The Health Effects of Cocaine Use

Short-Term and Long-Term Effects

person cutting line of cocaine with razorblade
Jose Azel/Aurora Open/Getty Images

The short- and long-term effects of cocaine use and abuse cause a wide variety of health issues from mild to severe. Whether you snort, inject, or smoke cocaine, this illegal drug is a strong central nervous system stimulant that affects your brain's processing of dopamine, a brain chemical associated with pleasure and movement.

Cocaine users develop a tolerance over time and report that they are never able to achieve the "high" they felt the first time that they used the drug.

As tolerance to the drug develops, the euphoric feeling users get is not as intense nor does it last as long.

Short-Term Effects of Cocaine Use

When you use cocaine, it interferes with your brain's reabsorption of dopamine, producing a euphoric effect. Shortly after you ingest it using the method of your choice, you may experience:

  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased body temperature
  • Increased heart rate
  • Higher blood pressure

During the euphoric period after you use cocaine, which can last up to 30 minutes, you will probably feel:

  • Hyperstimulation
  • Reduced fatigue
  • Mental alertness

However, some people also have unpleasant experiences, including:

  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety

Effects of a Cocaine Binge

During a cocaine binge, any period of time where you use cocaine repeatedly, you may experience the following:

  • Increasing restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Paranoia

For some people, bingeing on cocaine can lead to:

  • A period of paranoid psychosis
  • Auditory hallucinations
  • A disconnection with reality

Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Use

Repeated cocaine use, rather than occasional recreational use, is abusing this substance and can cause the following health consequences:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Heart attack
  • Chest pain
  • Respiratory failure
  • Stroke
  • Seizures and headaches
  • Abdominal pain and nausea

Chronic cocaine can use can also cause malnourishment due to the drug's ability to decrease your appetite.

Effects of Snorting, Injecting, and Smoking Cocaine

Snorting or injecting cocaine can produce specific health effects, including:

  • Snorting: Chronically runny nose, nosebleeds, loss of smell, hoarseness, and problems swallowing.
  • Injecting: Severe allergic reactions, and increased risk for contracting HIV, hepatitis, and other blood-borne diseases.

Additionally, when you inject cocaine, the euphoric feeling can last from 15 to 30 minutes, but when you smoke it, the high may last only five to 10 minutes, causing you to use more cocaine more often.

Cocaine is highly addictive and those who smoke cocaine appear to develop an addiction to the drug more rapidly than those who snort it.

Effects of a Cocaine Overdose

Because cocaine affects the heart and respiratory system, an overdose can cause death, especially when you inject or smoke it. An overdose of cocaine can lead to:

  • Irregular heartbeat or heart failure
  • High blood pressure resulting in a brain hemorrhage
  • Repeated convulsions
  • Respiratory failure
  • Death

Statistics

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that from 2000 to 2016 there were 10,619 cocaine overdose deaths nationally.

Deaths from a combination of cocaine and opioids have more than doubled since 2010, and deaths involving cocaine alone have increased by nine percent.

Sources:

National Institute on Drug Abuse. Overdose Death Rates. Updated September 2017.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. What Are the Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Use? Updated May 2016.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. What Are the Short-Term Effects of Cocaine Use? Updated May 2016.