Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant drug. The powdered, hydrochloride salt form of cocaine can be snorted or dissolved in water and injected. Crack is cocaine that has not been neutralized by an acid to make the hydrochloride salt. This form of cocaine comes in a rock crystal that can be heated and its vapors smoked. The term “crack” refers to the crackling sound heard when it is heated.
Regardless of how cocaine is used or how frequently, a user can experience acute cardiovascular or cerebrovascular emergencies, such as a heart attack or stroke, which could result in sudden death. Cocaine-related deaths are often a result of cardiac arrest or seizure followed by respiratory arrest.
Health Hazards Due to Cocaine Use
Abusing cocaine has a variety of adverse effects on the body. For example, cocaine constricts blood vessels, dilates pupils, and increases body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. It can also cause headaches and gastrointestinal complications such as abdominal pain and nausea. Because cocaine tends to decrease appetite, chronic users can become malnourished as well.
Different methods of taking cocaine can produce different adverse effects. Regular intranasal use (snorting) of cocaine, for example, can lead to loss of the sense of smell; nosebleeds; problems with swallowing; hoarseness; and a chronically runny nose. Ingesting cocaine can cause severe bowel gangrene as a result of reduced blood flow. Injecting cocaine can bring about severe allergic reactions and increased risk for contracting HIV/AIDS and other blood-borne diseases. Binge-patterned cocaine use may lead to irritability, restlessness, and anxiety. Cocaine abusers can also experience severe paranoia—a temporary state of full-blown paranoid psychosis—in which they lose touch with reality and experience auditory hallucinations.
Regardless of the route or frequency of use, cocaine abusers can experience acute cardiovascular or cerebrovascular emergencies, such as a heart attack or stroke, which may cause sudden death. Cocaine-related deaths are often a result of cardiac arrest or seizure followed by respiratory arrest.
Added Danger: Cocaethylene
Polydrug use—use of more than one drug—is common among substance abusers. When people consume two or more psychoactive drugs together, such as cocaine and alcohol, they compound the danger each drug poses and unknowingly perform a complex chemical experiment within their bodies. Researchers have found that the human liver combines cocaine and alcohol to produce a third substance, cocaethylene, which intensifies cocaine’s euphoric effects. Cocaethylene is associated with a greater risk of sudden death than cocaine alone.
Effects of Cocaine Use
Some users of cocaine report feelings of restlessness, irritability, and anxiety. A tolerance to the high may develop – many addicts report that they seek but fail to achieve as much pleasure as they did from their first exposure. Some users will increase their doses to intensify and prolong the euphoric effects. While tolerance to the high can occur, users can also become more sensitive to cocaine’s anesthetic and convulsant effects without increasing the dose taken. This increased sensitivity may explain some deaths occurring after apparently low doses of cocaine.
Use of cocaine in a binge, during which the drug is taken repeatedly and at increasingly high doses, may lead to a state of increasing irritability, restlessness, and paranoia. This can result in a period of full-blown paranoid psychosis, in which the user loses touch with reality and experiences auditory hallucinations.
Other complications associated with cocaine use include disturbances in heart rhythm and heart attacks, chest pain and respiratory failure, strokes, seizures and headaches, and gastrointestinal complications such as abdominal pain and nausea. Because cocaine has a tendency to decrease appetite, many chronic users can become malnourished
Short Term Effects
Short-term cocaine effects include:
Increased blood pressure
Constricted blood vessels
Increased heart rate
Long Term Effects
Long-tem cocaine effects are noticeable as cocaine abuse continues and tolerance builds. Since cocaine is a highly addictive drug, it can lead to major medical complications and health problems. Some of the these complications include heart disease, heart attacks, respiratory failure, strokes, seizures, and gastrointestinal problems. Other physical symptoms include convulsions, nausea, blurred vision, chest pain, fever, muscle spasms, and coma.
As the habit of using cocaine becomes increasingly important, behavior such as lying, heating, stealing, absenteeism at work and denying the use of cocaine, is an evident side effect. While these behaviors are not directly related to the use of cocaine, these cocaine effects are often present due to the lifestyle of the addict.
Other long-term cocaine effects include:
How Cocaine Affects the Brain
Cocaine is a strong central nervous system stimulant that increases levels of dopamine, a brain chemical (or neurotransmitter) associated with pleasure and movement, in the brain’s reward circuit. Certain brain cells, or neurons, use dopamine to communicate. Normally, dopamine is released by a neuron in response to a pleasurable signal (e.g., the smell of good food), and then recycled back into the cell that released it, thus shutting off the signal between neurons. Cocaine acts by preventing the dopamine from being recycled, causing excessive amounts of the neurotransmitter to build up, amplifying the message to and response of the receiving neuron, and ultimately disrupting normal communication. It is this excess of dopamine that is responsible for cocaine’s euphoric effects. With repeated use, cocaine can cause long-term changes in the brain’s reward system and in other brain systems as well, which may eventually lead to addiction. With repeated use, tolerance to the cocaine high also often develops. Many cocaine abusers report that they seek but fail to achieve as much pleasure as they did from their first exposure. Some users will increase their dose in an attempt to intensify and prolong the euphoria, but this can also increase the risk of adverse psychological or physiological effects.
Signs of Use and Dependence
• Decreased appetite
• Rapid speech
• Depression as the drug wears off
• Nasal Congestion and damage to the mucous membrane of the nose
• Weight loss
• Increased heart rate, blood pressure and temperature
Methods of Administering Cocaine
Different means of taking cocaine can produce different adverse effects. Regularly snorting cocaine, for example, can lead to loss of the sense of smell, nosebleeds, problems with swallowing, hoarseness, and a chronically runny nose. Ingesting cocaine can cause severe bowel gangrene due to reduced blood flow. People who inject cocaine can experience severe allergic reactions and, as with all injecting drug users, are at increased risk for contracting HIV and other blood-borne diseases. Snorting is the process of inhaling cocaine powder through the nose, where it is absorbed into the bloodstream through the nasal tissues. Injecting is the use of a needle to release the drug directly into the bloodstream – any needle use increases a user’s risk of contracting HIV and other blood-borne infections. Smoking involves inhaling cocaine vapor or smoke into the lungs, where absorption into the bloodstream is as rapid as by injection.
Overdose Signs, Symptoms and What to Do
Symptoms of an overdose include fever, rapid heart beat, and agitation. Seizures may occur during an overdose, and the addict may have a heart attack. This situation is a medical emergency and the victim should go to an Emergency Room for treatment.
It is recommended you call your local emergency line if you or someone you are with is possibly experiencing an OD.
Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms
Many people start using cocaine for the intense feelings of euphoria and energy that it seems to generate. Cocaine in any of its forms is a very powerful brain stimulant that creates these feelings by causing the release excessive amounts of chemicals like serotonin and dopamine into the brain. While the person continues to satisfy his addiction he may feel fine, it is only when he makes the decision to stop that he will have to cope with the cocaine withdrawal symptoms, which can at times be quite unpleasant.
The biggest problem with drugs like cocaine is that coke not only stimulates the release of dopamine, it also reduces the body’s ability to absorb. This means a person will need more cocaine over time to achieve the same high. This ever increasing need only serves to make the symptoms of cocaine withdrawal that much more severe. Even at this. the withdrawal symptoms are nowhere near as hard to cope with as those from drugs like heroin or even alcohol as the recovering addict generally does not have to go through the periods of vomiting or the shakes.
The most common symptom of course is better known as the “cocaine crash”. This is the craving for another dose of cocaine and it depends on how long a person has been using cocaine and how much they have been using it. The person is also going to have to cope with symptoms such as fatigue, depression, restless behavior and a feeling of anxiety or paranoia. They may also experience a period of malaise when they just do not feel like doing anything at all. Many patients say that they experience some very unpleasant and vivid dreams.
Long periods of irritability and increased appetite along with the associated weight gain are very common in most recovering addicts. As the drug begins to release its grip, the recovering addict may spend long periods of time feeling sleepy and napping. The bad news about cocaine withdrawal symptoms is that everyone will go through some or all of them. They can last for months and can lead to the person trying to “self medicate” using other drugs to help them get past their addiction. This can lead to an all new addiction problem.
The good news is that if the addict perseveres, it is quite possible, and in fact, the norm, for them to overcome their addiction and the withdrawal symptoms will eventually go away and never return. Fortunately there are support groups, treatment centers and many other programs to help the addict to overcome his addiction and get his life back on track.
Treatment for Cocaine Addiction
The widespread abuse of cocaine has stimulated extensive efforts to develop treatment programs for this type of drug abuse.
One of the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s top research priorities is to find a medication to block or greatly reduce the effects of cocaine, to be used as one part of a comprehensive treatment program. The National Institute on Drug Abuse funded researchers are also looking at medications that help alleviate the severe craving that people in treatment for cocaine addiction often experience. Several medications are currently being investigated for their safety and efficacy in treating cocaine addiction.
In addition to treatment medications, behavioral interventions – particularly cognitive behavioral therapy – can be effective in decreasing drug use by patients in treatment for cocaine abuse. Providing the optimal combination of treatment and services for each individual is critical to successful outcomes.
Effects of Maternal Cocaine Use
The full extent of the effects of prenatal cocaine exposure on a child is not completely known, but many scientific studies have documented that babies born to mothers who abuse cocaine during pregnancy are often prematurely delivered, have low birth weights and smaller head circumferences, and are shorter in length than babies born to mothers who do not abuse cocaine.
Nevertheless, it is difficult to estimate the full extent of the consequences of maternal drug abuse and to determine the specific hazard of a particular drug to the unborn child. This is because multiple factors—such as the amount and number of all drugs abused, including nicotine; extent of prenatal care; possible neglect or abuse of the child; exposure to violence in the environment; socioeconomic conditions; maternal nutrition; other health conditions; and exposure to sexually transmitted diseases—can all interact to impact maternal, fetal, and child outcomes.
Some may recall that “crack babies” or babies born to mothers who abused crack cocaine while pregnant, were at one time written off as a lost generation. They were predicted to suffer from severe, irreversible damage, including reduced intelligence and social skills. It was later found that this was a gross exaggeration. However, the fact that most of these children appear normal should not be overinterpreted to indicate that there is no cause for concern. Using sophisticated technologies, scientists are now finding that exposure to cocaine during fetal development may lead to subtle, yet significant, later deficits in some children, including deficits in some aspects of cognitive performance, information processing, and attention to tasks—abilities that are important for the realization of a child’s full potential.