Cocaine has been used in Europe since the mid 19th century when Italian doctor Paolo Mantegazza recommended that patients could use the effects of cocaine to treat a furred tongue in the morning, flatulence and for whitening the teeth. Coca leaves were also used in the original recipe for Coca-Cola for the first 20 years.
Today, cocaine is a class A drug, which means it is illegal to use it, possess it or supply it. However, the euphoric effects of cocaine mean that it is one of the most widely used recreational drugs in the UK. To explain the change in attitude to the effects of cocaine over the last two centuries, it is important to look at the mental and physical effects of cocaine in the short and long-term, the dangers of the drug and to ask if taking cocaine is worth the risks.
This article on the effects of cocaine is written by Kathryn Senior, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.
The immediate effects of cocaine
The effects of cocaine are almost immediate and will last for between fifteen and thirty minutes, depending on how the drug is taken. The main effect of cocaine is a feeling of stimulation, with emotional symptoms including:
- Heightened confidence
- Sexual arousal
- A more social / talkative mood
This feeling of invincibility can lead to cocaine users taking dangerous risks or getting involved in situations that they would normally avoid, such as crime or unprotected sex.
The physical effects of cocaine include:
- Increased heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
- Dilated pupils
- Increased body temperature
The immediate effects of cocaine wear off completely very quickly, creating a drop in mood and energy levels. This often triggers people to want more of the drug to recreate the ‘good feeling’ they have just experienced.
Explaining the effects
The euphoric effects of cocaine are felt because the drug fools the body into thinking it has experienced a pleasurable sensation. Cocaine stimulates the brain to release the pleasure chemical dopamine and then blocks the natural re-absorption of this chemical to prolong the high. Eventually, the brain overcomes the effects of cocaine and re-absorbs the dopamine rapidly, causing the sudden drop in mood.
The addictive effects
The effects of cocaine can feel so pleasurable that many people become regular users as they strive to return to that pleasurable state. This can result in cocaine binges, where users take more of the drug each time the effects wear off, and can also lead to regular usage or addiction.
What’s more, as the body becomes more and more resistant to the drug, the amount of cocaine required to produce the desired effect increases, leading to a greater and greater need. With cocaine costing between £30 and £50 an ounce, the habit soon becomes expensive, and the effects of cocaine quickly spread beyond the physical to economic, emotional and social issues.
The long term effects
Regular use of cocaine can create a range of problems, as the effects of cocaine cause serious damage throughout the body. The act of taking the drug itself can cause damage:
- Injecting cocaine can cause infections, such as HIV and Hepatitis, from shared needles and damage to the veins (since the drug is also a local anaesthetic this damage often goes unnoticed at the time)
- Smoking cocaine as crack can cause lung damage, breathing problems and even cancer
- Snorting cocaine, perhaps the most infamous method of all, can cause damage or complete disintegration of the septum in the middle of the nose.
There are also many side effects of cocaine that only appear with long term use. These include:
- Anxiety, paranoia and panic attacks
- Depression and a lack-lustre, run down feeling
- Aggravation of underlying mental health problems
- Miscarriage, premature birth and low birth weight babies
The dangerous effects
Cocaine is highly addictive, and this in itself can have some very dangerous effects, as discussed above. However, cocaine is rarely used on its own, and this is where many of the biggest dangers lie. The effects of cocaine, when mixed with alcohol, can be highly toxic, and when mixed with other drugs, can be fatal.
The biggest danger for cocaine users is that of overdose, as increasingly large doses are needed to recreate the high. An overdose occurs when the effects of cocaine on the heart and respiration become too much for the body to take. This can result in:
- Heart attack or heart failure
- Brain haemorrhage or stroke due to high blood pressure
- Convulsions leading to respiratory failure
Are the effects worth the high?
There is no denying that the effects of cocaine make you ‘feel good’ while they last, and the immediate damage is no greater than the damage from cigarettes or alcohol. However, the highly addictive nature of the drug means that the short-term effects of cocaine are far outweighed by the dangers.