Cocaine is a powerful and extremely addictive drug used for its stimulant and euphorigenic properties. Derived from coca leaves, cocaine is generally sniffed, snorted, injected, or smoked by individuals who abuse the drug. Due to its high dependency risk, the federal government classified cocaine as an illegal Schedule II substance in the Controlled Substance Act passed by Congress in 1970. Cocaine directly affects the central nervous system by interfering with the re-absorption of dopamine, a chemical messenger associated with movement and pleasure. Cocaine affects nearly every system in the human body, often causing irreversible damage.
Cocaine can cause heart failure the very first time you try it. The regular use of cocaine can cause extensive damage to the heart and surrounding blood vessels, resulting in an increased risk of heart attack, myocarditis (heart muscle damage), endocarditis (inflammation of the heart lining), vascular thrombosis (clots in the coronary arteries), dilated cardiomyopathy (enlarged heart), and pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs). Cocaine causes blood pressure to rise shortly after ingestion, which can lead to ruptured blood vessels in the brain or stroke. The drug also causes blood vessels to thicken, diminishing oxygen supply to the brain and muscles. These effects can cause immediate changes in cardiac function and long-lasting or permanent damage to the heart, blood vessels, and surrounding tissues.
Cocaine can have numerous effects on the respiratory system depending on the route of administration. Snorting cocaine can cause chronic rhinitis, perforation of the nasal septum, and osteolytic sinusitis. Smoked cocaine can lead to immediate acute respiratory symptoms in up to half of all users. Acute symptoms include shortness of breath, productive cough, chest pain, wheezing, and exacerbation of asthma. Rarely, more serious complications can occur from cocaine use, including pulmonary hemorrhage, pulmonary edema, and thermal airway injury. Habitual use of cocaine can cause direct damage to the lining of the pulmonary vessels, which in turn leads to inflammation that narrows blood vessels, contributing to pulmonary hypertension.
Cocaine has both physical and psychological effects on its abusers. Normally, the brain secretes dopamine, which produces feelings of pleasure in the body when bound to nerve cells in the brain. Cocaine speeds up this natural system, causing the brain to secrete all of its stored dopamine at once, resulting in feelings of intense euphoria and pleasure. When the dopamine is depleted, the user experiences a downswing of emotions and an intense desire to get more of the drug. The feelings of intense pleasure are generally short-lived before being replaced by negative emotions, such as sadness, depression, paranoia, hallucinations, and schizophrenic tendencies.
Drugs like cocaine have a direct effect on the central nervous system, affecting vital processes like heart rate and breathing. Stimulants can also affect higher neurological functions, like memory and learning, as well as the areas of the brain that control pleasure and emotion. While some cognitive changes caused by cocaine abuse are only temporary, others are long-lasting and can permanently affect your ability to make decisions, learn, and remember. Cocaine can also cause changes in the brain that set the stage for addiction and relapse.
Immune System Weakening
The immune system is a network of organs, tissues, and cells that work together to protect the body against viruses, infection, and disease. When the immune system is weakened due to drug use, the risk of contracting a variety of illnesses and diseases greatly increases. Additionally, drug abusers who have a predisposition to heart disease, cancer, or kidney disease have a higher likelihood of getting these diseases. Binging on drugs like cocaine can also cause severe dehydration and illness. The impact of mental and physical exhaustion, dehydration, lack of nutrition, and fatigue can have long-term impacts on the user’s health.
By Angela Lambert