Cocaine is a drug with stimulant properties that comes from the leaves of the coca plant. The plant is found in South America and is processed into a powder that is used recreationally by a growing number of users worldwide. Although cocaine was viewed to be relatively harmless at the turn of the 20th century, it has since been established as one of the most addictive substances produced by nature.
Cocaine was famously an ingredient of Coca-Cola when it was first introduced to consumer markets and until the early 1900s, one glass contained as much as 9 milligrams of the substance. The drug was also considered to have medicinal uses and even today is used in a non-psychoactive form as an anesthetic or painkiller. These days, cocaine abuse has become a significant problem in the US.
There are five medical emergencies and serious health issues that can result from prolonged abuse of cocaine and here we take a closer look at them.
Stroke and/or heart attack:
People who have used cocaine for prolonged periods are 35% more likely to have hardened arteries and significantly higher blood pressure than their non-using counterparts. Hardened arteries, heightened blood pressure and thicker heart muscle walls combine as side effects to increase the risk of stroke or heart attack.
Many people who use cocaine use other drugs and alcohol in combination. When other substances interact and react with cocaine in the bloodstream, there is an increased risk of seizures, heart/respiratory failure, and cerebral hemorrhage. Although cocaine overdose is not always fatal, using large amounts of drugs over a short period of time can result in long-term brain damage and impaired cognitive function.
Cocaine causes dopamine levels to increase which heightens a user’s sense of wellbeing. However, it also prevents dopamine from being reabsorbed which results in excessive levels of the feel-good chemical in the brain. This triggers the neurotransmitters responsible for the brain’s pleasure and reward system and the pleasant sensations of the user are intensified. Although the ‘high’ of cocaine is short-lived, it is extremely addictive and people also become almost over-confident in their mannerisms, with a feeling that they are invincible. If an individual continues to seek the high of cocaine with consistently increasing use, they risk permanent changes to the brain unless they seek cocaine addiction treatment.
Respiratory Issues and Blood-Borne Diseases:
If a cocaine user smokes the drug, it can lead to serious respiratory issues such as constant coughing, shortness of breath and other lung disorders. These conditions grow in severity as cocaine is smoked over time and sometimes the damage caused is irreversible unless specialist cocaine treatment is sought. Snorting cocaine has slightly different side effects including a loss of the sense of smell, a chronic runny nose, and nosebleeds, sore throats, and hoarseness. Injecting the drug is possibly the most high-risk method of using cocaine and can lead to contracting serious, life-threatening diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C.
Other Medical Risks:
If someone uses cocaine and drinks alcohol to excess, the combination of the two produces a chemical called cocaethylene which amplifies the effects of cocaine as well as increasing the risk of fatality. The changes caused to the brain after long-term cocaine use can also lead to a loss of brain cells, usually those responsible for memory. There are numerous side effects caused by cocaine abuse and when people use other substances in combination, they develop their own unique symptoms which require specialist cocaine addiction treatment.
In addition to the risks outlined above, the following also apply regardless of whether the drug is snorted, smoked or injected:
- Constricting blood vessels
- Headaches and nausea
- Increased blood pressure and heart rate
- Heightened body temperature and fever
- Stomach cramps and gastrointestinal problems
- Mental health issues including depression and anxiety