How does cocaine affect the body?

Updated on December 5, 2022

What is cocaine?

Cocaine is a stimulant substance derived from the coca plant leaves, which is native to South America. Cocaine is widely used recreationally, and the product looks like a fine, white crystal powder on the street. To enhance earnings, street traffickers typically combine it with cornstarch, talcum powder, or flour. They might combine it with other medications like the stimulant amphetamine or synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

Cocaine has a long medical history. Before the invention of anesthesia, doctors used it as a pain killer. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, cocaine is now classified as a Schedule II stimulant (DEA). This implies that using cocaine for recreational purposes is prohibited in the United States.

The substance causes euphoria, a sensation of pleasure and excessive invincibility, which can lead to drug overuse and serious health repercussions.

Short-term side effects:

Short-term physiological effects of cocaine use include constricted blood vessels; dilated pupils; and increased body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. Based on this study, Large amounts of cocaine may intensify the user’s high but can also lead to erratic and violent behavior. Some cocaine users report restlessness, irritability, anxiety, panic, and paranoia. Users may also suffer from muscle twitches, tremors, and vertigo.

Sudden death can occur following the use of cocaine in very rare cases. Cardiac arrest or convulsions are common causes of cocaine-related deaths. Many cocaine users also drink alcohol, which may be quite harmful. Cocaethylene is produced when the two chemicals react, which may increase the toxicity of cocaine and alcohol on the heart. Cocaine and heroin can also create a deadly effect in combination. Because the energizing effects of cocaine are counterbalanced by the sedative effects of heroin, users tend to mix the two narcotics.

These effects can be experienced even after one use of cocaine. Once the effects of cocaine are over, users often experience a crash after the initial high. Users of cocaine reported feeling :

  • Anxiety 
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Exhaustion
  • Lethargy

Long-Term or Chronic Use of cocaine

In addition to the immediate effects, long-term use of cocaine can lead to more severe and lasting side effects.

Respiratory system

Cocaine’s pulmonary effects might be immediate or persistent. The effects of cocaine on the lungs are affected by the mode of administration (oral, nasal, intravenous), the dosage size, the frequency of exposure, and the presence of other drugs such as heroin, talc, or marijuana. Cocaine harms the lungs in a variety of ways.

Cocaine abuse damages the whole airway, from the bronchus to the lung’s alveolar area. Cardiopulmonary symptoms are the most common reason cocaine users visit the emergency room. The most frequent complaints are cough, wheezing, and dyspnea. 

Prolonged cocaine use can damage parts of the nose. It also causes persistent blood vessel constriction, leading to mucosal atrophy and necrosis (cell death). The fact that OxyContin produces necrosis even though it is not a vasoactive substance is thought to be due to recurrent inflammation as a result of inhaling the powder.

Cardiovascular Effects of Cocaine

Cocaine considerably enhances the force of the heart muscle when it contracts, raising the heart rate and blood pressure simultaneously. These conditions all raise the heart’s workload and, as a result, the heart’s need for oxygen and nutrients.

Cocaine, on the other hand, reduces the amount of work the heart can perform without hurting itself at the same time it makes the cardiovascular system work harder. This is accomplished by generating capillary constriction, which reduces blood flow to the heart muscle.

Furthermore, cocaine causes blood clotting in arteries, limiting blood flow to important organs such as the heart. Common complications can include Cardiac Arrhythmias, Coronary Artery Aneurysms, and Myocardial Infarction.

Cocaine affects the central nervous system and the brain

Cocaine promotes the synthesis of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that causes sensations of exhilaration and pleasure when consumed. This sensation is what attracts people into a substance misuse cycle. Cocaine interferes with the body’s normal dopamine synthesis, producing dopamine in the brain cells. The brain’s reward system is then triggered, leading to a need for more cocaine to re-experience the euphoria and pleasure. 

As a person’s tolerance increases, greater dosages are needed to obtain the same high, raising the danger of overdose. This rise in dopamine levels directly influences several regions of the central nervous system, including the limbic system, cerebral cortex, and brain stem. Basic brain processes get distorted as the addiction advances, and the body suffers as a result. The damage to the nervous system can lead to:

  • Mobility disorders (Parkinson’s disease)
  • A decline in grey matter
  • A decline in white matter
  • Alterations correlated with neurons and synapses in the brain 

Effects on the reproductive systems 

For males, Cocaine use has been linked with decreased sperm concentration and motility, which translates to decreased fertility. Besides the effects on male fertility, it can also affect women during pregnancy. Cocaine’s ingredients can pass through the placenta, which surrounds the fetus, and impact its growing heart and neurological system. This can lead to:

  • miscarriage
  • birth before the due date
  • Birth malformations of the heart and nervous system

Effects on the urinary systems

Cocaine also affects the urinary organs, including the kidney and the liver. The range of acute and chronic cocaine poisoning includes renal problems. Chronic cocaine addiction can harm the kidneys in utero and later in adulthood. Rhabdomyolysis and hypertension are key pathogenetic variables, although they may not be the sole mediators of renal illness; among cocaine users, rapid renal arteriosclerosis can develop without hypertension. Because investigations in experimental animals and prospective studies in people are uncommon, our understanding of the key processes and the scope of the problem is restricted.

Effects on the musculoskeletal system 

Stimulants of the brain and nervous system: Abuse of central nervous system stimulants can harm the Cardiovescelar organs, including the heart disrupt the circulatory system’s performance. The muscular system might be severely harmed as a result of this. Chronic use of strong stimulants such as methamphetamine and cocaine can cause brain damage, impairing the musculoskeletal system even more.

In 2017, 70,237 people died in the United States from drug overdoses, with opioids accounting for over two-thirds of these deaths. Cocaine was implicated in 13,942 (19.8%) drug overdose deaths in 2017. Since 2010, the number of people killed by a mix of cocaine and opiates has more than doubled. 8


Q. What are the signs of using cocaine?

There are several signs that could indicate the use and abuse of cocaine. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 14.7 percent of all adults in the United States have taken cocaine at some time. 7

The following are some symptoms that someone you know is taking cocaine:

  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Mood swings and extreme behavioral changes
  • Social encounters are avoided.
  • On the body, there are needle marks.
  • Nasal bleeding or runny noses 
  • Syringes, razor blades, pipes, and little plastic baggies are all examples of drug paraphernalia.
  • Financial difficulties
  • Symptoms of withdrawal
  • Lying 
  • Stealing

Q. Does cocaine lead to dependence and addiction?

Cocaine abuse, whether long-term or chronic, wreaks havoc on the brain’s natural reward system to the point that it no longer generates the delightful effects it once did. People who use cocaine regularly may acquire an increased tolerance to the drug. This means that the brain must require bigger or more frequent doses to get the same pleasure as during the initial use. Increased cocaine dosages to achieve the same high can lead to addiction.

Q. Is cocaine used for medicinal purposes?

Some doctors still use cocaine to treat nosebleeds and to relieve discomfort before minor nose surgeries, among other conditions. Cocaine can also be used as an anesthetic by dentists or oral surgeons before treatments.

Q. Are there any long-term consequences of using cocaine?

Long-term cocaine usage can harm neurons and deplete critical brain chemicals like dopamine. Memory and concentration problems, depression, delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, and aggressive or angry behavior are all possible symptoms.

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The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.