An overview of cocaethylene, an alcohol-derived, psychoactive, cocaine metabolite

J Psychoactive Drugs. 1992 Jul-Sep;24(3):273-6. doi: 10.1080/02791072.1992.10471648.


Cocaethylene is a psychoactive ethyl homologue of cocaine, and is formed exclusively during the coadministration of cocaine and alcohol. Not a natural alkaloid of the coca leaf, cocaethylene can be identified in the urine, blood, hair, and neurological and liver tissue samples of individuals who have consumed both cocaine and alcohol. With a pharmacologic profile similar to cocaine, it can block the dopamine transporter on dopaminergic presynaptic nerve terminals in the brain. It increases dopamine synaptic content, provoking enhanced postsynaptic receptor stimulation, resulting in euphoria, reinforcement, and self-administration. Equipotent to cocaine with regard to dopamine transporter affinity, cocaethylene appears to be far less potent than cocaine with regard to serotonin transporter binding. Lacking the serotonergic-related inhibitory mechanism, cocaethylene appears to be more euphorigenic and rewarding than cocaine. Synthesized and administered cocaethylene has a behavioral stimulation profile similar to cocaine. Cocaethylene has been shown to be less potent and equipotent to cocaine, and alcohol plus cocaine produces more stimulatory locomotor behavior in mice than either drug alone. Equipotent to cocaine with regard to primate reinforcement and self-administration, cocaethylene can substitute for cocaine in drug discrimination studies, and can produce stimulation of operant conditioning in rats. With regard to lethality, cocaethylene has been shown to be more potent than cocaine in mice and rats. The combination of cocaine and alcohol appears to exert more cardiovascular toxicity than either drug alone in humans. Alcohol appears to potentiate cocaine hepatotoxicity in both humans and mice.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cocaine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Cocaine / analysis
  • Cocaine / pharmacology
  • Cocaine / toxicity
  • Dopamine / physiology
  • Humans
  • Lethal Dose 50
  • Neurotransmitter Uptake Inhibitors / analysis
  • Neurotransmitter Uptake Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Neurotransmitter Uptake Inhibitors / toxicity
  • Psychomotor Performance / drug effects
  • Reinforcement, Psychology


  • Neurotransmitter Uptake Inhibitors
  • cocaethylene
  • Cocaine
  • Dopamine