Alcohol and cocaine is a combination as old as cocaine – so, in the grand scheme of things, not all that old. But for a certain section of Friday night fundamentalists, calling in a bag after a couple of pints has become tradition, beer and gear an alliance now as familiar as vodka and Coke, snakebite and sick or drinking ten ciders during a football derby and punching a police horse in the face.
This, for obvious reasons, is not a good thing. For a start, when you mix alcohol and cocaine, a new substance – cocaethylene – is formed in the blood, which may be more cardio-toxic than cocaine alone. And with cocaine purity rising – along with cocaine-related deaths – you're already in a fairly dodgy position to start out with. Plus, getting into the habit of buying a gram every time you're at the pub is as harsh on your wallet as it is on your heart – and snorting coke makes you stay up longer, which inevitably means more booze.
For many, though, it's habit: you drink to the point that you need help straightening out, so call it in to help you do just that. For a fifth of those callers, the coke arrives quicker than a pizza. With temptation so easily satiated, you can see why people often choose to ignore the overdraft text alert and vastly increased risk of cardiac arrest.
But take alcohol out of the equation: would you ever call it in otherwise? For a percentage of dependent cocaine users, the answer is obviously yes. But for the majority of the estimated 875,000 people who used the drug in the UK last year: no, probably not, because doing gak when you're otherwise sober must be horrible. Who would want to take the money they could spend on a Michelin-starred main course and instead actively chase an anxiety attack?
Me, for science.
BUYING THE COKE
It's a Saturday night and I get a gram from my regular guy – let's call him None of Your Fucking Business – which costs £90 and is hand-delivered to my door within an hour of texting him. But before I can sit down to become the Pied Piper of Packet, I want to check my cocaine for two things: one, to see how strong it is; two: to see what else it might be mixed with.
HOW PURE IS MY COKE?
I'm not a chemist – I'm not even a writer – so I got these testing kits from the kind people at EZ Test, who asked me to point out that they're not "lab level" tests, but that considering most of us don't have immediate access to a professional laboratory, they are, in their view, "the next best thing" (read about the pros and cons of these kinds of tests here, and a guide on how to use them here).
So the deal is: you put some testing liquid into a tube of some other testing liquid, then chuck 20mg of the good stuff in there, shake it all about and check the science juice to see what colour it turns.
And what do you know, the science juice turns a robust-looking dark brown/black, which – according to the colour grading – basically means that this coke is high grade. Good: for my sense of customer satisfaction. Bad: for my insides if I do too much.
WHAT ELSE IS IN MY COKE?
You hear a lot of horror stories about what cocaine is cut with, but the fact that we collectively shrug at the idea of things like levamisole (deworming agent), benzocaine (local anaesthetic) and fentanyl (insanely strong opioid that can easily kill you) being mixed in with our drugs demonstrates that these horror stories do precisely nothing to stop us from taking those drugs.
Anyway, I thought I should see what else was going on in this gram so that – with the added benefit of no alcohol clouding my perception – I could more easily identify all the stuff happening inside my face after taking it. So I tipped a bit of powder into a test tube full of another type of science juice – this time, one that tests for adulterants – and jiggled it around, and what do you know: it turned the colour of benzocaine.
After consulting the internet, I learned that benzocaine is essentially a numbing agent – added to replicate the numbing effect of actual cocaine – and while not great, isn't going to kill me.
ACTUALLY DOING SOME COKE: LINE ONE
I've put a soothing playlist on ("Panpipe Moods Vol. 1") and cut myself a line. There's a faint whiff of petrol – unsurprising, given coca leaves are doused with gasoline during the manufacturing process – and the gram is more crumbly than crystalline.
That first line: as you'll know if you've ever snorted coke, doing so stings your nose a bit on first impact, before travelling into the back of your head and down the back of your throat like a searing white light.
Hmm, yes, quite more-ish, that feeling. Even though a low ember of anxiety is fluttering in my belly, the overwhelming feeling in my mind is that I'd quite like another line, for some reason; for some indecipherable reason.
By the second line, your nose has lost sensitivity, so you can't really feel the minor sting of insufflation anymore, but your body still knows what's going on and still gives you that little pump. The problem here is that, without alcohol to smooth down all the internal bobbles, the second line is where you start feeling a bit like you've had one too many coffees, a slowly surging tinnitus rising from your belly.
Wow, I really love this panpipe playlist, and I really want to tell lots of people about how great my panpipe moods playlist is. It's such a fucking great playlist.
The anxiety has fully wafted over my body and there is nothing to blunt its thrashing static, so it just sits inside my chest and buzzes me out in actually quite a paralysing way. I want to talk about everything, but my mind is racing too fast to even conceptualise sentences and it all just sits in there, running around and around in my brain.
Have you ever been so fucked you can't talk? Doing coke sober is a way to fast-track that feeling, if that's what you're into. By that, I mean: if you enjoy feeling like you're in a K-hole, but with a more stifling, urgent and generally horrendous atmosphere.
It's like the edges of my consciousness are an electric fence. I feel trapped inside my own mind and incredibly fidgety and uncomfortable, while also not really being able to do anything but more coke.
Do not do this. And if you are going to do coke and drink at the same time – which, again, is not without its risks – don't overdo it (and read The Loop's harm reduction guide first).