What`s up with cocaine in Kenya…. or is it crack? ….

In Kenya there is a common perception that anyone who gets rich suspiciously and suddenly could be selling ‘mihadarati’ ….. a Swahili word meaning ‘substance of abuse’. Recently in the ongoing campaigns for various elective government offices… there have been several aspirants that have been interviewed in mainstream television and in two instances when one couldn’t give a substantial explanation to the source of their wealth…. they would be asked ‘unauza mihadarati’ (Do you sell drugs??). One aspirant gave an interesting answer that got me thinking. He said…. ‘I wouldn’t tell the difference between glucose, salt and cocaine.’ ‘Mmmh!….at least he knows it’s a white powder substance’, I though to myself. Most people have no idea what cocaine looks like and could easily be duped into carrying it through inspection points like at the airport.


So onto the real question, who has seen cocaine in Kenya? Does anyone use it anyway or is Kenya just a transit point.

Cocaine in Kenya is not easily accessible; but if one really determined you will find it. Fortunately it is quite costly and therefore an issue mainly among the upper class Kenyans but not restricted to them. If your circles don’t mix with teens in certain private 844 or international schools, those from affluent homes, well-travelled persons or tourists you would hardly come across cocaine. A days dose for a “high” that lasts a few minutes costs thousands of shillings. NACADA reports only 0.1% of Kenyans have used cocaine, but remember statistics mean nothing when it’s your child or sibling.


Cocaine is an addictive stimulant substance with the pure form having a white crystalline appearance. It is illegal in Kenya.


Users will snort it (through the nose), rub it on their gums or mix it with water and inject.

It is addictive because it works on the brains reward system by prolonging the duration that a dopamine (a feel good chemical) stays within the brain cells.


Clinical Signs and symptoms

When one takes cocaine, within seconds to minutes, their heart rate, temperature and blood pressure increases and pupils dilate. It is with these symptoms that one feels extremely alert and energetic (a picture drawn clearly by the famous musician Whitney Houston during her performances). There is also associated mental alertness; increased sensitivity to light, sound and touch and in the extreme may cause paranoia with visual hallucinations (seeing things/visions that don’t exist)

All that may seam rosy but it lasts a mere 15-30minutes and at most 1 hour.

Due to the short-lived high some users mix it with heroine (as an injection called speedball) or take it with alcohol producing a very toxic substance in the liver called cocaethylene that may prolong the high but is highly associated with sudden death.

The complications associated with cocaine use are also fatal. They include: –

  • Nose bleeding/ reduced sense of smelling/ and persistent runny nose for those that snort
  • HIV, hepatitis C for those sharing injecting needles
  • Heart attack
  • Irregular heart rhythm causing stroke
  • Seizures
  • Sudden death

Once someone stops its use the withdrawals involve the complete opposite effect of the high and may last quite long to unbearable periods e.g. depression, fatigue, insomnia, slow thinking and increased appetite. Basically one feels like their life is over and cant go on without chasing that high they once felt.


Owing to it costly nature, most cocaine available is mixed with known and unknown substances like talcum powder, heroine and amphetamines so one may not even know exactly what they are using.


What to do??

If you are using cocaine or suspect your child or student is on this path, get them to an adolescent clinic to seek medical advice. This would mainly involve a mental health assessment, tests to ascertain the exact substance used and rehabilitation using talk therapy known as Cognitive behavioral therapy. In case of an overdose it is treated as a medical emergency. Addiction to such a costly substance is a form of slavery and could affect an individual’s future adversely.

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