You might know cocaine makes you feel, but you probably aren’t aware of the full scale of what cocaine does to your body. The surge of confidence, alertness, and energy caused by this powerful stimulant comes at a steep price–one that your heart, lungs, brain, nose, appetite, and even libido will have to pay. Although there’s virtually no part of your body that goes unharmed with cocaine use (or any drug for that matter), cocaine is particularly damaging to entire organ systems which can significantly impact overall health. 

 

What Cocaine Does To The Body

The bodily response of sympathetic nervous system activation is nearly identical to that of the physical effects of being high on cocaine. Such a state puts tremendous stress on the body and is not sustainable. Normally, your parasympathetic system would take over once the danger or stressful situation passed, bringing your body back to normal fairly quickly. Cocaine can prevent this system from functioning normally, resulting in an overly excited state for an extended period. This is largely the culprit for most of the lingering effects that cocaine has on the body. 

 

Cocaine’s Effects on the Heart

Some of the most widely known effects of cocaine are those on the cardiovascular system. In addition to the potential harm that can arise from having a sustained increase in heart rate and blood pressure, the mechanism that enables this response can be harmful in and of itself. Cocaine causes blood vessels to constrict and blood flow to the heart itself to slow, depriving this important organ of life-sustaining oxygen. The immediate effects of which can include chest pain (angina) or shortness of breath, but when coupled with an increased heart rate and blood pressure can result in several heart diseases including: 

  • Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
  • Blood clots (thrombosis)
  • Clogging of arteries (atherosclerosis)
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)

These in turn can result in potentially fatal cardiovascular illness and result in stroke or heart failure.

 

Cocaine’s Effects on the Gastrointestinal System

Cocaine can affect GI functionality in a big way, from appetite to colon function. With blood flow diverted to the muscles and brain, your GI tract gets put on the backburner. The most immediate effects of which can be:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Severe Constipation 
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Acid reflux

The gastrointestinal system is also affected by constrained blood vessels, which itself can cause oxygen deprivation throughout the body. This can result in serious organ damage such as tearing, decay, or rupturing of the stomach, intestines, colon, etc. The nature of your GI tract means that any damage puts the body at a high risk of life-threatening bacterial infections and other complications. 

 

Cocaine’s Effects on the Respiratory System

When it comes to oxygen intake, cocaine has a two-pronged approach for inflicting damage. First are the respiratory complications which deal with breathing itself. Wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing, coughing up blood, and chest pains are commonplace. Then, there are the pulmonary complications, which are related to the lungs. Cocaine can cause swelling (edema), hemorrhaging, barotrauma, inflammatory nodules (granulomas), severe bronchial inflammation, and infection.

This damage can be both acute and chronic, and the severity of which can vary depending on the route of administration (how the cocaine is taken). One thing that is for sure, however, is that cocaine leaves behind a trail of destruction through every part of the respiratory system it comes into contact with. Individuals with respiratory conditions like asthma will quickly find their symptoms aggravated.

 

No Amount of Cocaine is “Safe”

The effects of cocaine are far-reaching. Even a single use can result in drastic health impairments that have both immediate and long-term impacts. Some of the things cocaine does to your body directly contributes to the development of acute chronic illnesses. Others are a result of a domino effect, resulting in indirect health consequences that exceed the normal scope of cocaine usage. Repeated cocaine use steadily erodes your health in ways that can be difficult to detect until circumstances are dire. The safest way to mitigate this damage is to quit cocaine use once and for all. 

 

Sources: 

https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/circulationaha.110.940569

https://journals.lww.com/acgcr/fulltext/2019/04000/cocaine_gut.1.aspx

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1589607/

https://medcraveonline.com/JLPRR/pulmonary-effects-of-cocaine-use.html