Soft. Girl. Snow. Powder. Blow. Coca. Nose Candy. Booger Sugar. These are just a few of the names used to describe the most powerful stimulant of natural origin in existence and one of the longest abused illegal narcotics in our society. With its widespread usage, what are some cocaine side effects?
Recently, many sources and individuals claim that the popularity and widespread use of cocaine has diminished. These claims are mostly in response to the rising popularity and resurgence of methamphetamine used in the United States.
This expensive narcotic also referred to as “a rich man’s drug,” is one of the most commonly abused drugs around the globe. Worldwide, cocaine was only eclipsed by marijuana among the most heavily used drugs.
In the United States, the numbers are similar, with cocaine coming in second only to marijuana in terms of popularity. To put the impact that cocaine has had on our society in perspective, let’s examine the following statistics:
- In 2018, 5.5 million Americans reported having used cocaine the year prior
- 1 in 5 overdose deaths in 2017 was attributed to cocaine use
- Between 2012 and 2018, the rate of cocaine-related overdose deaths rose from 1.4% to 4.5%
These numbers would quickly discourage anyone of the opinion that cocaine use is not as popular in the United States as in years past. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Cocaine: The Basics
Table of Contents
- Cocaine: The Basics
- Side Effects of Cocaine Use
- Cocaine Withdrawal
- Cocaine Side Effects on the Lungs
- Cocaine Effects on the Mouth and Breath
- Cocaine Effects on the Nose, Face, and Skin
- Side Effects on the Face and Skin
- Quitting Cocaine and Your Health
- Cocaine Treatment Options
- Medically Reviewed By
Cocaine is a naturally occurring stimulant derived from the leaves of the coca plant native to South America. Healthcare providers rarely use the drug for uses like local anesthesia for some forms of surgery; however, it remains illegal at the federal and state levels.
According to federal law, cocaine is illegal to possess and use recreationally in all 50 states. The majority of the cocaine used in America is imported from Colombia and trafficked by way of Mexico by the powerful Mexican cartel families.
In its purest retail form, cocaine appears as a white crystalline powder that comes in various shades. Packaged in kilos, or “bricks,” cocaine takes on a flaky appearance when compressed, consisting of several distinct layers that glisten when held in the light.
These kilos are purchased at wholesale prices and mixed with agents such as inositol, baby laxatives, baking soda, and other materials similar in color and consistency. This is done to maximize the profit of each kilo, with some dealers netting as much as $100,000 per unit.
How Is Cocaine Ingested?
Typically, cocaine is ingested in either one of three ways. The most popular method of ingestion entails sniffing a line of the crushed-up powder through a straw or a dollar bill into the nose. Effects of this method are felt after about 30-seconds to one minute and last anywhere from 15-minutes to a half-hour.
The second method of ingestion is through “freebasing” or smoking cocaine. This entails smoking the powder off of aluminum foil after it’s been mixed with a small amount of water. The user lights the bottom surface of the foil, opposite the side the cocaine is on.
The reaction from the heat forms smokes that the user “chases” with a straw and inhales into their lungs. Alternatively, cocaine may be cooked with baking soda and formed into a solid form, resembling a rock, known as “crack.” This form of cocaine is significantly less expensive but is much more addictive.
Cocaine ingested via smoking normally garners a high in about 15-seconds. However, the high is short-lived, normally only lasting anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes.
The final method of ingestion is through intravenous use with a needle. Users mix the cocaine with water and draw the mixture up into the syringe using a piece of cotton for a filter. The effects of this method of ingestion are felt almost instantly and last anywhere from 15-minutes to a half-hour.
How does cocaine manifest these short feelings? What goes on in the brain and body during ingestion of this drug?
How Does Cocaine Work on the Brain?
Cocaine gives users the infamous high by significantly increasing dopamine levels in the body. In the body of a normal functioning person that’s not high on cocaine, dopamine is normally sent back to the cell it was released from after a short stint in the body.
After the brief “feel-good” period that dopamine causes, the signal is shut off between the communicating nerve cells of the body once the dopamine returns to the originating cell. However, during cocaine use, the drug prevents the dopamine from returning to the original cell, causing abnormal amounts to build up between the nerve cells.
Normally, the dopamine release in the body’s reward circuit happens after great joy or excitement periods. However, this steady flow of the chemical promotes drug-ingestion, leading the user to take more and more of the substance.
As cocaine use continues, the body adapts, thus becoming less sensitive to this powerful drug. In turn, users increase their ingestion, and tolerance is built over time.
This dopamine blast is one of the primary reasons people use cocaine.
Why Do People Use Cocaine?
When people use cocaine, they experience a short-lived period of euphoria and increased levels of energy. Many users report a feeling of “being on top of the world” and forgetting about their problems in life.
However, the high is extremely short-lived, which leads users to come back for subsequent doses. Users of the drug report a distinct “jones” for the drug, meaning after the initial high, there’s a strong craving to chase the high once again. This is what makes cocaine so addictive, even in users that have only tried the drug once.
Cocaine is used for various reasons, including to help stay awake, perform better at work, battle depression, provide pain relief, and several other reasons. Because of the varying scopes of use, cocaine addicts come from all backgrounds, ethnicities, and professions.
However, like any illegal narcotic or abused substance, cocaine has its fair share of side effects. In fact, it may be one of the drugs with the most substantial amounts of negative consequences for short-term and chronic users.
Side Effects of Cocaine Use
The side effects of cocaine use include a plethora of short and long-term symptoms. Some of the more significant short-term effects include:
- Happiness and short bursts of energy
- Increased alertness
- Sensitivity to light, sound, and touch
- Extreme paranoia
- Increased heart rate
- Raised body temperature
Many of the short-term negative effects are felt as early as the first use. In fact, it’s not uncommon for first-time users of cocaine to fall victim to a deadly side effect after their initial experience with the drug.
College basketball player Len Bias, formerly of the Maryland Terrapins NCAA team, died June 19, 1986, after collapsing during a basketball game. After an autopsy, it was revealed that the heart attack was brought on from cocaine use.
Many people close to Bias speculate that it was one of his first times using cocaine. Regardless, Bias was one of the top athletes in college basketball that year and was at peak physical condition. This is a prime example of how fast cocaine can claim the life of someone even in the best physical condition, with no substantial prior use.
Besides the potential for deadly short-term effects, the long-term consequences are just as, if not more serious. These effects over the long haul include:
- Loss of smell and nosebleeds
- Issues swallowing and loss of taste
- Respiratory distress and asthma from long-term smoking of cocaine
- Scarring or collapsed veins from IV use
- Heart disease
- Heart attack
After long-term abuse and a user has become addicted, cocaine has prevalent withdrawal symptoms. Although not deadly, the withdrawal symptoms can be incredibly uncomfortable.
Most addicts continue their use of cocaine after substantial periods of addiction to curb their withdrawal symptoms. These are some of the most significant withdrawal symptoms of the drug:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Depression and sadness
- Intense cravings for more cocaine
- Stomach cramps
- Poor concentration
Besides the most common long-term effects, cocaine also causes acute issues for specific parts of the body. Changes in the way a person breathes are one of the most marked effects of the drug. Let’s examine the pulmonary effects of cocaine in long-term users.
Cocaine Side Effects on the Lungs
It’s not uncommon for long-term cocaine users to admit themselves, or be admitted, into the emergency room with various cardiopulmonary symptoms. Many of these symptoms include coughing, wheezing, and the presence of thick, dark mucus.
Normally, crack cocaine users and cocaine-freebasers exhibit the most notable lung side effects. However, many patients who suffer from congestive heart failure due to cocaine use will also exhibit severe respiratory issues.
Besides internal damage, cocaine can also have significant damage in many cosmetic areas, including the mouth.
Cocaine Effects on the Mouth and Breath
One of the most common side-effects of long-term cocaine use, specifically smoking, is substantial tooth decay. This is typically due to the fact that users may rub cocaine directly onto the gums or a direct lack of care when addiction takes over.
Additionally, cocaine has also been blamed for gingivitis and bruxing. The latter, bruxing, comes as a result of years of grinding the teeth from the anxiety or excitement that comes with cocaine abuse.
The mouth isn’t the only external area affected by long-term abuse of the drug. The nose and face may also suffer greatly from the hands of cocaine addiction.
Cocaine Effects on the Nose, Face, and Skin
One of the most significant forms of damage to the nose as a result of cocaine abuse is septal perforation. This is literally defined as a hole in the user’s septum.
The blood flow of the nose is shut off through cocaine abuse, which causes less oxygen to be delivered to the tissues of the septum. After long periods without oxygen, the lining of the septum begins to die. Once this happens, it can no longer support the cartilage, leading to the cartilage’s death.
The septum is the structural support of the nose, so when this cartilage collapses, the entire structure of the nose follows suit. Early signs of septal perforation are much like a sinus infection, with many users unaware that they are in the early stages of their nose collapsing.
Other potentially harmful effects on the nose include the following:
- Nasal deformity
- Nasal obstruction
- Nose whistling
- Increased sensitivity to allergies
Unfortunately, the nose is only a portion of the area that cocaine effects on the face. Many users experience incredibly grotesque side effects on the entirety of the facial area.
Side Effects on the Face and Skin
Acute Multifocal Necrosis is a skin condition that can affect a cocaine user’s face. This condition is essentially the systematic death of the skin cells in the affected area, which is more commonly the face for cocaine users.
Cells in the area die because of a lack of blood supply over a long period. The cells then become acidic and release enzymes that cause them to rupture due to the additional fluid they trap, which punctures the membrane of the cells.
The resulting effects are quite unsavory and leave long-term scars for the individual who suffers from this condition. Users may also suffer from pustulosis after long-term cocaine use.
This is a condition that is marked by the fast development of pustules (small pimples) surrounded by a red rash. This is thought to be a direct effect of cocaine touching the skin, with symptoms manifesting sooner than 24-hours most of the time.
This leaves many individuals left to wonder – can the side effects of these extreme conditions ever be reversed when a user seeks treatment and abstains from cocaine?
Quitting Cocaine and Your Health
Before a user can begin to think about repairing the damage that cocaine has caused on the mind and body, they must first deal with the issue of detox. Despite the lack of severe physical withdrawal symptoms like those associated with opioids, many physicians outline clear markers for when medically assisted detox is warranted for cocaine recovery.
The following is a list of the major reasons one would qualify for medically assisted detox for cocaine abuse:
- If a person has attempted to recover from cocaine in the past and been unsuccessful
- If a person has one or more co-occurring mental health disorders
- If a person is suffering withdrawals from multiple substances at once (for example, cocaine and heroin, etc.)
- If a person has attempted or is a risk for suicide
Physicians may order other medications to assist with the detox of cocaine in an environment monitored by physicians. An individual can expect the following timeline during the detox process:
1. The Crash
The initial stage of cocaine detox is the crash. This is typically felt sometime around 24-hours after the last use of cocaine, sometimes less. The crash stage is accompanied by extreme fatigue, loss of appetite, or shortness of breath. The user may experience high blood pressure and increased heart rate in more severe cases. Users will also see the initial symptoms of extreme depression.
2. Fully Withdrawal
The second stage of detox is the user entering full withdrawal of the drug. This takes place 2 to 3 days after the last use and can last anywhere from a week to three months. Users will experience an intense craving for the drug during this time, which is why an appropriate rehab is crucial during this stage. One of the most severe symptoms is Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms, which include a range of different side effects. These effects include severe panic attacks, mood swings, and insomnia.
3. The End
The end of the detox process includes a marked decrease in the severity of all withdrawal symptoms. Most physical symptoms will retreat during this period; however, mental effects will remain strong for months to come. It’s vital that a user develops coping skills and learns how to avoid triggers during this stage, all of which are addressed at an inpatient rehab facility.
After the detox process, a user may begin to address the multiple health issues or long-term effects of cocaine abuse.
Returning to Health After Cocaine Abuse
Users will have to deal with a number of issues after long-term cocaine abuse. The following issues are just a sample of the potential issues that can be corrected after recovering from cocaine.
- Studies have shown that long-term cocaine use can lead to the brain aging prematurely. Interestingly, the brain mimics the natural aging process during long periods of cocaine abuse, only significantly more rapidly. Long-term abusers of the drug have been discovered to lose grey matter in the brain twice as fast as non-users. This can lead to cognitive issues if a user doesn’t seek recovery in the right amount of time. After a period of abstinence, a user has a high chance of regaining many of their cognitive abilities lost throughout the abuse period.
- The heart working against a great deal of resistance over a long period can lead to blood vessel damage and blood clots in cocaine addicts. This means cells also don’t get the oxygen they require and can’t dispose of the needed waste. As a result, once healthy cells begin to die. However, studies have shown after periods of abstinence, this damage can finally begin to repair itself.
- After long-term cocaine use, the body may undergo significant changes to the way the body moderates its temperature. This means that after slight periods of physical activity, the body may begin to undergo sudden spikes in temperature that lead to health issues. However, after periods of recovery, these spikes may subside.
- Since cocaine has such a substantial effect on the cardiovascular system, this leads to a ripple effect on the GI system. The digestive system doesn’t experience the blood flow that it needs, and as a result, the organs will begin to break down. The development of gastrointestinal blockages is quite common for cocaine addicts. If recovery isn’t entered within a decent amount of time, emergency surgery may be required to correct these issues.
- Cocaine can also affect the ability of the body to pull the nutrients needed out of certain foods. Over time, this can change the way the body digests food and absorbs important vitamins and minerals. This can lead to a significant change in the body’s fat content, leaving a user significantly underweight. However, after abstinence, a user can easily regain their health through proper nutrition.
In order to experience relief and positive changes from these symptoms, users must engage in recovery. What are the user’s options as far as getting clean and staying clean?
Cocaine Treatment Options
There are several options in regard to treatment for users who wish to refrain from using cocaine. The following options can prove to be incredibly effective during a user’s journey into recovery.
1. Outpatient Therapy
Outpatient therapy includes seeking the services of a professional counselor on an appointment basis while still living in a normal home. Patients may be asked to attend therapy sessions on a very aggressive basis initially until significant signs of recovery are noted by the counselor or psychiatrist. The greatest benefit of this type of treatment is that the user may still continue activities in their daily lives, including work, hobbies, and time with family. However, many users may find inpatient to be more effective, depending on the severity of the addiction.
2. Inpatient Rehab
Inpatient rehab includes a stay at a residential facility that may or may not include medically assisted detox. The benefits of inpatient rehab include access to peer groups and direct meetings with a counselor and also removed from the potential triggers that may cause relapse. Inpatient rehab allows users to leave the environment where addiction is familiar, allowing them to assess and understand what caused them to use.
3. Support Groups
Support groups may be sought as a primary or secondary source of treatment for individual users. Depending on the user’s level of addiction and willpower, these groups, coupled with a strong support system, have led to users beating their addictions. Alternatively, many addicts in recovery will choose a support group as a secondary means of treatment in combination with outpatient therapy. These can also be joined after inpatient therapy is completed as well.
Regardless of the type of treatment, it’s important that the user is serious about their recovery. Real change and abstinence from drug use come from the inside, and no level of external force can make an addict want to quit. If you are struggling with cocaine in any form, or simply would like to speak about your options for treatment with a compassionate representative from our team at Find Addiction Rehabs, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We’ve been through our own struggles, and are here to help.
However, the proper level of willpower combined with the right treatment and strong support system can be effective at helping a user beat their cocaine addiction. It’s important to note that recovery is a lifelong process that must be constantly attended to in order to ensure lasting results.
Brandon is a highly skilled content writer and behavioral health marketer with over a decade of experience. In his own words: in my work with Find Addiction Rehabs, I have dedicated my expertise to a cause close to my heart – substance abuse recovery. Through my passion for the field, I’ve successfully compiled a track record of crafting compelling content that educates, inspires, and supports those on their recovery journeys.