Cocaine is a drug that causes some health concerns. This is true but cocaine is used in hospitals before surgery. Surprised? Journey with us, as we explore and talk about this drug and its effects on the body.
Cocaine is a stimulant drug. This means that it stimulates your body to produce energy so that you become alert and active. Cocaine causes the brain to speed up some of its functions.
There are different forms of cocaine:
1. It is extracted from the leaves of the coca plant and processed with other chemicals to form a white powder as cocaine hydrochloride.
2. Freebase – this type is in powder form and purer than cocaine hydrochloride.
3. Crack- this is created to form crystals
The first is either snorted, injected while the remaining two are smoked.
People have different names for cocaine and these include C, coke, crack, nose candy, snow, white lady, toot, Charlie, blow, white dust or stardust.
Because cocaine is sometimes mixed with other chemicals, users have no idea if it will be strong or weak. The effects depend on the strength of the dose, the presence of other chemicals, the physiology of the person taking it and the state of mind. It can be inhaled, smoked or injected.
The effects are usually short-term lasting less than an hour or 2. They include:
· Intense feeling of happiness
· An escape from reality
· Increased body temperature and heart rate
· Dilated pupils
· Loss of appetite
How cocaine works
The question many of you may be asking yourself, is how does cocaine affect the brain? Well, that is simple.
The brain is one of the organs responsible for releasing neurotransmitters (hormones). The brain rewards us when we engage in life-enhancing activities such as eating or even having sex. It does that by releasing pleasurable neurotransmitters or hormones. Dopamine is one of these hormones, it’s more like a reward hormone. You become happy. Hence, you usually want to repeat that activity or behaviour. Now, this is what happens:
The brain has a cell called a neuron. Dopamine is produced in one neuron called the pre-synaptic neuron(transmitting neuron) and moves through a space called the synaptic cleft to another neuron called the postsynaptic neuron(receiving neuron). There are receptors on the postsynaptic neurons which accepts the dopamine which has been produced. It is when these receptors bind to the hormone -dopamine that is when you begin to feel euphoric and happy. Sometimes, the dopamine produced becomes too much so it goes back (absorbed by) to the presynaptic neuron through a dopamine transporter (like a pathway).
When a person takes in cocaine, the cocaine binds to the dopamine transporter. This prevents excess dopamine from being reabsorbed into the presynaptic neuron. Thus, dopamine will continue to be released and bind to the postsynaptic neuron. Dopamine then makes the cocaine user feel energized, alert and happy. Nothing lasts forever so even this good feeling will last from 5 minutes to 90 minutes. Afterwards, you begin to feel extreme sadness or depression. You begin to feel paranoid, restless, irritable and droopy.
The cocaine made the brain produce more dopamine than usual so when the cocaine is depleted in the body, your body will now take a longer period to reach the normal dopamine level and release dopamine again. During this period, cocaine users as mentioned become restless and experience depressive symptoms. They use cocaine again to experience those good feelings again. This is why cocaine is very addictive.
As time goes on, cocaine can cause your brain to become less sensitive to dopamine. When this happens, it means you will need more cocaine to cause the brain to react and release dopamine. Cocaine is addictive not only psychologically but neurochemically because even your brain becomes addicted to it.
Effects of cocaine
The continuous use of cocaine is what causes many health issues because the body can recover after a first attempt. Users enjoy the experience and go for more and eventually become addicted which ends up harming the body.
· In the heart, it causes disturbances in the heart rhythm and even heart attacks.
· In the brain, it might cause issues such as seizures and comas.
· In the GIT (Gastrointestinal tissues) or gut, it can cause extreme vomiting and abdominal pain.
Snorting cocaine regularly might cause:
- Nose bleeds or runny nose
- A nose infection
- Damage to the tissue separating the nostrils (nasal septum)
- Loss of sense of smell.
· Cocaine users suffer from depression especially when they cannot afford to purchase more. Others experience a condition termed ‘cocaine psychosis’ which includes symptoms such as aggression and disturbing hallucination especially about insects crawling under their skin.
· Users who inject cocaine are more likely to contract diseases such as HIV or hepatitis from shared tools and equipment.
· There is a high risk of blood poisoning, damaged blood vessels and skin conditions especially for those who inject.
· Death in the case of an overdose.
Even though cocaine has many bad effects, cocaine is still used by some physicians to stop nosebleeds, and for pain control before minor nose surgery. Dentists or oral surgeons can also use cocaine for anaesthesia before procedures. There are better alternatives but this cocaine can also be used.
The most common deaths of cocaine are usually due to heart attacks and seizures. In the incidence of a cocaine overdose, an enzyme called cocaine esterase may be used. It breaks down cocaine in the body but this is temporary because it works for less than 30 minutes. This can stop the effects of cocaine especially during an overdose but it is not enough to treat overdose or even addiction. There is research ongoing to extend the period at which this enzyme works especially during an overdose. Who knows? Maybe a vaccine may even be produced.
Until then, other treatments are used to treat cocaine users such as cognitive behaviour therapy.
Giving up cocaine is hard because your brain has to also adjust to the new development. In cognitive behaviour therapy, cocaine users are taught to recognize situations that make them crave cocaine and avoid such situations. They are taught how to cope even if such a situation arises. Also, there are therapeutic communities that consist of individuals who have decided to quit taking this drug. They encourage and help others like themselves to successfully abstain from using.
In a nutshell, cocaine is a stimulant that taps into the brain's reward system. Withdrawal is hard so stay away as its consequences are dire!
- Alcohol and drug foundation. Retrieved fromhttps://adf.org.au/drug-facts/cocaine/
- Cocaine. Retrieved from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/cocaine
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