Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant drug that produces many short-term and long-term effects. By better understanding cocaine and its complications, caregivers may be in a better position to begin a conversation with the user about addiction treatment to get the help that they need to get healthy again.
Method of ingestion impacts the effects of cocaine
People use cocaine in different ways. They may inject with a syringe, snort, smoke or eat it. The method used to ingest cocaine affects the time that it takes for it to reach its highest concentration in the user’s bloodstream and the length of time of the drug’s effect;
|Time to reach peak concentration level in the bloodstream||Duration of effect|
|Smoking or injection||1-5 minutes||5-60 minutes|
|Eating||60-90 minutes||Up to 180 minutes (3 hours)|
Short-term and long-term effects of cocaine on the body’s organs
Cocaine abuse has detrimental effects on many organs within the body. For example, ongoing cocaine abuse can cause structures within the brain to physically change. Organ damage can trigger short-term and long-term effects that impact physical and mental health. Being young and healthy does not protect one from such complications, nor does it reduce the risk of an overdose.
Short-term effects of cocaine
|Brain||Lungs||Stomach and colon||Other|
Long-term effects of cocaine
Long-term effects and other severe health conditions linked to continuous cocaine use include:
|Brain||Heart||Lungs||Stomach and colon||Other|
Specific long-term effects of cocaine are associated explicitly with the way the method of ingesting cocaine;
|Long-term effects of smoking crack (cocaine)||Long-term effects of snorting cocaine (nose and sinus problems)||Long-term effects of injecting cocaine|
Cocaine effects and complications for pregnant women and their baby
Pregnant women and their unborn children can also experience a wide range of short-term and long-term effects and complications due to the use of cocaine.
|Pregnant woman using cocaine||Cocaine side effects and complications in utero (unborn):||Cocaine side effects observed in the child after birth:|
Cocaine and asthma
Certain pre-existing conditions may cause more specific short-term and long-term effects and complications in cocaine users. For example, somebody with asthma who uses cocaine may increase their risk of an asthma attack which could require hospitalization, intubation as well as ventilation. Moreover, a study showed that cocaine users with asthma have a higher likelihood of not using their asthma medications properly, which can put them at risk for uncontrolled asthma.
A cocaine overdose can be lethal. The risk of overdose increases when one adds alcohol and opioids into the mix with cocaine. An overdose can result in seizures, convulsions, respiratory failure, stroke, irregular heartbeat, heart attack or liver failure. Injecting cocaine puts one at risk of getting a skin infection, blood poisoning or infection of the lining of the heart and even death. Sharing needles, pipes or spoons puts one at risk of getting HIV, Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C.
Medical terms and explanation of various cocaine-related complications
Cocaine users can experience life-threatening experiences, which can result in hospitalization. A drug-related hospitalization can be a frightening experience for both the user and the caretaker. A physician or nurse may use medical words to describe cocaine short-term and long-term effects and complications. It can be stressful when you do not understand the meaning of medical terms. Here is a list of some of medical terms and their definitions;
Agonal breathing: Struggling to breathe, gasping for air
Akinesia: Very slow or lack of movement
Akathisia: Inability to stay still
Apnea: Momentarily stopping to breathe
Areflexia: Muscles do not respond
Arrhythmia: Problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat
Bradykinesia: Inability to move the body
Cardiac fibrosis: Scarring of the heart muscle
Cocaine-induced rhabdomyolysis: A syndrome that is caused by the death of muscle tissue which can be toxic in the bloodstream and which can lead to kidney failure
Coronary syndrome: A condition where the blood that is flowing to the heart is either suddenly stopped or severely reduced
Delirium: Severe confusion and reduced awareness of one’s surrounding
Diaphoresis: Excessive sweating
Dyspnea: Difficulty breathing
Dystonia: Muscles contract uncontrollably
Cocaine-induced cardiotoxicity: Sudden death
Cyanosis: Bluish skin
Ectopic beats: Extra or skipped heartbeats
Hypertension: High blood pressure
Hyperthermia: Abnormally high body temperature
Irregular breathing: A substantial increase in breathing rate or a momentary pause (stop) in breathing
Ischemic stroke: A stroke is caused by a blood clot that blocks the inside of a blood vessel in the brain, preventing blood from flowing to the brain.
Myocarditis: Inflammation of the heart muscle
Paranoia: Anxiety or fear make the person believe that somebody wants to harm them
Renal failure or kidney failure: The kidneys suddenly stop being able to filter and clean the blood.
Tachydysrhythmia: Fast heart rate with more than 100 beats per minute.
Tachypnea: Rapid breathing
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Andreea Hetea et al. Alcohol and Psychoactive Drugs in Pregnancy. MAEDICA – J of Clinical Medicine. 2019; 14(4): 397-401.
Government of Canada. Substance use. Date modified 2020-04-03. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/substance-use/controlled-illegal-drugs/cocaine-crack.html#a1
Hetea, A., Cosconel, C. et al. Alcohol and Psychoactive Drugs in Pregnancy. Maedica – a Journal of Clinical Medicine. 2019;14(4): 397-401.
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S-Y.A. Tsai et al. The cellular basis of fetal endoplasmic reticulum stress and oxidative stress in drug-induced neurodevelopmental deficits. Neurobiology of Stress 10 (2019) 100145. pp.12
Sung Tae Kim and Taehwan Park. Review: Acute and Chronic Effects of Cocaine on Cardiovascular Health. International J of Molecular Sciences. 2019, 20, 584.
Underner, M, et al. Asthme et usage de cannabis, de cocaïne ou d’héroïne. Revue des Maladies Respiratoires (2020), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rmr.2020.06.004