The Health Effects of Cocaine Use and Abuse

Short-Term and Long-Term Effects

person cutting line of cocaine with razorblade
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The short- and long-term effects of cocaine use and abuse cause a wide variety of health issues from mild to severe.

You can snort, inject or smoke cocaine. In all cases, this illegal drug is a strong central nervous system stimulant which affects the brain's processing of dopamine.

Cocaine users develop a tolerance over time and report that they are never able to achieve the "high" they felt the first time that they used the drug.

As tolerance to the drug develops the euphoric feeling users get is not as intense nor does it last as long.

Short-Term Effects of Cocaine Use

When you use cocaine it interferes with the reabsorption of dopamine, a brain chemical associated with pleasure and movement, producing a euphoric effect. Shortly after you ingest it using the method of your choice you may experience:

  • constricted blood vessels
  • dilated pupils
  • increased body temperature
  • increased heart rate
  • higher blood pressure

During the euphoric period after cocaine use, which can last up to 30 minutes, you can enjoy the experiences of:

  • hyperstimulation
  • reduced fatigue
  • mental alertness

However, some users also have unpleasant experiences of:

  • restlessness
  • irritability
  • anxiety

Effects of a Cocaine Binge

During a cocaine binge, any period of time where you use cocaine repeatedly, you may experience:

  • increasing restlessness
  • irritability
  • paranoia

For some users bingeing on cocaine can lead to:

  • a period of paranoid psychosis
  • auditory hallucinations
  • a disconnection with reality

Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Abuse

Repeated cocaine use, rather than occasional recreational use, is abusing this substance and can cause the following health consequences:

  • irregular heart beat
  • heart attack
  • chest pain
  • respiratory failure
  • stroke
  • seizures and headaches
  • abdominal pain and nausea

Chronic cocaine can use can also cause malnourishment due to the drug's ability to decrease appetite.

Effects of Snorting, Injecting and Smoking Cocaine

Snorting or injecting cocaine can produce specific health effects, including:

  • Snorting: Chronically runny nose, nosebleeds, loss of smell, hoarseness, and problems swallowing.
  • Injecting: Severe allergic reactions. Increased risk for contracting HIV, Hepatitis, and other blood-borne diseases.

Additionally, when you inject cocaine, the euphoric feeling can last from 15 to 30 minutes, but when you smoke it, the high may last only five to 10 minutes, causing you to use more cocaine more often.

Cocaine is highly addictive and those who smoke cocaine appear to develop an addiction to the drug more rapidly that those who snort it. 

See also other effects of long-term cocaine use.

Effects of a Cocaine Overdose

The annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health found "cocaine is the most frequently cited substance in drug-related emergency departments visits" and the National Institutes of Health reports that from 2001 to 2014 there was a 42 percent increase in the total number of cocaine overdose deaths nationally.

Because cocaine affects the heart and respiratory system, an overdose can cause death, especially when you inject or smoke it.

An overdose of cocaine can lead to:

  • Irregular heart beat or heart failure.
  • High blood pressure resulting in a brain hemorrhage.
  • Repeated convulsions.
  • Respiratory failure.

See Also: The Health Effects of Other Drugs

Sources

Medline Plus

Office of National Drug Control Policy

National Institute on Drug Abuse

National Institutes of Health: Overdose Death Rates (2015)

New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene: Cocaine Use in New York City - Morbidity and Mortality (2015)

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