Cocaine is a very common drug and an easily attainable one too. But what are the dangers of snorting cocaine? Could someone develop a cocaine addiction?
Cocaine is made from the leaves of the coca plant, which is native to South America. It is a highly addictive stimulant drug, that comes in two chemical forms. Hydrochloride salt, or the powdered form of cocaine, can be dissolved in water or abused in its original form. Freebase cocaine is the other chemical form, which is a compound that has not been neutralized by an acid.
Pure cocaine, or cocaine hydrochloride, has been used for over a century, while coca leaves have been ingested for thousands of years. Healthcare providers use the pure form for medical purposes, such as local anesthesia for surgeries, but its recreational use is illegal.
Cocaine is often mixed with cornstarch, talcum powder, or flour when sold on the street, as street dealers can increase profits this way. They may also mix it with other drugs, such as amphetamine or the synthetic opioid fentanyl.
Freebase cocaine is processed to make a crystal rock, while a fine white powder version of it is referred to as 'coke'. 'Crack' looks like small rocks or lumps. While cocaine powder tastes and smells bitter and chemical-like, crack cocaine could smell like burnt rubber or plastic.
The natural chemical messenger in the brain called dopamine is related to the reward system, and also to the control of movement. Cocaine increases these levels, causing a person to have more energy, experience euphoria, and increased social output. Usually, dopamine is recycled back into the cell that has released it, and this shuts off the signals between nerve cells. But when cocaine is present, it prevents dopamine from being recycled.
This causes large amounts of cocaine to build up in the space between nerve cells, affecting normal communication. The flood of dopamine in the reward circuit can reinforce drug-taking behavior, while continued drug use can cause the circuit to become less sensitive to the drug, causing it to adapt.
Cocaine is most commonly snorted. People crush it into a fine powder, divide it into lines and then inhale it through their nostrils. It is then absorbed into the bloodstream through the nasal tissues.
The powder can also be dissolved into liquid form and injected. This releases it directly into the bloodstream and can heighten the effects of cocaine. Smoking crack involves inhaling cocaine vapor or smoke, where the lungs absorb it into the bloodstream as fast as injecting it. Cocaine can also be rubbed onto tissues of the nose.
Some people combine cocaine powder or crack with heroin, referred to as a 'speedball'.
Some people use cocaine occasionally, while others do so repeatedly or compulsively, but there is no safe way to use it. Whether someone follows a pattern that is in between these extremes or only tries it once, the absorption of toxic amounts of cocaine can happen through any means of administration.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports about 5.2 million people in the United States using cocaine in 2020. What effect does cocaine produce that makes so many people take it?
Cocaine use places a person at risk for short and long-term health risks, especially damaging the circulatory system.
Initially, cocaine can make a user feel euphoric, overconfident, excited, and happy. Usually, small amounts of cocaine can make a person feel energetic, very talkative, and mentally alert. It can also cause them to feel hypersensitive to touch, sound, or sight, and temporarily decrease any need for eating or sleeping. Some people may feel that they can perform simple physical tasks faster.
As with most substance abuse, the duration of euphoria caused by cocaine depends on the method of taking it. If the drug is absorbed faster, the 'high' will be more intense, but also shorter. In the case of cocaine, its effects appear almost instantly but can disappear within a few minutes to one hour.
Snorting cocaine will produce a relatively slow onset of a euphoric effect compared to smoking cocaine or injecting it, lasting between fifteen minutes to half an hour. The high from smoking is more immediate but could last only five to ten minutes.
But instead of the cocaine high, some people do experience the opposite effect. Cocaine could cause extreme fear and suspicion for some. Snorting cocaine causes physical and mental side effects that are dangerous and potentially life-threatening.
Short-term effects of cocaine abuse include constricted blood vessels, an increased body temperature, and dilated pupils. One of the more dangerous effects of cocaine is unpredictable and violent behavior, while a person may have a higher heart rate and higher blood pressure.
Other effects include:
Although cocaine is a risk even for young, healthy people, it is particularly risky for anyone who has high blood pressure or a heart condition. It most often has cardiovascular effects, which include heart rhythm disturbances, chest pain, or a heart attack.
As with most substance abuse, cocaine can lead to severe and sometimes fatal consequences. Anyone is at risk of having a fit or suffering a stroke or coma after cocaine use. In rare instances, sudden death has occurred on the first use of cocaine, or thereafter.
Some people take cocaine on a binge, meaning that it is taken in repeated doses, and each dose increases in amount. This leads to increased irritability and restlessness, but can also cause a paranoid psychosis, or severe paranoia. A person may lose complete touch with reality when they hear noises that aren't real, known as auditory hallucinations.
The prolonged use of cocaine can also manifest in physical effects. These include stomach pain, heart palpitations, coronary artery malfunction, or sudden death. Cocaine use is also linked to movement disorders, such as Parkinson's disease. This could occur many years after cocaine use.
As the drug usually decreases appetite and therefore causes a decrease in food intake, malnourishment is another long-term effect of regular cocaine use. Cocaine users often experience significant weight loss.
Long-term use has psychological effects too. When someone regularly uses cocaine, they may feel depressed, anxious, run-down, or paranoid. Any mental health issues are brought to the surface by cocaine use, placing any person with a history of mental health disorders at increased risk.
Repeated cocaine use can easily lead to a debilitating addiction. Cocaine manipulates and stimulates neurotransmitters to produce more dopamine, which is exactly what makes it so addictive. It can cause a person to feel a desire to use more and more of the drug in more frequent intervals to feel the same effect, which leads to a pattern of use that may require addiction treatment to overcome.
Physical and behavioral factors can indicate an addiction to coke or crack cocaine. Someone who suffers from a cocaine use disorder may show the following signs:
A person who abstains from cocaine use for a certain period of time may experience memories of the euphoria they associated with its use. These memories, as well as exposure to any triggers related to drug use, can cause immense cravings for cocaine and make a person return to drug use. This is possible even after long periods of abstinence.
Cocaine also affects the brain's stress response, which makes circuits in the brain that are related to stress become increasingly sensitive. This too contributes to a higher risk of relapse.
When cocaine abuseis stopped, or after a binge ends, a person will experience a crash almost immediately. Strong cravings for the drug occur, but other symptoms such as a lack of pleasure, irritability, and anxiety may come up.
Agitation, extreme suspicion, and paranoia often occur, along with other symptoms, such as:
For some people, withdrawal symptoms are associated with suicidal thoughts as depression can last for months after stopping its use.
Snorting cocaine involves inhaling the powder through the nose. Snorting drugs usually causes damage to specific organs of the body, and cocaine is no exception.
Cocaine causes harm to all the structures involved in our sense of smell. Snorting cocaine affects the nose's tissues directly, and regularly doing so can sometimes cause permanent damage to the olfactory system. It causes harm especially when it has not been chopped very finely, but even fine powder will damage and progressively worsen the soft tissue of the nose if cocaine use is regular.
Cocaine abuse may cause soft tissues of the upper nose and palate to erode, which cause holes to appear throughout the nasal cavity. The eroding of the tissue separating the nostrils, called the nasal septum, often leads to further issues. Apart from having a runny or stuffy nose, frequent nose bleeds, a reduced sense of smell, or difficulty swallowing, health issues usually spread to other nearby organs.
Snorting cocaine may also cause a person to initially have a sinus infection. As people snort cocaine with various tools, a sinus infection could be caused either by cocaine powder itself or by the dirt from the tools used. Even though a sinus infection may seem like a minor threat, regularly snorting cocaine means that the nose does not have time to heal. Untreated sinus infections can easily spread to the eyes. It can cause permanent damage to a person's vision, and with cocaine's ability to greatly reduce blood flow, can lead to hearing loss, and cause an infection of the brain and the spine.
As with so many powdered form drugs, cocaine's purity is inconsistent. It may go up and down depending on the market, meaning a manufacturer or dealer could add any drug to the powder to make more profit at any given point. Cocaine powder could be cut with many things but is most often cut with benzocaine.
Benzocaine is a local anesthetic that produces numbing effects like that of cocaine, but without producing euphoria. Some cocaine may be laced with fentanyl, sugar, or starch.
The impurity of cocaine places a person at greater risk for suffering side effects of both cocaine and another drug, as well as the potential for an overdose.
When a person uses enough of a substance to produce severe or adverse effects, symptoms that are life-threatening or lead to death, they are suffering from an overdose. Overdoses from cocaine can, like with other drugs, be intentional or unintentional, but the risk, in this case, is that a person may die from an overdose even on their first use.
Many cocaine users mix cocaine with other drugs, often leading to overdose deaths. In 2019, 76% of overdose deaths in the United States involving cocaine also involved an opioid.
Cocaine is often used alongside alcohol. This mixture is especially dangerous, as these substances react, producing cocaethylene, which can enhance the toxic effects of cocaine and alcohol on the heart. A person is at a much higher risk of suffering an overdose when mixing these two substances.
A cocaine overdose may include the following symptoms:
Severe consequences can include:
Cocaine-related deaths often occur as a result of seizures or cardiac arrest.
Treatment for cocaine abuse or cocaine addiction is available at treatment centers. As with most drug abuse treatments, treatment may involve a person undergoing detox. This is where the substance and its toxins are released from the body.
Detox from a cocaine use disorder is best done under supervision in a treatment center, in case medical complications occur and when a person needs support in managing withdrawal symptoms.
A treatment center could offer inpatient treatment, whereby a person would reside inside the treatment facility for the duration of receiving treatment. They could also offer outpatient treatment, whereby a person resides at home and comes to treatment centers to attend specific therapies or programs.
Depending on the severity of each individual's drug use, as well as their drug abuse history and any co-occurring mental health issues, a treatment provider will design a treatment plan.
After detox, addiction treatment at a treatment center will give a person the chance to address the reasons for substance abuse in the first place. Cognitive behavioral therapy is most often included in treatment programs as a one-on-one kind of therapy and involves a person uncovering triggers for using drugs. It also includes guidance on how to respond to these triggers in a healthy way instead of relapsing to drug use.
Treatment programs often include group therapy or support groups, whereby people share their experiences and difficulties in battling substance addiction. This is one of the treatment options that commonly helps to prevent relapse, as it helps people understand that they are not alone in their struggle, and provides a peer community that is a huge support in and after recovery.
Family therapy is also part of recovery at treatment centers. It allows all members of the family to express their feelings and concerns, so that they may be a supportive unit for anyone undergoing recovery.
If you or a loved one is seeking a treatment provider for cocaine addiction, Vita Recovery is here to help.
We understand that both addiction and recovery are personal and individual. That is why the experienced staff at our world-class facility can create a treatment program tailored to your needs. Our comprehensive recovery services include inpatient and outpatient programs, while our family support program can help loved ones.
Vita Recovery's innovative approach to addiction treatment will ensure that your medical, psychological, emotional, and social needs are addressed, giving you a chance for a healthy and happy life.