Pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of cocaine

Edward J. Cone

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174 Scopus citations


A dramatic shift has occurred over the last decade in the route of cocaine administration by drug abusers in the United States. The favored route has changed from intranasal and intravenous use to administration of cocaine (“crack”�) by the smoking route. The reasons for this shift are not well understood but may include social and environmental factors such as the ease and convenience of the smoking route, avoidance of needle-transmitted disease, and possible pharmacological differences produced by the different routes of administration. This study examined the influences exerted by changes in the route of administration on pharmacokinetic parameters and drug-induced behavioral and physiological effects of cocaine. Six male subjects who provided informed consent and had a recent history of cocaine use by the intravenous and smoked routes participated in a blind, double-dummy, crossover study conducted on a clinical research ward. On different occasions, subjects received single doses of cocaine by the intravenous (25 mg, cocaine HCl), intranasal (32 mg, cocaine HCl), and smoked (42 mg, cocaine base) routes. Physiological and behavioral measures were collected prior to and periodically after drug administration. Concurrent blood samples were collected and analyzed for cocaine and metabolites by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. Plasma concentrations of cocaine and benzoylecgonine were fitted to pharmacokinetic models by nonlinear regression analysis. Behavioral measures of “good”� drug effects and “liking”� were higher by the smoked route than the intravenous route, but physiological changes were approximately equal at equivalent plasma concentrations of cocaine. Intranasal cocaine administration was characterized by lower cocaine plasma concentrations and a slower onset of pharmacological effects that were generally of lesser magnitude than those observed by other routes of administration. Overall, this study demonstrated that cocaine administration by the smoked route produced substantially higher behavioral responses than an equivalent dose of cocaine administered by the intravenous route. This finding suggests that smoked cocaine (crack) has a higher abuse liability and greater dependence-producing properties than equivalent doses of cocaine administered by the intravenous or intranasal route.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)459-478
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of analytical toxicology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Oct 1995

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Toxicology
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis
  • Chemical Health and Safety


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