Cocaine has long been on the radar as a devastating drug that can plague entire communities and damage lives due to its severely addictive nature. As a powerful stimulant, cocaine increases energy and alertness, and tends to make people feel invincible – like there’s nothing they can’t do.
Standard cocaine comes in a white powder that’s most often snorted, and it can also be dissolved into a solution to be injected. A cheaper form of cocaine called crack cocaine comes in the form of white rocks or crystal-like chunks that can be heated up in special pipes to be smoked. These forms of intake bypass the digestive system by absorbing the drug directly into the bloodstream, reaching the brain in a matter of minutes. This creates what is commonly referred to as a “rush” – a sudden feeling of euphoria as the drug reaches the brain almost all at once.
All of this makes cocaine highly addictive, which is a serious problem due to the fact that cocaine can cause a number of serious short-term and long-term health effects. Even with one use of cocaine, people can experience negative symptoms, such as:
Hypertension, increased heart rate, and constricting blood vessels can all be dangerous for those who have underlying heart problems or are already at risk for a stroke. Cocaine can also aggravate certain mental illnesses, especially anxiety and panic disorders, possibly leading to severe panic attacks or intense paranoia. This or aggressive, violent behavior can lead to serious injuries.
Cocaine overdose also presents a very real danger to users. It can be hard to measure exactly how much cocaine is in a single dose due to the fact that the drug is often cut with other white, powdery substances to make the buyers think they are getting more cocaine than they are. Unusually pure cocaine or a batch that has been mixed with another stimulant can result in a rash of overdose cases. In 2014 alone, there were nearly 6,000 overdose deaths from cocaine in the US, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Stimulant overdose is particularly hard on the heart as it starts to pound and race. At the same time, the arteries constrict to the point that the heart itself can’t get enough blood and oxygen. As the heart works hard to try and pump blood, even perfectly healthy people can have a heart attack or sudden cardiac arrest. Additionally, stimulant overdose risks seizures, intracranial bleeding, perforated ulcers, and kidney damage.
Long-term damage from cocaine abuse, even if overdose is avoided, can be just as problematic. Cocaine suppresses the appetite; therefore, it’s common for long-term users of the drug to have issues related to malnutrition that can impact every area of the body. Long-term use is also associated with a variety of heart problems, including inflammation or deterioration of the heart muscle and aortic ruptures. There is also increasing evidence of a link to Parkinson’s disease as the drug wears on the brain. Plus, there have been reports of bleeding inside the brain in chronic cocaine users. Damage to the brain can have many physical effects, including impaired motor functioning.
Cocaine is considered to be a harsh drug, often containing ingredients that should never end up in the bloodstream. Increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and constriction of blood vessels are never good for the body, but addiction can make it feel impossible to stop using cocaine. If cocaine addiction is suspected, the best thing one can do is seek out professional help as soon as possible to avoid serious health complications.