Cocaine Side Effects

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Cocaine Side Effects on the Body and Mind

Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant drug with a variety of negative side effects – from both short-term and prolonged use. Some people are unaware what coke can do to you, even when used once.  

Avenues Recovery, a provider of top-tier residential addiction treatment and IOP drug rehab, explores the effects of cocaine on the body and the brain. Read about different cocaine side effects for insights on why cocaine is bad for you.

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Cocaine Abuse

Cocaine, or ‘coke,’ is a naturally occurring stimulant drug derived from the leaves of two species of the Coca plant native to western South America – Erythroxylum coca and Erythroxylum novogranatense. It is most commonly processed into a white powdered substance known as cocaine hydrochloride, which can be snorted, sublimated, and then inhaled, rubbed on the gums, or dissolved and injected. 

Coke side effects include an intense euphoria. This, coupled with the rapidity with which one becomes desensitized to it, causes it to be highly addictive. The DEA has classified cocaine as a Schedule II drug, indicating that it possesses a high abuse potential as well as a legitimate medical use in some instances. Cocaine is illegal for recreational use and to be included as an ingredient in products sold to the public. Coca-Cola stopped using cocaine almost a century ago.

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Cocaine's Effects on the Brain

Cocaine operates by interfering with the reward circuit in the brain, also known as the mesolimbic dopamine system. This system connects a number of brain structures that control and regulate our ability to feel pleasure, and is aroused by all sorts of natural reinforcing stimuli, such as food, warmth, shelter, and relationships. This is the reason why we find specific actions to be pleasurable, and pursue them repeatedly. 

When the body engages in a pleasure-inducing activity, each neuron in the limbic circuit releases the neurotransmitter dopamine into the synapse – the tiny gap between neurons. There, the dopamine binds to dopamine receptors on the neighboring neuron, which receive the pleasure signal and continue to pass it along. Once its job is complete, the dopamine is taken back into the parent neuron by “transporter” proteins so it can be recycled and used again.  

When an individual uses cocaine, however, it disrupts this natural communication process within the brain. Cocaine acts by binding to the transporter proteins and blocking the removal of dopamine from the synapse. This results in an abnormal buildup of dopamine in this area, which relays a greatly amplified pleasure signal to the neighboring neuron. Understandably, cocaine effects include the signature euphoria that accompanies drug use.

Avenues Recovery highlights the different cocaine side effects

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What Does Cocaine Do to Your Body?

Cocaine has a range of harmful short and long-term effects on the physical, mental, and emotional health of its users. Although the severity of cocaine effects is dependent upon the length and frequency of abuse, even one episode of cocaine use has the potential to cause damage.  

What Are the Short Term Effects of Cocaine?

Even short-term use of this drug affects critical bodily functions and can result in severe medical complications. A pregnant woman who uses cocaine may experience a miscarriage. In extreme cases, first-time use can result in death – most often caused by severe seizures or cardiac arrest.

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Physical Effects of Cocaine

  • Increased/irregular heart rate 
  • Increased blood pressure 
  • Increased body temperature 
  • Cardiac arrhythmias 
  • Constricted blood vessels 
  • Cocaine eyes (dilated pupils) 
  • Abdominal Pain 
  • Nausea 
  • Tremors/convulsions 
  • Muscle twitches 
  • Itching 
  • Fever 
  • Decreased appetite 
  • Dehydration 

Mental Effects of Cocaine

  • Euphoria 
  • Inflated ego 
  • Feelings of extreme competence 
  • Excited behavior 
  • Increased libido 
  • Paranoia 
  • Panic 
  • Delusions/hallucinations 
  • Physical aggression and violence 
  • Anxiety 
  • Restlessness 
  • Irritability 
  • Depression

Avenues Recovery admit many depressed men, suffering from cocaine side effects

What Are the Long Term Effects of Cocaine?

The longer the exposure to any toxic drug, the greater the health conditions and risks. When used for an extended period, side effects of cocaine include, but are not limited to:

Physical Effects of Cocaine

  • Hemoptysis (coughing up blood/bloodied phlegm) 
  • Chronic nosebleeds 
  • Chest pain 
  • Heart muscle inflammation 
  • Aortic ruptures 
  • Lung damage 
  • Sore throat 
  • Asthma 
  • Dyspnea (shortness of breath) 
  • Permanent blood vessel damage 
  • Intracerebral hemorrhaging 
  • Chronic hypertension (high blood pressure) 
  • Liver damage 
  • Kidney damage 
  • Infertility 
  • Tooth decay 
  • Malnutrition 
  • Bruxism (involuntary tooth grinding) 
  • Gingivitis (gum infection)

Mental Effects of Cocaine

  • Severe depression 
  • Anxiety  
  • Paranoia 
  • Mental confusion and disorientation 
  • Extreme irritability 
  • Physical aggression and violence 
  • Complete psychosis (loss of touch with reality) 
  • Shortened attention span 
  • Decreased impulse control 
  • Poor memory 
  • Decreased motor function 
  • Decreased decision-making abilities

Methods Of Cocaine Use

The above are lists of general physical and mental effects of sustained cocaine use. However, the chosen method of administration (i.e. smoking, snorting, injecting, and swallowing) largely impacts the specific cocaine health effects experienced.  

Smoking Effects

When smoked consistently, cocaine can cause lung damage and lung infections like pneumonia. Additionally, it can worsen an existing asthmatic condition and cause low blood oxygen levels. 

Snorting Effects

When snorted, cocaine irritates and inflames the nasal septum (the piece of cartilage and bone separating the nasal cavity into two nostrils). This commonly leads to coke nose, which includes chronic nosebleeds and runny nose, as well as anosmia (loss of smell), difficulty swallowing, and hoarseness.

Injecting Effects

Those who choose to inject cocaine will find scarring and puncture marks (known as “tracks”) at the sites of injection, usually along the forearm. If sterile injection equipment is not used each time, they are at a high risk of developing blood-borne diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C. They are also likely to experience damaged and collapsed veins and a variety of skin and soft tissue infections.

Avenues Recovery describes cocaine side effects from injecting and dissolving cocaine

Swallowing Effects

Oral ingestion of cocaine is rather unusual because it requires the longest timespan to take effect. However, those who favor swallowing cocaine in pill/tablet form may experience severe damage to the gastrointestinal tract, such as tears, ulcerations, and bowel decay.

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How Long Do the Effects of Cocaine Last?

The effects of cocaine typically wear off quickly - within 30 minutes of taking the drug - though some people can still feel some effects hours later. The length of a cocaine high depends on how much was ingested, the method of injection, and the health condition of the individual. The average duration of cocaine side effects for different methods of use are:

  • Snorting: 15-30 minutes
  • Gumming: 15-30 minutes
  • Smoking: 5-10 minutes
  • Injecting: 5-15 minutes

Side Effects of Cocaine When Combined With Other Substances

A common and dangerous practice among drug users is to combine cocaine with different drugs to intensify its euphoric effect and duration. One such amalgamation is the mixture of cocaine and heroin, commonly known as “speedballing”. Because cocaine is a stimulant and heroin is a depressant, people very mistakenly assume that one will offset and “balance” the negative effects of the other. However, combining stimulants and depressants merely causes a dangerous push-pull reaction as the body strains to process and respond to two contradictory substances. Cocaine necessitates increased oxygen intake while heroin slows all bodily systems, leaving an overstimulated yet restrained brain, lungs, and heart unable to accommodate the body’s needs. This greatly increases the risk of a stroke, aneurysm, heart attack, or respiratory failure.

Another common and lethal compound is that of cocaine and alcohol - another stimulant/depressant combo. Aside from the previously explained risks, cocaine and alcohol react to form a toxic substance known as cocaethylene, which can greatly increase the drugs’ negative effects on the heart.

Additionally, ingesting stimulants and depressants together always heightens the risk of overdose. Because each substance muffles the effects of the other, it is difficult to assess how drunk/high you are. An individual is liable to continue using and drinking well past their threshold until tragic consequences result.  

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Cocaine Tolerance and Addiction Liability

Yet another negative effect of cocaine is the rapidity with which it desensitizes users to its properties. A single dose already induces tolerance to the drug’s effects, and a user seeking to replicate his previous high will now have to take increasingly larger dosages merely to experience a similar euphoria. This is the vicious cycle of use, tolerance, and dependence – a slippery slope that can end in addiction and a possibly fatal overdose.

Treatment For Cocaine Side Effects

Cocaine addiction is only one facet of the drug epidemic plaguing our society and claiming countless lives. If you or a loved one are suffering from cocaine side effects and grappling with addiction, know that lasting recovery is always possible. Contact Avenues Recovery today to discover how we can help you with drug detox treatment and cocaine addiction treatment and start you on the journey home!

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