Drug and Alcohol

Effects of Cocaine: How This Powerful Stimulant Affects the Body

What are the Effects of Cocaine?

The effects of cocaine range from euphoria to physical damage. Learn more about the effects of cocaine, addiction, and more in our blog.

Written by

brian-mooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

jeremy-arztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

Drug and Alcohol

October 13, 2023

Why do people use cocaine?

There are a variety of reasons why someone may use cocaine, but one of the main attractions is its powerful stimulant effects. Cocaine is known to increase energy, focus, and confidence, making it a popular drug among those looking for a boost.

However, while the short-term effects may be desirable to some, long-term use of cocaine can have serious consequences on the body. In this article, we will explore the various ways cocaine affects the body and the potential risks associated with its use.

Cocaine by the Numbers:

Cocaine abuse remains a significant concern in the United States. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) in 2021, an estimated 4.8 million Americans aged 12 or older were current users of cocaine. Cocaine abuse is also often associated with polydrug use, meaning that people who use cocaine are more likely to use other substances, such as alcohol, marijuana, or opioids.

Effects of Cocaine: What Is Cocaine?

Cocaine is a powerful and highly addictive drug derived from the coca plant leaves (Erythroxylum coca). It is classified as a Schedule II controlled substance in the United States due to its high potential for abuse and limited medical use.

The drug has a long history of use, dating back to ancient South American cultures that used coca leaves for their stimulating effects. Cocaine was first isolated in its pure form in the mid-19th century, and it gained popularity as a recreational drug in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Effects of Cocaine: How Does Cocaine Work?

Cocaine interferes with the brain's neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, essential in mood regulation and pleasure sensations. By blocking the reabsorption of these neurotransmitters, cocaine accumulates dopamine in the brain, creating intense feelings of euphoria and energy. The drug is typically found as a white, crystalline powder that can be snorted, injected, or smoked.

Smoking cocaine involves freebasing cocaine, or converting it into crack cocaine, which is even more potent and has a shorter duration of effects.

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Effects of Cocaine: Is Cocaine a Stimulant or Depressant?

Cocaine is a stimulant drug. It belongs to the class of drugs known as central nervous system (CNS) stimulants. When cocaine is ingested, it increases the activity of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters are crucial in mood regulation, pleasure sensations, and arousal.

What Are the Effects of Cocaine?

As a stimulant, cocaine produces a range of effects, including:

Effects of Cocaine: Euphoria

Cocaine induces a strong feeling of euphoria and pleasure.

Effects of Cocaine: Increased Energy and Alertness

You may experience heightened energy levels and alertness.

Effects of Cocaine: Talkativeness

Cocaine use often leads to increased sociability and talkativeness.

Effects of Cocaine: Elevated Heart Rate and Blood Pressure

The drug stimulates the cardiovascular system, increasing heart rate and blood pressure.

Effects of Cocaine: Dilated Pupils

Cocaine use can cause the pupils of your eyes to dilate (enlarge).

Effects of Cocaine: Suppressed Appetite

Cocaine can reduce hunger, leading to decreased appetite.

Effects of Cocaine: Anxiety and Restlessness

Along with feelings of euphoria, cocaine use can also trigger anxiety, nervousness, and restlessness.

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Effects of Cocaine: Can Cocaine Have Depressant Effects?

While cocaine is primarily classified as a stimulant due to its ability to increase central nervous system (CNS) activity, it can also have some depressant effects on your body. 

In lower doses or during the early stages of cocaine use, you may experience transient euphoria and increased energy, typical stimulant effects. However, as the effects wear off or with higher doses, you may also experience depressant-like effects, which can include:

Effects of Cocaine: Dysphoria

After the initial euphoria wears off, you may feel dysphoria, depression, or irritability. This "crash" can be intense and lead to a strong craving for more cocaine.

Effects of Cocaine: Fatigue and Lethargy

As the stimulating effects of cocaine subside, some users may feel tired and lethargic.

Effects of Cocaine: Cognitive Impairment

Chronic and heavy cocaine use can lead to cognitive deficits, including difficulties with memory, attention, and decision-making. These cognitive impairments can resemble some of the effects of depressant drugs.

Effects of Cocaine: Reduced Heart Rate and Blood Pressure

While cocaine typically increases heart rate and blood pressure, in some cases, especially with higher doses or in individuals with certain medical conditions, it can lead to depressant-like effects on the cardiovascular system, causing reduced heart rate and blood pressure.

Effects of Cocaine: Respiratory Depression

High doses of cocaine or using cocaine in combination with other substances can depress respiratory function, leading to shallow or slow breathing, a hallmark of depressant drugs.

The combination of stimulant and depressant effects in cocaine can make it a highly unpredictable and dangerous drug. The contrasting effects on the cardiovascular system and the risk of overdose make cocaine use particularly risky. Furthermore, while cocaine may have some depressant-like effects, you must remember that it is primarily a stimulant with significant potential for addiction. 

Why Do People Get Addicted to Cocaine?

Cocaine addiction can develop quickly due to its ability to rapidly increase dopamine levels in the brain, leading to intense feelings of pleasure and reward. Over time, you may become dependent on the drug and find it difficult to control your cocaine use.

Signs and symptoms of cocaine addiction may include:

  • Frequent cravings for cocaine

  • Increased tolerance, requiring higher doses to achieve the desired effects

  • Neglecting personal and professional responsibilities

  • Engaging in risky behaviors to obtain or use cocaine

  • Social withdrawal and isolation

  • Financial difficulties due to spending money on cocaine

  • Physical health issues, such as cardiovascular problems, respiratory issues, and nosebleeds due to cocaine abuse

  • Mental health problems, such as anxiety, paranoia, and depression

  • Failed attempts to quit or cut down on cocaine use

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How Long Do the Effects of Cocaine Last?

The pleasurable effects of cocaine are short-lived, typically lasting for only a few minutes to an hour. After the initial rush wears off, users may experience a "crash" or comedown characterized by depression, fatigue, and a strong craving for more cocaine, leading to a cycle of addiction and dependence. 

Effects of Cocaine: Why Cocaine Addiction Is Dangerous

Apart from addiction, long-term cocaine use can have severe and deadly effects on both physical and mental health. The drug's impact on the brain, heart, and other organ systems can lead to various chronic health problems. 

Cardiovascular Issues

Cocaine is associated with cardiovascular problems, including high blood pressure, irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias), heart attacks, and strokes. Prolonged use can significantly increase the risk of heart-related emergencies.

Respiratory Problems

Smoking crack cocaine, in particular, can damage the lungs and respiratory system, leading to chronic cough, wheezing, and other respiratory issues.

Cognitive Impairment

Long-term cocaine use can cause cognitive deficits, affecting memory, attention, and decision-making abilities.

Psychiatric Disorders

Chronic cocaine use is linked to an increased risk of developing mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, paranoia, and hallucinations.

Nasal Damage

Snorting cocaine can damage the nasal tissues and cartilage, leading to chronic nosebleeds, loss of the sense of smell (anosmia), and a perforated nasal septum.

Gastrointestinal Issues

Cocaine use can cause digestive problems, including abdominal pain, nausea, and reduced appetite.

Weight Loss and Malnutrition

Chronic cocaine users may experience significant weight loss due to decreased appetite and poor eating habits.

Sexual Dysfunction

Long-term cocaine use can lead to sexual dysfunction, including erectile dysfunction in males and menstrual irregularities in females.

Dental Problems

Cocaine use, especially crack cocaine, can contribute to dental issues like tooth decay and tooth loss due to reduced saliva production and increased clenching or grinding of teeth.

Long-term cocaine use can lead to strained relationships, loss of employment, financial difficulties, and legal troubles due to involvement in illegal activities related to drug use.

Long-term use of cocaine can also increase the risk of a cocaine overdose. According to data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 2009 and 2013, the rate of drug overdose deaths involving cocaine remained stable. However, from 2013 to 2018, it experienced a drastic increase, nearly tripling from 1.6 per 100,000 in 2013 to 4.5 in 2018.

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Effects of Cocaine: Long-Term Risks of Cocaine Use

With regular cocaine use, your body and brain can develop tolerance to the drug's effects. As tolerance develops, you will require higher doses of cocaine to achieve the desired effects, which can lead to an increased risk of overdose if you consume larger amounts to compensate. Symptoms of a cocaine overdose can vary, but common signs include:

  • Agitation and restlessness

  • Extreme anxiety or panic

  • Hallucinations or delusions

  • Severe chest pain

  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)

  • High blood pressure

  • Hypertensive crisis (dangerously elevated blood pressure)

  • Hyperthermia (elevated body temperature)

  • Profuse sweating

  • Tremors or muscle twitches

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

  • Seizures

  • Loss of consciousness or coma

What Are the Different Ways People Take Cocaine?

Cocaine can be administered in various ways, and the method of administration can also influence the effects you will feel. The main methods of cocaine administration include:

Snorting

Cocaine is commonly snorted through the nose. When snorted, the drug is absorbed through the nasal tissues and mucous membranes, and its effects are typically felt within a few minutes. Snorting cocaine produces a relatively slower onset of effects than other methods. Still, the high may last up to 30 minutes to an hour.

Smoking

Cocaine can be converted into a form known as crack cocaine, a solid crystal that can be heated and smoked. Smoking crack cocaine allows the drug to rapidly enter the bloodstream through the lungs, leading to almost immediate effects. The high from smoking crack cocaine is intense but relatively short-lived, lasting only a few minutes, which can lead to a more compulsive use pattern.

Injecting

Cocaine can be dissolved in water and injected directly into the bloodstream. Intravenous (IV) use provides an immediate and intense rush of euphoria. Still, it is associated with an increased risk of overdose and various health complications, including infections and collapsed veins.

Why Do the Different Ways People Take Cocaine Affect Them Differently?

The method of administration affects the speed at which cocaine enters the bloodstream and reaches the brain, influencing the intensity and duration of the drug's effects. Smoking and injecting cocaine lead to faster and more intense highs than snorting, resulting in a more gradual onset of effects.

Additionally, the speed of onset and intensity of the high can contribute to the potential for addiction and compulsive drug-seeking behavior. The rapid and intense euphoria produced by smoking or injecting cocaine can make you seek these routes of administration more frequently, which increases the risk of dependence and addiction.

Regardless of the ways people use cocaine, cocaine is a highly addictive and dangerous drug with significant prospective for harm. All routes of cocaine administration carry inherent risks, and using the drug in any form can lead to a range of physical, mental, and social consequences. Seeking help and support for cocaine addiction is crucial for those struggling with its effects. 

What Are the Different Kinds of Drugs?

Drugs can be classified into various categories based on their effects on the body and the central nervous system. The main categories of drugs include stimulants, depressants, hallucinogens, opioids, and cannabinoids.

  • Stimulants: Stimulants increase alertness and energy levels, while depressants have a calming effect and can induce sedation.

  • Hallucinogens: Hallucinogens, like LSD and psilocybin mushrooms, alter perception and may cause hallucinations.

  • Opioids: Opioids, such as heroin, fentanyl, and prescription painkillers, relieve pain but also carry a high risk of addiction and overdose.

  • Cannabinoids: Finally, cannabinoids, found in marijuana and cannabis products, produce psychoactive effects, and can have various medicinal uses.

Understanding these drug categories is fundamental in addressing their potential risks and benefits, helping people make informed decisions regarding drug use, and seeking appropriate treatment when needed. 

What Is the Difference Between a Stimulant and a Depressant?

The main difference between depressants and stimulants lies in their effects on the central nervous system (CNS) and the overall physiological response they produce in the body.

Stimulants:

  • Stimulants are drugs that speed up the central nervous system (CNS) activity

  • They increase alertness, attention, and energy levels

  • Stimulants can elevate heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate

  • Common examples of stimulant drugs include cocaine, amphetamines (e.g., Adderall), methylphenidate (e.g., Ritalin), and caffeine (in moderate doses)

Depressants

  • Depressants are drugs that slow down the central nervous system's (CNS) activity

  • They have a calming and sedating effect on the body, often inducing relaxation and sleepiness

  • Depressants can slow heart rate, lower blood pressure, and decrease respiratory rate

  • Common examples of depressant drugs include alcohol, benzodiazepines (e.g., Valium, Xanax), barbiturates (used less commonly now), and some sleep medications

While stimulants and depressants have opposite effects on the CNS, they both carry risks and can lead to abuse and addiction. Stimulant abuse can increase heart rate, anxiety, and paranoia. In contrast, depressant abuse can lead to respiratory depression, impaired coordination, and memory problems.

The effects of these drugs can vary depending on factors such as the dosage, individual tolerance, and the specific drug being used. Additionally, some drugs can have mixed effects, acting as stimulants and depressants depending on the dose and individual response. For example, alcohol initially acts as a stimulant at low doses. Still, as consumption increases, it primarily exerts depressant effects on the CNS.

One of the Effects of Cocaine Is Addiction. The Edge Treatment Center Will Help

Cocaine is a highly addictive drug, meaning that it can quickly lead to dependence and compulsive use. This is due to the way cocaine affects the brain's reward and pleasure centers, flooding them with dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and motivation.

As a person continues to use cocaine, their brain may become less sensitive to natural sources of dopamine, leading them to seek out more and more of the drug. This can quickly spiral into addiction, as the individual becomes consumed with obtaining and using cocaine.

Worse, cocaine use can be fatal. Whether it's due to the damage it does to the body, or cocaine that's been tainted with other drugs like fentanyl, cocaine addiction can kill if untreated. Fortunately, cocaine addiction is treatable.

At The Edge Treatment Center, we offer comprehensive and personalized treatment for cocaine addiction. Our team of experienced professionals understands the complexity of addiction, and we work with our clients to address not just the physical aspect of cocaine use, but also the psychological and social factors that contribute to it.

Don't be a statistic. Reach out to The Edge Treatment Center today and learn more about our effective, evidence-based treatment for cocaine addiction.

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