What Does Cocaine do to You: 9 Harmful Effects

Most of us have been hearing phrases like ‘stay away from drugs’ or ‘drugs ruin your life’ for very long. But have you ever wondered what does cocaine 1do to you?

We all need a break sometimes, accepted, but why do people resort to drugs? What kind of a high do drugs give? Who even was the first person to think ‘Let’s try snorting this white powder for a high? ‘Read on to find out!

What Does Cocaine Do to You?

Its use as a substance abuse drug rose in the United States in the 1980s and 1990s, mostly in the powdered form called crack, wildly snorting or smoking crack.

It is alternatively found in rock crystal form. The white powder is often mixed with other drugs or substances, derived from South America’s coca plant (Erythroxylon coca2) and is also used as cocaine leaves.

1. Short-Term Effects of Cocaine

Cocaine’s effects appear almost immediately and can wear off at any time, from a few minutes to an hour. The immediate effects of cocaine use are excessive energy, euphoria, talkativeness, hypersensitivity, and alertness.

It can also result in reduced feelings of sleep and hunger. Some people report being able to perform simple tasks, both physical and cognitive, at greater speed, whereas others report the opposite being true in their experience. (Cocaine: Effects, Hazards & Warnings – Drugs.com)

People addicted to cocaine in the short term also have physiological and physical effects of cocaine use, such as constricted blood vessels, dilated pupils, increased heart rate, body temperature and high blood pressure.

2. Psychological Effects of Cocaine Abuse

Cocaine addiction also leads to psychosis, wherein the user experiences auditory hallucinations3. Psychological dependence comes from prolonged cocaine addiction. Copious amounts of cocaine can also cause users to behave erratically and violently.

Cocaine makes you feel depressed, which results in fluctuating energy levels and self-confidence. Psychological effects of cocaine addiction include –

  • hallucinations
  • panic attacks
  • anxiety
  • paranoia
  • irritability

3. Cocaine Psychosis

Cocaine psychosis is a psychotic state of mind in which the user suffers an adverse brain response due to the overuse of cocaine. Its symptoms are similar to those of schizophrenia 4and can last for a few weeks or even a few years.

Although it is a permanent but rare condition, it is still a significant risk to anyone who has abused cocaine even a few times.

4. Long-Term Effects of Cocaine

With repeated cocaine abuse, the structure of the brain changes and so does the reward pathway. It loses its sensitivity to the drug and this is called tolerance. This is the first sign of cocaine addiction and the onset of withdrawal symptoms if the user is not able to obtain cocaine.

Tolerance to the drug means that the drug user will need to consume more amount of cocaine to induce the same high as before. Tolerance also increases the likelihood of cocaine overdose.

Cocaine addiction is hard to study as each person reacts to cocaine and its effects differently. Some people snort cocaine and don’t feel the need to do it afterwards whereas others start craving the drug after a few times’ use.

This leads to a binge pattern, with the user craving the drug whenever not taking it. A lot of long-term effects persist even after the substance abuse has stopped.

Long-term effects of cocaine addiction include loss of smell, runny nose and nose bleeds, difficulty in swallowing, hoarse voice, lung inflammation and sinusitis5, heart attack, reduced blood flow, various forms of heart disease, weight loss and malnourishment, AIDS or Hepatitis from shared needles and straws.

With long-term cocaine use, other complications include neurological problems and mental illness like intracerebral hemorrhage, movement disorders like Parkinson’s and impairment of cognitive functions like prolonged attention, impulse inhibition, memory impairment, and making decisions related to reward and punishment.

5. Different Routes of Using Cocaine or Crack

Different routes of ingesting cocaine can cause different problems. The high from snorting cocaine is relatively slow to manifest but lasts longer about 15-30 minutes, but the high from smoking cocaine is immediate but lasts only for 5-10 minutes.

Snorting cocaine causes loss of smell, runny nose and nose bleeds, difficulty swallowing, and a hoarse voice. Smoking cocaine results in asthma, lung inflammation, chest pain, sinusitis and other respiratory distress.

Injecting cocaine leads to puncture marks called tracks on the forearms, susceptibility to allergic 6reactions and increased likelihood of contracting AIDS and Hepatitis.

Some users also experience tremors and vertigo. Using it with alcohol is an especially dangerous drug combination and it combines to form cocaethylene which exacerbates the toxic effects of both substances on the heart, increasing the chances of blood clots in arteries and veins.

6. How Does Cocaine (aka crack) Affect Brain Structure?

Taking cocaine use also causes changes in the structure of the brain. One of the major pathways it changes is the reward and punishment pathway, another is the stress pathway. Chronic exposure to cocaine also leads to reduced functioning of the orbitofrontal cortex.

7. Effects of Maternal Cocaine Use

Substance abuse during pregnancy is linked to migraines, seizures, and extreme cardiovascular changes such as high blood pressure. Other complications include separation of the placental lining from the uterus during pregnancy, preterm delivery, difficulties in delivery, sudden miscarriages, etc.

Appropriate medical attention and addiction treatment for these women can reduce these risks significantly.

Children born to mothers who were cocaine users have low birth weights, smaller heads, and shorter than normal children. Some deficits that manifest at later stages include behaviour problems, cognitive impairment, difficulty processing information, paying attention etc.

Former cocaine users are at a high risk of relapse, even after long periods of abstinence. Death due to drug addiction or cocaine overdose is very common.

In some rare cases, users may also succumb to sudden death due to cardiac arrest, an allergic reaction time proving fatal or drug overdose. (Cocaine Effects)

Substance abuse treatment is the need of the hour as these substance abuse problems keep exacerbating with time. The national institute is fighting hard against this illegal cocaine epidemic and trying to avoid withdrawal symptoms from manifesting in users.

The focus is on group therapy, improving mental health, and encouraging people to feel normal and therefore have more energy. Being committed to eradicating the sale of illegal drugs and selfless human services is of utmost importance now. (What is transcendental meditation)

8. What Else Can Cocaine Do to You?

Generally, most cocaine users who seek treatment are polydrug users, which means they also use other drugs such as heroin and MDMA.

While treating users for cocaine overdose, it is important to consider medical complications and a host of other factors such as social, familial and environmental factors.

9. How to Treat Cocaine Dependence?

Although no treatment methods are available for cocaine users, scientists have discovered a host of neurobiological targets, such as dopamine. Dopamine plays a crucial role in how cocaine use affects the brain.

Cocaine use also induces other changes in the brain, such as changes to various neurotransmitters such as serotonin, glutamate, GABA, norepinephrine and many others.

Scientists are testing compounds like acetylcysteine which are known to restore the balance between excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmission pathways. (What is Cocaine? | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA))

These pathways are the ones which are mainly disrupted, often irreparably, by cocaine and other drugs and substance abuse. Substance abuse treatment, therefore, is slow, and success is not always guaranteed.

However, not all hope is lost for cocaine users and their families, as some medicines generally branded and sold for other diseases show promising results in cocaine addiction treatment. One such drug is disulfiram.

Disulfiram is known for treating alcoholism but can also be used in cocaine addiction treatment.

One must determine the patient’s DBH genotype (DBH is the enzyme which influences disulfiram’s efficacy and potency) to determine whether it would be an effective pharmacotherapeutic agent for their treatment.

People who do cocaine in any form are susceptible to a lot of the above health risks, not to mention risks of ruining their education, their job and subsequent career, and their relationships with partners, children, parents and any other family members.

People who consistently abuse cocaine or similar drugs tend to avoid social relationships, withdraw inwards and spend most of their time alone, either consuming the drug or figuring out methods to procure more of it.

They lose appetite and sleep, not to mention a general interest in other aspects of life, such as health, work and/or study, and relationships. They even lose their libido.

Families of such cocaine addicts are generally at a very high risk of losing them altogether, either to various organ complications, allergic reactions, sudden deaths or the most common cause, drug overdose.

EndNote: What Does Cocaine Do?

This war on drugs has been raging across the world for decades, mostly among young people and teenagers. Awareness to stay away from and avoid these dangerous drugs is the easiest way to prevent further use.

We have only one life, don’t we? So let’s just experience life as it comes and go through heartbreaks and lows as any other person would. Why resort to drugs when you can turn to other people for help?

Stay safe, healthy, and away from cocaine!

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  1. Bentzley, Brandon S., et al. “Comparison of treatments for cocaine use disorder among adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” JAMA Network Open 4.5 (2021): e218049-e218049. ↩︎
  2. Roque Bravo, Rita, et al. “Cocaine: an updated overview on chemistry, detection, biokinetics, and pharmacotoxicological aspects including abuse pattern.” Toxins 14.4 (2022): 278. ↩︎
  3. Roque Bravo, Rita, et al. “Cocaine: an updated overview on chemistry, detection, biokinetics, and pharmacotoxicological aspects including abuse pattern.” Toxins 14.4 (2022): 278. ↩︎
  4. McCutcheon, Robert A., Tiago Reis Marques, and Oliver D. Howes. “Schizophrenia—an overview.” JAMA psychiatry 77.2 (2020): 201-210. ↩︎
  5. Psillas, George, et al. “Odontogenic maxillary sinusitis: A comprehensive review.” Journal of dental sciences 16.1 (2021): 474-481. ↩︎
  6. Bousquet, Jean, et al. “Allergic rhinitis.” Nature Reviews Disease Primers 6.1 (2020): 95. ↩︎

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