whether cocaine is a stimulant or depressant, the following is a brief explanation of some key differences between these types of drugs:
Stimulants speed up the body’s systems. Common stimulants include cocaine and amphetamines.
Stimulants are actually very likely the most common type of drugs people use for the sole reason that caffeine, found in many common foods and beverages including coffees and teas, qualifies as a stimulant.
This also helps to illustrate that there is a wide spectrum in terms of the potency of stimulants and the dangers they pose to people. Caffeine can be dangerous in very high doses, but it is unlikely to be dangerous when only absorbed periodically through normal caffeinated beverages.
Some stimulants, such as prescription amphetamines like Adderall, have legitimate medical uses but should only be used when prescribed by a doctor (and then only used as prescribed). Very powerful stimulants, like cocaine, should be avoided for all but very niche medical uses. Cocaine is generally only accepted as medically viable for use in specific kinds of surgeries.
Depressants essentially have the opposite effect of stimulants, slowing down the speed at which messages travel in the body and thereby slowing down its systems, causing effects such as a reduced heart rate and slowed breathing. Common depressants include alcohol, benzodiazepines, and opioids.
Some depressants do have legitimate medical uses, with benzodiazepines helping to calm people with certain health conditions and sometimes used to combat insomnia or certain seizure disorders. However, depressants should usually only be used if prescribed by a doctor, as many are addictive. They have the potential to cause serious issues, such as life-threatening respiratory depression.
Alcohol’s dangers are often underestimated because it is widely available to adults, but it is actually a fairly powerful and potentially addictive depressant that regularly has caused people serious harm when not used with extreme care.
- Cocaine. Alcohol and Drug Foundation.
- Depressants. (April 2020). Drug Enforcement Administration.
- Stimulants. (April 2020). Drug Enforcement Administration.