Cocaine is a stimulant drug. It can be snorted, injected, or smoked. Some other names for cocaine include:
Cocaine has a long history in medicine. Doctors used it as a pain reliever before anesthesia was invented.
Today, cocaine is a Schedule II stimulant, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). This means it’s illegal to use cocaine for recreational use in the United States.
Cocaine may provide a fleeting feeling of intense excitement. But the possible complications of using it outweigh its temporary effects.
Let’s look at how cocaine can affect you after one or many uses, what to do in case you or someone you know overdoses, and how to reach out for treatment for a cocaine addiction.
What does cocaine do?
Cocaine affects everyone differently. Some people report feeling intense euphoria, while others report sensations of anxiety, pain, and hallucinations.
The key ingredient in cocaine, the coca leaf (Erythroxylum coca), is a stimulant that affects the central nervous system (CNS).
When cocaine enters the body, it causes a buildup of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that’s linked to feelings of reward and pleasure.
This buildup of dopamine is central to cocaine’s potential for misuse. Because the body may seek to fulfill the newfound craving for this dopamine reward, the brain’s neurochemistry can be changed, leading to a substance use disorder.
What happens if you try cocaine once?
Because cocaine affects the CNS, there’s a wide variety of side effects that can result.
Here are some commonly reported side effects after initial use of cocaine:
- bloody nose
- trouble breathing
- abnormal heart rhythms
- chest pain
- dilated pupils
- inability to get or keep an erection
- restlessness or anxiety
- muscle spasms
- abdominal pain
- stiffness in the back or spine
- extremely low blood pressure
In rare cases, cocaine may lead to sudden death after its first use. This is often due to cardiac arrest or seizures.
What happens if you use cocaine while pregnant?
Using cocaine while pregnant is dangerous for both the mother and the fetus.
The substances in cocaine can pass through the placenta that surrounds the fetus and affect its developing heart and nervous system. This can cause:
- premature birth
- cardiac and neurological birth defects
The neurological effects and impact on the brain’s dopamine levels can also remain in the mother after giving birth. Some postpartum symptoms include:
- postpartum depression
- withdrawal symptoms, including:
- intense cravings
Stopping drug use during the first trimester increases the chances of having a healthy baby.
Side effects after prolonged use
Heavy cocaine use can damage many parts of the body. Here are some examples:
- Lost sense of smell. Heavy and prolonged use can damage the odor receptors in the nose.
- Reduced cognitive abilities. This includes memory loss, lowered attention span, or decreased decision-making ability.
- Inflammation of nose tissues. Prolonged inflammation can lead to collapse of the nose and nasal cavity, as well as holes in the roof of the mouth (palatal perforation).
- Lung damage. This can include scar tissue formation, internal bleeding, new or worsening symptoms of asthma, or emphysema.
- Increased risk of nervous system disorders. Risk of conditions affecting the CNS, such as Parkinson’s, may increase.
If you or someone else is having an overdose
Medical emergencyA cocaine overdose is a life-threatening emergency. Call 911 right away or seek emergency medical help if you think you or someone with you is overdosing. Symptoms include:
shallow breaths or no breathing at all unable to focus, speak, or keep eyes open (may be unconscious) skin turns blue or gray lips and fingernails darken snoring or gurgling noises from throat
Help reduce the severity of the overdose by doing the following:
- Shake or shout at the person to get their attention, or wake them up, if you can.
- Push your knuckles down on their chest while rubbing gently.
- Apply CPR. Here’s how to do it.
- Move them onto their side to help with breathing.
- Keep them warm.
- Don’t leave them until emergency responders arrive.
How to get help
Admitting you have an addiction to cocaine can be difficult. Remember, many people understand what you’re going through, and help is out there.
First, reach out to a healthcare provider. They can monitor you during withdrawal and determine whether you need inpatient support.
You can also call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 800-662-4357 for treatment referral. It’s available 24/7.
Support groups can also be valuable and help you connect with others who get it. Some options include The Support Group Project and Narcotics Anonymous.
Cocaine can have serious side effects, especially after heavy and prolonged use.
If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance use disorder, reach out to a healthcare provider for help.