Cocaine Facts: The Effects
Cocaine is the most potent stimulant of natural origin. This substance can be snorted, smoked or injected.
Pure cocaine was first used in the 1880s in eye, nose, and throat surgeries as an anesthetic and for its ability to constrict blood vessels and limit bleeding. However, many of its therapeutic applications are now obsolete because of the development of safer drugs. When snorted, cocaine powder is inhaled through the nose where it is absorbed into the bloodstream through the nasal tissues. When injected, a needle is used to release the drug directly into the bloodstream. Smoking involves inhaling cocaine vapor or smoke into the lungs where absorption into the bloodstream is as rapid as by injection. Each of these methods of administration poses great risks to the user.
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Cocaine Effects: Short Term
Derived from the leaves of the coca bush, cocaine is a strong central nervous system stimulant. Cocaine’s effects on the body include constricted blood vessels and increased temperature, heart rate and blood pressure. Cocaine produces a sense of euphoria by causing the brain to release higher than normal amounts of dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked to pleasure and motivation. However, users may also experience feelings of restlessness, irritability and anxiety. The duration of cocaine’s immediate euphoric effects depends upon the route of administration. The faster the absorption, the more intense the high. Also, the faster the absorption, the shorter the duration of action.
The high from snorting cocaine is relatively slow in onset, and may last 15 to 30 minutes, while the euphoria from smoking may last only five to 10 minutes. Evidence suggests that users who smoke or inject cocaine may be at even greater risk of causing harm to themselves than those who snort the substance.
Cocaine Effects: Long Term
Cocaine smokers can suffer from respiratory problems including coughing, shortness of breath, and severe chest pains with lung trauma and bleeding. Regularly snorting cocaine can lead to loss of smell, problems swallowing, nosebleeds and chronic runny nose. People who inject cocaine are at risk of contracting HIV and hepatitis C.
Cocaine’s effects in the long term also include risk of stroke, inflammation of the heart and aortic ruptures. Making matters worse, many cocaine users also consume alcohol, a combination that can be particularly dangerous. The two substances are converted by the body into cocaethylene, which affects the brain longer and is more potent than either drug alone. Not only is cocaethylene toxic in the liver, it is also blamed for heart attacks in people using both substances.
When cocaine’s effects wear off, the body crashes almost immediately. This crash is accompanied by a strong craving for more cocaine. As dopamine levels plunge, users will experience fatigue, lack of pleasure, anxiety, irritability, sleepiness and sometimes agitation or extreme suspicion. Cocaine withdrawal often has no visible physical symptoms like the vomiting and shaking that accompanies withdrawal from heroin or alcohol. In the past, people have underestimated just addictive cocaine can be. The level of craving, irritability, delayed depression and other symptoms produced by cocaine withdrawal rivals or exceeds that of other withdrawal syndromes.
Cocaine Addiction Treatment
Cocaine addiction treatment is usually most effective in an inpatient setting. Although there are currently no medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat cocaine addiction, research has shown that behavioral therapies are very effective in helping people achieve long-term sobriety. Contingency management is one form of behavioral therapy that uses monetary vouchers to reward patients for clear urine tests. Another extremely effective treatment is called cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of counseling that helps people unlearn the habits that led to cocaine use and learn or relearn habits that are much healthier.
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