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Cocaine Effects: What Does Cocaine Do To Your Mind and Body?
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Cocaine Effects: What Does Cocaine Do To Your Mind and Body?

Written by Seth Fletcher on December 7, 2023
Medical editor Dr. Chintan Shah
Last update: April 9, 2024

Cocaine is a powerful drug synthesized from the coca plant leaves and used medically as a local anesthetic for surgical procedures. However, it is more often abused for its euphoric properties. Illicit cocaine (also known as coke, snow, blow, rocks, or flake) is typically sold as a white, crystalline powder, which may be mixed with other dangerous substances.

Most cocaine users snort, inject, or smoke the drug. Cocaine is also cooked with baking powder to produce a faster-acting freebase form known as crack. So, what does cocaine do to you? The effects of cocaine on the mind and body are severe and may be irreversible in some cases. CCFA explores cocaine effects and how you can get help for yourself or a loved one affected by cocaine.

Key Takeaways

  • Cocaine is an addictive substance with severe effects on the mind and body
  • It is used medically as a local anesthetic but is often abused for its euphoric effects
  • Using cocaine once may be enough to trigger addiction and other adverse effects
  • Professional help is required to treat cases of cocaine abuse and addiction

What is Cocaine?

Cocaine is a highly addictive narcotic that causes a rapid, intense “high” followed by a “come-down” that leads to edginess and cravings for more of the drug. It is one of the most common drugs of abuse and is often associated with wealthy and glamorous partygoers.

Cocaine is a Schedule-I drug under the Canadian Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. However, it remains one of the most abused drugs in the country. Approximately 2% of Canadians use cocaine in some form, accounting for 49% of the total number of illegal drug users.

Cocaine is a stimulant that produces a rush of energy and alertness. The effects are short-lived, and a single use is enough to cause addiction or lasting damage due to how the drug works. How quickly the coke effects kick in depends on the mode of administration. The effects of cocaine are rapidly felt when it is smoked or injected and may take a few minutes to kick in if snorted or used orally.

Cocaine is often used with other drugs like alcohol or opioids, making it even more dangerous. Long-term cocaine use is most likely to cause lasting damage to the mind and body.

How Does It Work?

Cocaine works by activating dopamine neurotransmitters in your brain and increasing the amount of dopamine in the neurons and it’s peak effect, affecting how nerve cells transmit signals. Dopamine is the pleasure chemical of the brain, regulating our thoughts, pleasure, and motivation. A dopamine rush is responsible for the euphoria associated with cocaine and similar substances.

When an individual uses cocaine, the brain is flooded with dopamine and diminishes the pleasure from regular activities like eating or exercising. Continued cocaine use desensitizes the brain to cocaine, so the individual needs more of the drug to achieve the same effects. This state is known as tolerance, which often causes the individual to use increasing amounts of cocaine. Tolerance can lead to compulsive cocaine use, putting the user at risk of severe short and long-term physical and mental health challenges.

The Canadian Centre for Addictions offers cocaine addiction treatment in an environment that inspires lasting change. Our team of experts will guide you or a loved one through the addiction recovery process so you can get your life back on track.

What Does Cocaine Feel Like?

The feeling of cocaine intoxication is generally described as a soaring but fleeting high. However, the cocaine feeling is subjective and contingent on the environment and the user’s state of mind. Despite commonalities in how people experience cocaine, the effects differ from user to user.

How Long Does Cocaine High Last?

How long the high from cocaine lasts depends on the method of delivery. The effects of smoking or injecting cocaine last between five and 10 minutes but may last 15 to 20 minutes when snorted or used orally. In some cases, the effects of cocaine last for one to two hours.

The intensity and duration of the cocaine high may also be affected by personal factors, like the amount of cocaine consumed or whether the drug is being used with other substances.

Short-Term Effects of Cocaine

The short-term effects of cocaine, like euphoria, increased energy, attention, and alertness, are the reasons people abuse and continue using the drug. However, cocaine also produces unwanted short-term effects, including:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Dilated pupils
  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Increased heart rate
  • Nausea
  • Irregular sleep patterns
  • Hyper-stimulation or increased sensitivity to sounds, light, and touch
  • Paranoia
  • Tremors
  • Restlessness
  • Erratic or violent behaviour
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Panic
  • Psychosis
  • Convulsions/seizures
  • Coma and death from overdose.

How Long Do They Last?

The short-term effects of cocaine usually do not last long and depend on the mode of use and the quantity used. Cocaine’s short-term effects last for 15 to 20 minutes when smoked or injected. The effects of snorting or oral cocaine use may last 45 to 90 minutes. Some effects, like increased heart rate, may linger after the high has worn off. Feelings of anxiety, paranoia, and depression may also remain for a day or more after use.

Long-Term Effects of Cocaine

Long-term cocaine use affects major organs and causes severe physical and mental health complications. The cocaine long-term effects are wide-ranging and include:

  • Damage to the liver, brain, kidneys, or lungs
  • Elevated blood pressure, potentially leading to heart attacks and stroke
  • Respiratory failure if smoked
  • Malnutrition and weight loss
  • Asthma
  • Chronic cough
  • Severe tooth decay
  • Nasal tissue damage/runny nose
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Fertility issues
  • Infections and abscesses from using and sharing needles
  • Irritability or aggression
  • Mood swings
  • Apathy, confusion, or disorientation
  • Constant fatigue
  • Erratic or reckless behaviour
  • Psychosis, hallucinations, or delirium
  • Lasting brain alterations
  • Physiological dependence and addiction

How Long Do They Last

Cocaine/coke side effects may last until the user quits using the drug and seeks treatment. The mental effects of long-term cocaine use can also lead to a downward spiral and compulsive cocaine use. How long these effects last also depends on the quantity and duration of use and whether cocaine has been used with other substances.

Cocaine Overdose

Cocaine overdose occurs when a person uses so much of the drug that it causes severe, life-threatening adverse effects. An overdose may be intentional, such as when the user takes more cocaine than their body can handle in a suicide attempt. An unintentional overdose occurs when a person unknowingly uses too much cocaine or cocaine that has been mixed with other substances.

When the amount of cocaine reaches toxic levels, extreme adverse reactions will occur. Cocaine overdoses depend not only on the amount of cocaine ingested but also on its potency. This means that a person can overdose after ingesting a few milligrams of potent cocaine, while someone else may not overdose after a few grams of a less powerful supply.

Anyone can overdose on cocaine at any time, even if they only use the drug once. The risk of overdose is higher after a period of abstinence due to reduced tolerance. Cocaine overdose is a severe and potentially life-threatening condition. The symptoms of cocaine overdose include:

  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Dangerously elevated blood pressure
  • High body temperature
  • Heart attacks
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Seizures
  • Strokes
  • Agitation
  • Panic attack
  • Coma and death

Cocaine overdose is a medical emergency and requires immediate medical intervention. It’s crucial to call for medical help if you think someone has overdosed on cocaine.

Other Cocaine Related Complications

Cocaine use can lead to various physical and mental health complications, especially for chronic users. Long-term cocaine users generally suffer poor health due to malnutrition. They may also experience aches and pains, especially in the shoulders and arms.

Dermatological complications like pallor, rashes, eczema, and burns to the thumbs and mouth may be seen in cocaine users. Cocaine use may also worsen asthma or breathing problems, especially for individuals who smoke the drug. The heat from the flame can also cause lung burns, particularly in those who use burners instead of lighters.

Cocaine use also exerts stress on the liver, particularly in people who also drink regularly, putting them at higher risk of liver diseases. Long-term cocaine users are also at risk of renal complications like lack of blood to the kidney and blood clots. Increased body temperature from heavy cocaine use constricts the blood vessels in the head and can cause seizures.

Cocaine Abuse and Addiction Treatment

People who abuse or are addicted to cocaine will require professional treatment to quit and remain sober. Cocaine relapse rates are high, with this study showing that up to a quarter of people who try to quit cocaine relapse in the first week. The ideal treatment for cocaine abuse and addiction is one tailored to the specific needs of the individual. It requires close monitoring to avoid relapse.

The first step in cocaine addiction treatment and recovery is admitting that you have a problem and need help. Professional addiction treatment starts with detox to remove all traces of cocaine and other toxic substances from your system. Then, an inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation plan will be created to help you begin your recovery journey. Cocaine addiction therapies include counselling and support programs that get to the root of the addiction and equip patients with coping skills to handle their triggers.

Individuals who complete their treatment program still need to receive aftercare treatment to prevent relapse and keep them sober. The Canadian Centre for Addiction offers medical detox and cocaine rehab in a serene facility designed to help you or a loved one remain substance-free.

When to Consult a Medical Professional

Cocaine is a highly addictive drug, and it’s vital to get help whether you use it occasionally or regularly. You should consult a medical professional about your cocaine use if you notice the following:

  • Trying and failing to reduce or stop cocaine use
  • Using increasingly higher amounts of cocaine than intended
  • Experiencing intense cravings for cocaine
  • Spending much time using cocaine or trying to recover from the effects of cocaine use
  • Continued cocaine use despite obvious physical or mental health issues
  • Continued cocaine use, even when it’s affecting your work, school, or other activities
  • Giving up important activities or activities you once enjoyed to use cocaine
  • Continued even when it’s affecting your relationship with friends and loved ones
  • Using cocaine in dangerous situations like driving or operating hazardous machinery
  • Experiencing cocaine withdrawal symptoms when you cut back or stop cocaine use


Cocaine is a dangerous and addictive drug whose risks outweigh any benefits you may obtain. The impact of cocaine is devastating to your body, mind, relationships, career, finances, and overall well-being. Sometimes, a single use is often all that is required to send you into a downward spiral. Fortunately, help is available if you or a loved one is struggling with cocaine abuse and addiction.The Canadian Centre for Addictions helps people understand their addictions and the healthier coping strategies available by engaging them in one-on-one counselling with certified counsellors, psychiatrists, and mental health professionals. Call us today at 1-855-499-9446, and someone will speak to you.


How long does it take for cocaine to leave the system?

Cocaine or its metabolites remain in the blood or saliva for up to two days. It remains in the urine for three days and can be detected in a hair test for months or years. Heavy and chronic users will take longer to eliminate cocaine from their system. Other factors like weight, body metabolism, and mixing cocaine with other substances can affect how long it takes to leave the system.

What are the cocaine implications for pregnant women?

The implications of cocaine use for pregnant women are severe for the mother and baby. Cocaine crosses the placenta to the baby and can cause:
● Low birth weight
● Premature birth
● Miscarriage
● Fetal drug addiction and withdrawal after birth (neonatal abstinence syndrome)
● Placental abruption – the separation of the placenta from the uterus before birth, depriving the baby of nutrients and causing heavy bleeding.
Expectant mothers who use cocaine may also experience health issues like high blood pressure, migraines, seizures, and cardiovascular problems.

Does cocaine trigger asthma?

Yes. Studies show that the use of cocaine and similar drugs, primarily via smoking and snorting, can trigger respiratory and pulmonary conditions like asthma. It may also worsen existing asthma and other respiratory diseases.

What happens if you mix cocaine with alcohol?

Mixing cocaine with alcohol leads to the formation of cocaethylene, a metabolite stronger than cocaine or alcohol alone. Cocaethylene causes increased risks of stroke, heart problems, seizures, liver damage, injuries, and other side effects of cocaine/coke use.

Why is it so hard to quit cocaine?

It is hard to quit cocaine because it stimulates the brain’s pleasure centers, releasing dopamine and creating a powerful feeling of euphoria. Cocaine’s high is intense but brief, and this causes a desire to use it again, creating a cycle of addiction that is challenging to break.

Certified Addiction Counsellor

Seth brings many years of professional experience working the front lines of addiction in both the government and privatized sectors.

Dr. Chintan is a Board Certified Family Physician with an interest in holistic and preventative care as well as healthcare systems. Credentialed Physician with both American & Canadian Board of Family Medicine. Adjunct Professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. Telemedicine clinician.

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