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The Short and Long-Term Effects of Cocaine on the Body

Posted on May 3, 2022

The Short and Long-Term Effects of Cocaine on the Body

One of the most common recreational drugs in the UK, cocaine is derived from the coca plant and can be smoked, snorted, injected or rubbed into the gums. This causes an intense and euphoric high that can be extremely addictive and potentially come with life-threatening consequences both in the short and long term.

What are the short-term effects of cocaine on the body?

Cocaine has an intense and short-lived effect on the body when ingested, with the average cocaine high lasting for 15-30 minutes. As a result, many people will binge on cocaine and frequently ingest this substance in order to extend the high for as long as possible.

If snorted or rubbed on the gums, the effects of cocaine can be felt in as little as 1-3 minutes. When smoked or injected, this can be as fast as 15 seconds. However, with this short but intense high comes a wide range of short-term effects on the body that can be dangerous or even potentially fatal.

Common short-term effects of cocaine on the body:

  • Intense feelings of euphoria and pleasure
  • Increased amounts of energy and confidence
  • The sensation of being mentally and physically alert
  • Increased desire to talk and be sociable with others
  • Higher body temperature
  • Erratic and potentially violent actions and behaviour
  • High blood pressure
  • Sudden death

Even casual use of cocaine can lead to long-term addiction, and the instantaneous effects of this substance can result in any future physical and mental health issues that can have a devastating effect on every aspect of your life. [1]

What are the long-term effects of cocaine on the body?

As well as the potentially dangerous short-term effects of this substance, cocaine can cause a number of long-term effects on the body that can negatively impact your health for the remainder of your life. The most concerning of these effects, of course, is the possibility of death due to overdose or heart failure which can occur at any time while ingesting cocaine. [2]

Common long-term effects of cocaine on the body include:

Heart issues

In many cases when the heart of a cocaine user is compared to the heart of someone who does not take drugs, the cocaine user’s heart has aged much faster than the other. This is due to the immense amount of stress and pressure that this substance places on this vital organ, from an increased heart rate to arrhythmias and constricted blood vessels.

As a result, cocaine use has been proven to contribute to heart disease and can even potentially cause a heart attack.

Mental health problems

As cocaine provides a brief but intense high, many people will frequently ingest this substance at regular intervals in order to extend the sensation for as long as possible. Over time this can lead to increased feelings of anxiety, irritability and paranoia and even result in long-term panic attacks and hallucinations.

This can be particularly damaging for teenagers and young people, as their developing brains are more susceptible to being permanently altered by this substance and they may be more inclined to crave cocaine over time.

Nose damage

Snorting cocaine can do irreversible damage to the nose on a long-term basis, including causing holes to form in the septum as well as the potential collapse of the bridge of the nose and palate of the mouth. This can require multiple surgeries with no guarantee that the damage can be repaired.

Frequent cocaine use can also lead to regular nosebleeds which can be inconvenient and extremely unpleasant. Even snorting cocaine for the first time can cause the lining of the nose to swell up and result in a higher likelihood of developing a respiratory infection due to the added substances that are used to bulk up cocaine, such as caffeine and laxatives.

Increased risk of disease

If an individual ingests cocaine by a method of injection they are at risk of contracting a blood-borne disease such as HIV or hepatitis, particularly if they share needles with other people. They are also more likely to suffer other issues such as gangrene, vein collapse and painful ulcers as well as general infections.

Cocaine can also cause you to take part in activities that you wouldn’t ordinarily do, such as having unprotected sex with multiple partners which raises the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection.

Gastrointestinal issues

It is common to develop gastrointestinal issues after ingesting cocaine on a regular and long-term basis, as this substance reduces blood flow in this area of the body leading to frequent ulcers and tears in the digestive tract.

It may become more difficult to digest food which can lead to malnourishment and unhealthy weight loss, with vomiting and frequent bouts of diarrhoea contributing to a lack of nourishment. This can cause a loss of energy as well as a lack of vital nutrients and minerals in the body, which can result in further infections and a higher risk of bone breakage.

Brain problems

Cocaine has the ability to physically change the way the brain and body function, and this can be the case even for casual or infrequent users of this substance. It fools the brain into releasing large amounts of dopamine and serotonin, the natural chemicals responsible for the intense euphoric high that cocaine provides.

Over time, the brain will be less able to release dopamine without the help of this substance and this can lead to depression and psychosis if left untreated. Cocaine use is also thought to contribute to premature memory loss and concentration issues over a long-term basis. [3]

Lung damage

Many people who frequently ingest cocaine on a long-term basis may find that they develop a number of respiratory problems throughout their lifetime. The lungs can become extremely damaged due to inhaling this substance and long-term users are more prone to developing bronchitis and pneumonia, both of which can be deadly.

They may also notice shortness of breath, frequent coughing, difficulty breathing and chest pain which is present when they attempt to take a deep breath. Asthma is a long-term condition that can also be caused by frequently inhaling cocaine over time.

Kidney failure

Our kidneys’ main function is to filter the blood and create urine from any waste products in the body, and as a result, they can be heavily impacted by the long-term use of cocaine. This can lead to kidney failure and tissue damage, with plaque building up within the body and potentially leading to major complications that can be life-threatening in some cases.

What are the other short and long-term effects of cocaine?

As well as the devastating physical effects of this substance on the mind and body, cocaine use can lead to a number of financial, legal, social and academic consequences both in the long and short-term.

These include the following:

  • Loss of close relationships with friends, family members and colleagues either temporarily or permanently
  • Legal troubles and jail time due to being found in the possession of a controlled substance
  • Job loss, difficulty holding down long-term employment opportunities
  • Financial difficulties – trouble paying bills and court costs, managing savings and/or mounting debts
  • Poor performance at school leads to a lack of higher education and work experience
  • Increased feelings of depression and anxiety
  • Higher risk of self-harm and/or suicide

If you have been using cocaine, even on a casual basis, the long and short-term risks far outweigh any potential benefits that you have experienced. It is recommended that you seek professional support in order to safely withdraw from this substance and begin recovering from any potential repercussions.

Can I die from taking cocaine?

The most serious and permanent effect of cocaine use is the risk of death, and this can happen to anyone regardless of whether you are a frequent user or whether it is your first experience with this substance.

Many people combine cocaine with different drugs such as alcohol and heroin, which can lead to a fatal overdose. This is when the levels of one or more substances within the body reach a toxic level and the body is no longer able to function effectively, causing it to shut down.

Even if the individual takes cocaine by itself, the fact that this substance causes the heart to beat faster can result in irregularities and arrhythmia, potentially leading to a heart attack.

Common signs of a cocaine overdose:

  • Chest pain
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Increased body temperature
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Involuntary shaking and tremors
  • Paranoia
  • Severe anxiety
  • Hallucinations

If you believe that you or someone you know is experiencing a cocaine overdose, call 999 and seek medical attention immediately. It’s important that you are honest with medical professionals about which substances have been taken and how much has been ingested, as this will allow them to effectively treat their patients and potentially save their life.





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