Everything You Need to Know about Cocaine and Heroin




In 2014, there were an estimated 246 million (range 162 -324 million) people in the world that have used an illegal drug in the past 12 months. The drugs used include cannabis, opiates (such as heroin), cocaine and amphetamine-type stimulants. Globally, the most common illegal drug used is cannabis. In Nigeria, drug use problems are found throughout the country but there are no official estimates of the number of drug users in the country. However, the numbers are considered large enough to be of concern.

The most common illegal drug used in Nigeria is cannabis. Other illegal drugs used include cocaine, heroin, amphetamine-type stimulants, inhalants and solvents such as glue. There are a lot of misunderstandings about the type of drugs people use and their side effects. This article outlines brief and accurate information of some major drugs used in Nigeria.

Note: We wrote about Cannabis in the first instalment of this series. Read about cannabis here.



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Common names for cocaine in Nigeria: Coke, Powder, Thailand White, Brown/Black, Off White, Rock, Snow, Blow, Chunk, Stone and Charlie.

Cocaine is a drug made from the leaves of the coca plant which is found in South America. This plant is processed in different ways to make different types of cocaine. Cocaine is a stimulant drug that speeds up the brain and nervous system. The effects of taking cocaine can last from a few minutes to a few hours but mostly less than one hour. Cocaine is most commonly snorted into the nose, but can be injected, rubbed into the gums, or added to drinks or food. In Nigeria, it is sometimes smoked with cannabis. Some people who use cocaine are dependent.

Short-term effects:

  • Happiness and confidence
  • Talking more
  • Feeling energetic and alert
  • Feeling physically strong and mentally sharp
  • Reduced appetite
  • Dry mouth
  • Enlarged (dilated) pupils
  • Faster heartbeat and breathing
  • Higher body temperature
  • Increased sex drive
  • Unpredictable, violent or aggressive behaviour
  • Delusions (over-inflated sense of worth, power, knowledge, or identity)

Long-term effects:

  • Insomnia (cannot sleep) and exhaustion
  • Nasal (nose), sinus problems, nose bleeds
  • Anxiety, paranoia, psychosis, depression
  • Eating disorders and weight loss
  • Sexual dysfunction (not performing usually)
  • Heart damage
  • Lung problems
  • Kidney failure
  • Increased risk of strokes (loss of body function on one side) and seizures (body convulsions or loss of consciousness)
  • Anxiety: worry, nervous, tense
  • Paranoia: feeling extremely suspicious of others
  • Psychosis: seeing or hearing things that do not exist or are distorted

Those that are dependent on cocaine may find it very hard to stop using or cut down because of withdrawal symptoms which include some of the following: craving cocaine badly, feeling angry or upset, feeling sick, vomiting, shaking and tiredness. Withdrawal symptoms can worsen in the first few days and sometimes take up to 10 weeks to fully recover.




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Common names for heroin in Nigeria: Gabji, Market, Brown, Brown Sugar, Horse, Skunk, Smack

Heroin is a drug that comes from the opium poppy. It is a depressant drug and slows down the messages travelling between the brain and body. Heroin is usually injected into a vein but can be smoked and added to cigarettes with cannabis or sometimes, it can be snorted. The effects are usually felt straight away and last 3-5hours. Not all people who try heroin become dependent. Dependence happens gradually with ongoing use.

Short terms effects:

  • High level of pleasure and pain relief
  • Relaxation, drowsiness and clumsiness
  • Confusion
  • Slurred and slow speech
  • Dry mouth
  • Tiny pupils (circular opening in the centre of the iris of the eye)
  • Breathing becomes shallow
  • Reduced appetite and vomiting
  • Decreased sex drive

Long-term effects:

  • Sadness
  • Irregular periods and difficulty having children (females)
  • No sex drive (males)
  • Constipation
  • Damaged heart, lungs, liver and brain
  • Vein damage and skin, heart and lung infections from injecting (i.e., HIV and Hepatitis C)
  • Needing to use more to get the same effect (developed tolerance)
  • Dependency

Withdrawal symptoms usually start within 6 to 24 hours after the last heroin dose and can last for about a week (commonly days 1 to 3 will be the worst). Some withdrawal symptoms can include: cravings for heroin, restlessness and irritability, depression, diarrhoea, yawning and restless sleep, stomach and leg cramps, vomiting and no appetite, and a runny nose. The effects of taking heroin with other drugs can be unpredictable and dangerous and could cause a fatal (deadly) drug overdose.


(This was originally published as a response to drugs and related organised crime in Nigeria, developed in collaboration with UNODC and Nigerian stakeholders and funded by the European Union).

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