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Addiction: A chronic, relapsing disease characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use and by long-lasting changes in the brain.

Anesthetic: An agent that causes insensitivity to pain and is used for surgeries and other medical procedures.

Coca: The plant, Erythroxylon, from which cocaine is derived. Also refers to the leaves of this plant.

Crack: The slang term for a smokable form of cocaine.

Craving: A powerful, often uncontrollable, desire for drugs.

Dopamine: A brain chemical, classified as a neurotransmitter, found in regions of the brain that regulate movement, emotion, motivation, and pleasure.

Freebase: A solid, water-insoluble, and smokable form of cocaine that is produced when its hydrochloride salt form is processed with ammonia or sodium bicarbonate and water, then heated to remove the hydrochloride. (Also, see "crack.")

Frontal cortex: The front part of the brain involved with reasoning, planning, problem-solving, and other higher cognitive functions.

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA): The main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. GABA provides the needed counterbalance to the actions of other systems, particularly the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate.

Glutamate: An excitatory neurotransmitter found throughout the brain, that influences the reward system and is involved in learning and memory among other functions.

Hydrochloride salt: A powdered, water-soluble form of cocaine that can be injected or snorted.

Neuron: A nerve cell.

Nucleus accumbens: A brain region involved in motivation and reward. Nearly all drugs of abuse directly or indirectly increase dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, contributing to their addictive properties.

Polydrug user: An individual who uses more than one drug.

Rush: A surge of pleasure (euphoria) that rapidly follows administration of some drugs.

Stimulant: A class of drugs that enhances the activity of monamines (such as dopamine) in the brain, increasing arousal, heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration, and decreasing appetite; includes some medications used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (e.g., methylphenidate and amphetamines), as well as cocaine and methamphetamine.

Tolerance: A condition in which higher doses of a drug are required to produce the same effect achieved during initial use.

Vertigo: The sensation of dizziness.

This page was last updated September 2010

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This series of reports simplifies the science of research findings for the educated lay public, legislators, educational groups, and practitioners. The series reports on research findings of national interest.