Irritability, restlessness and paranoia are commonly-known side effects of cocaine use, but did you know that this potent drug could also be permanently damaging your heart? According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an estimated 23.9 million Americans age 12 or older has used an illicit drug or abused a psychotherapeutic medication in the past month. Heart attacks and unstable angina (chest pain) are becoming more common in young people who regularly use cocaine, as well as other cardiovascular events such as high blood pressure and blood vessel stiffness. Learn more about the effects of cocaine use on the heart and how this drug could be increasing your risk of heart attack.
Ingredients Found in Cocaine
The harmful ingredients that are found in cocaine are what make the drug so powerfully addictive. Cocaine generally contains a mixture of cocaine hydrochloride and various filler ingredients, some of which have psychoactive or numbing properties. This strong stimulant also contains a chemical substance known as benzoylmethylecgonine. This chemical is found in the leaves of the Erythroxylon coca plant, which grows in Columbia, Java, Bolivia and Peru.
How Cocaine Affects the Heart
Cocaine can cause damage to the heart in a number of ways. Although heart problems are more common in long-term cocaine users, even individuals using cocaine for the very first time can suffer a heart attack and various other cardiovascular abnormalities. Numerous cardiovascular complications have been linked to cocaine use, including chest pain syndromes, strokes, heart attacks, heart failure, aortic dissection (separation of the aorta walls), and non-fatal and fatal arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythm).
Even if you are young and healthy, cocaine can quickly wreak havoc on your cardiovascular system. Cocaine causes a sudden rise in blood pressure and heart rate, as well as increased contractions on the left ventricle of the heart. These effects alone can be enough to trigger a heart attack. As cocaine tightly constricts or squeezes the coronary arteries that are essential for forcing blood to the heart and brain, these arteries can be obstructed, causing a stroke or heart attack.
Effects of Combined Drug Use
Although using cocaine on its own can be detrimental to your heart health, using cocaine in addition to other dangerous substances can significantly increase your risk of heart attack. When cocaine use is combined with cigarettes, alcohol or various other drugs, these substances exacerbate the other's ability to constrict blood vessels and elevate the heart rate. In addition to heart attack, other problems caused by combined substance use may include intense chest pain, anxiety, difficulty breathing, nausea, and dizziness.
Why the Route of Administration Matters
How a drug is administered can make a big impact on how it affects you. The faster the cocaine is absorbed into the body, the shorter the duration of action. It's also true that the faster the cocaine is absorbed, the more intense the high. Cocaine is generally snorted or smoked. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, the high from sniffing or snorting powder cocaine may last between 15 and 30 minutes on average, while the effects of smoking cocaine is felt almost immediately and lasts only 5 to 10 minutes on average. The effects from smoking cocaine are usually more intense than snorting.
Even short-term, cocaine can constrict blood vessels, increase body temperature, dilate pupils, and skyrocket blood pressure and heart rate. When taking in higher doses, cocaine can cause tremors, muscle twitches, vertigo, paranoia, and a toxic reaction that closely resembles amphetamine poisoning. In rare scenarios, cocaine use can even cause death soon after using it for the first time. These cocaine deaths are usually caused by a cardiac seizure or arrest, followed by respiratory arrest.
Cocaine is a highly addictive, powerful drug that can cause numerous heart problems. If you are suffering from the effects of cocaine use or want to seek help for your substance abuse, click here for more info or contact your local drug addiction treatment center.