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Cocaine: Understanding Its Effects

Cocaine is a powerful illegal drug. It looks like a fine white crystal powder. It acts strongly on the central nervous system. This causes a false feeling of well-being. Using this drug can be harmful. It can cause dependency. It can affect behavior and decisions. And it has many health risks. It can make people think they are better than they are. They can ignore injuries. This can lead to very serious injuries.

Immediate effects

Cocaine is a stimulant. It causes some of the same effects as adrenaline. These include fast heartbeat and fast breathing. They also include raised body temperature and blood pressure. Users feel a rush of energy and well-being. They can start to rely on this feeling to help them cope with life. But the high wears off very fast. This happens in less than an hour for powdered cocaine. It happens in about 10 minutes for crack cocaine. The user will then feel upset and sad. They will want more cocaine. Sometimes this intense rush makes users very hyper and paranoid.

Effects of chronic use

People who use cocaine often get dependent on it. Their behavior changes. They get preoccupied with cocaine, often at the expense of family, friends, jobs, school, and other activities. The drug can interrupt sleep. This can cause mood swings and irritability. To lessen these effects, the person may start using alcohol or other sedatives. Cocaine use can lower the threshold for seizures. It can change the brain’s pleasure centers. This can cause the brain to need cocaine to feel normal. Crack smoking can lead to long-term (chronic) sore throat and lung damage.

Serious risks

Death can result from cocaine use. This can happen even in first-time or healthy users. Sudden death may be the result of:

  • Toxic reactions

  • Seizures

  • Heart attacks

  • Stopped blood flow and breathing (cardiorespiratory collapse)

  • Heatstroke

The risk of death increases greatly on hot summer days. Cocaine weakens the body's ability to cool itself. It also can increase body temperature. When this occurs on hot days a person may get heatstroke.

Some users have a higher risk of death from cocaine use. These include users with heart conditions or high blood pressure. There are other serious effects. Chronic users can become addicted to other drugs. Or they may develop mental health problems. People who inject the drug are at risk for diseases such as hepatitis. Sharing needles can spread HIV.

Online Medical Reviewer: Eric Perez MD
Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2022
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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