Is Cocaine a Narcotic?

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As the epidemic of addiction continues to be on the forefront of the nation’s news cycles and overdose numbers continue to remain at alarming rates, terms such as “narcotic” are becoming more common than ever. One question that this article will begin to cover: “Is cocaine a narcotic?” After reading, the hope is that you will be able to understand further what classifies a substance as a narcotic and why or why not does cocaine fit into this category.

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What are Narcotic Drugs?

Though it has become a catch-all term for all illicit substances, a narcotic (3), simply put, is an opioid. An opioid is a substance designed to dull or slow the senses that originates from (3) the poppy plant, a poppy plant derivative, or a synthetic substance designed to mimic the effects of a poppy derivative. The term narcotic originates from the Greek term (3) meaning “stupor.” These substances can be broken down into two major categories: those that serve a medical purpose and those that do not.

Narcotic Analgesics

Narcotic Analgesics are Opioids that can be used for medical purposes (4). These include all prescription opioids such as Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, and Dilaudid. Though it has recently come to the forefront as the nation’s leading cause (5) of overdose deaths, Fentynal is considered a Narcotic Analgesic due to its use as an anesthetic. These substances are legal with a prescription from a medical professional and are therefore considered a controlled substance.

Non-Narcotic Analgesics

Non-narcotic Analgesics are those who possess pain “killing” or relieving properties without the opioid component. Some examples of these would be classic Aspirins, Ibuprofen, or any other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). These substances are legal and are considered far less addictive than their opioid counterparts.

How is Cocaine Classified?

Cocaine is classified as a stimulant (6). Stimulants are substances that speed up or stimulate (7) the body’s systems. They can also be known as “uppers” for this reason. They produce a strong sense of euphoria due to the release of high levels of chemicals in the brain such as dopamine. It is through the production of these chemicals that stimulants and specifically cocaine become highly addictive.

Is Cocaine an Opium Derivative?

Cocaine is not an Opium derivative and therefore is not classified as a narcotic. Cocaine is derived from the coca plant. The plant is manufactured until a white powdery substance is the result. Cocaine is predominantly produced in South America whereas the majority of opium derived drugs have their origin in the Middle East.

Medical Narcotics

As previously mentioned, some narcotics serve a medical purpose. Though they can be used for medical purposes and prescribed by a physician, they should still be considered highly addictive possessing many of the same chemical qualities as their illegal counterpart. Examples of narcotics that serve no medical purpose include heroin and opium. Though cocaine itself is not a narcotic, it is acknowledged to have medical uses (6) as a Cocaine hydrochloride solution used as a topical anesthetic for the upper respiratory region as well as to stop bleeding in various mucus membranes in the body.

Legal Cocaine Statutory Classification

Controlled substance classification (7) in the United States is broken down into 5 categories or “Schedules”. These classifications are based on the addictive nature of a substance, its likelihood of abuse, and its potential for medical uses. The lower the Schedule, the higher the potential for dependence and lack of medical uses. Though it is rarely used in the United States for medical purposes, due to the advancement of better technology, cocaine is recognized as having medical benefits and is therefore classified as a Schedule II (7) drug under the Controlled Substances Act.

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Cocaine, Narcotics, & Schedule II Drugs

Cocaine being classified as a Schedule II (7) drug means that it has both the high potential for severe psychological and physiological dependence (8) while at the same time being recognized as having a potential medical benefit. This places cocaine in the same category as various other Narcotic Analgesics such as hydromorphone (Dilaudid), meperidine (Demerol), oxycodone (OxyContin), fentanyl, or Adderall. Its classification with these various other narcotics could be the cause for much of the confusion surrounding cocaine being labeled as a narcotic, but as mentioned earlier, narcotic classification comes as a result of the origin of the substance rather than its drug classification and legal status.

Penalties for Possession

Though it is technically not a narcotic, many of the legal ramifications for cocaine treat it as one and may even refer to it as one in legal proceedings. Penalties for possessing cocaine (9) vary greatly depending upon circumstances, the general guidelines for the federal penalties of simple possession are fairly similar. The penalty for the first offense of simple possession with no other charges or history of drug offenses is a sentence of no more than one year in jail, a fine of no less than $1,000, or both. Second offenses, previous charges, or other circumstances can increase the amount of both the fine as well as the jail time. As with any legal proceeding, it is wise to consult a professional attorney for all legal advice.

In conclusion, cocaine, though classified as a Schedule II drug with many other narcotics, is not itself a narcotic. This is due to it not being derived from an opium plant or designed to mimic the effects of a substance that is derived from an opium plant. It is considered to have some medical benefit, but is rarely used for that purpose and should be considered highly addictive.

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Many begin using cocaine without knowing the highly addictive nature of this substance. Casual use can lead to the need for substance use treatment quickly. If you or a loved one find yourself in this situation, there is hope. Guardian Recovery (10) is dedicated to ensuring the best quality of treatment possible for those who desire to overcome their substance use issues. Their admissions professionals are trained to provide you with all of the information you may need to take the steps towards a life of freedom and recovery, even providing an insurance benefit check at no cost or obligation to you. Freedom may be closer than you think. Reach out to Guardian Recovery today.


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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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