Cocaine is derived from a chemical found in the leaves of the coca plant. It is a powerful stimulant with anesthetic properties. There are some medical uses to cocaine and the FDA categorizes it with drugs like morphine and narcotic pain killers, but cocaine is most often abused recreationally. Cocaine can be taken orally, injected, or inhaled nasally. Like other stimulants, cocaine suppresses appetite, and gives the user a great deal of energy. Cocaine is usually inhaled through the nose and its effects last from 15 minutes to an hour.
Cocaine produces effects primarily by blocking the reabsorption of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Normally these neurochemicals bind to a receptor and then are taken back into the brain cell to be broken down and reused, but cocaine deactivates the proteins that transport these neurochemicals back to where they should go. This leads to stronger effect from the neurochemicals and produces many of the effects of cocaine. For example, serotonin and dopamine contribute to the “feel good” effects of cocaine like euphoria and the boost in mood and confidence.
Side Effects of Cocaine
- Increased confidence
- Constricted blood vessels.
- Grinding of teeth
- Heart attack
- Erosion of tooth enamel
- Erosion of nasal cartilage
- Tooth decay
- Irregular heartbeat
Addiction and Overdose
Cocaine is the second most addictive and physically harmful of the most commonly abused recreational drugs, just below heroin. Since cocaine is fast-acting and produces strong effects, an association between happiness and cocaine use can form. With each use, this association is reinforced and can lead to psychological addiction.
Some effects are dependent on the way the drug is used. Snorting cocaine could erode the cartilage in the nose and cause breathing difficulties. Consuming cocaine orally can lead to tissue death in the bowels as cocaine causes blood vessels to shrink in size and not deliver as much oxygen and nutrients to the cells. Individuals who inject cocaine have a drastically increased risk of contracting blood borne diseases such as HIV. Higher doses increase one’s risk of heart attack or bleeding in the brain.
Withdrawal typically presents an initial crash consisting of the following symptoms that are at risk of lasting for months:
Overdose can cause irregular heart rhythms, a spike in blood pressure and body temperature, and kidney failure.
While many medications are being tested for treating cocaine addiction, there is not yet a medicine on the market for cocaine addiction. Twelve step programs modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous and cognitive behavioral therapy are commonly used in cocaine addiction recovery. Humanistic therapies like motivational therapy, when combined with cognitive behavioral therapy, are more effective than twelve step programs. Many treatment centers specialize in treating cocaine addiction. Considering the unpleasant, and sometimes dangerous symptoms of cocaine withdrawal, it is wise to recover under observation of the medical professionals at a drug treatment center.