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Short And Long-Term Effects Of Snorting Cocaine

Joseph Sitarik, DO

Medically reviewed by

Joseph Sitarik, DO

January 23, 2019

Long-term use of cocaine can create several adverse health concerns that affect the body and brain of the user. Depending on how often a person uses cocaine and how much they use at one time can have an influence on what kind of effects they will experience.

What Is Cocaine?

Cocaine originates from the coca plant which is native to South America. While it may be tempting to think a drug is safer because it is natural, this is far from true. Cocaine comes in two forms—as a “freebase” form referred to as crack, or as a white crystalline powder. The latter is what users snort.

Cocaine is very rarely pure. Instead, when a user abuses it they are quite often snorting any number of other chemicals or substances as well, termed adulterants. These include anesthetics, caffeine, sugars, and even other drugs. Heroin and even fentanyl are increasingly being witnessed in this way due to the rising opioid epidemic.

How Is Cocaine Abused?

Cocaine abuse ranges from sporadic, “recreational” use to that which is compulsive and characteristic of addiction. While addiction is surely one of the most serious and harmful long-term risks, even short-term use can be damaging and even deadly.

Cocaine can be administered in a variety of ways. When a user chooses to snort cocaine they typically arrange the powdered form of the drug in little rows, called “lines.” They then insert various paraphernalia into a nostril (including straws, hollowed-out pens, or rolled dollar bills) and inhale the cocaine into their nasal cavity; from here the drug works quickly and efficiently.

What Happens When You Snort Cocaine?

While some of the cocaine may linger within your nasal cavity or drain into your throat, a significant portion of it passes through specialized cells to your capillaries. From here, according to Duke University’s The Pharmacology Education Partnership it “travels within the venous system to the heart, then to the lungs, and back to the heart for distribution throughout the body.” This is responsible for the speedy rush and sense of euphoria that user seeks.

Snorting or “tooting” cocaine creates what is virtually an immediate high. While this effect occurs rapidly, the sensations do not linger. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), when an individual snorts cocaine the high lasts 15 to 30 minutes. During this time, however, a user feels intense pleasure, which one article, “The Neurobiology of Cocaine Addiction” equates to “pleasure greater than that which follows thirst-quenching or sex.” You might wonder why cocaine can create such a powerful effect.

Short-Term Effects: What Does Cocaine Do?

Cocaine is a powerful stimulant. On a neurological level, stimulants, including cocaine, increase the level of a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Cocaine prevents the reuptake of this chemical, which essentially means it prevents it from being reabsorbed. Instead, it builds up. Dopamine is responsible for creating our brain’s sense of reward, pleasure, and motivation. When these elements are combined in a greater than average way due to excess dopamine the drug abuser experiences a “high.”

According to NIDA, in the short term, cocaine causes:

  • anxiety
  • irritability
  • elevated energy
  • enlarged pupils
  • excessive happiness
  • hypersensitivity (sight, sound, and touch)
  • increased attention and alertness
  • increased heart rate
  • increased respiration
  • nausea
  • paranoia and/or auditory hallucinations
  • raised blood pressure
  • restlessness
  • tremors or twitchy muscles
  • vascular constriction
  • violence or aggression

When a user comes off of their high, they may experience what is referred to as a “coke crash.” In this time they may feel depressed, excessively tired, and/or irritable. Coke can be deadly even on the first use—a user may overdose after only one dose.

Because of the relatively short window of pleasure, many users take more coke fairly soon after the initial dose to prolong the high. Some continue to do this again and again—this is called a binge. Binging compounds the risks and makes what is a dangerous drug even more threatening.

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Intermediate-Term Effects: How Does Cocaine Abuse Progress To Addiction?

Researchers are still studying exactly how cocaine impacts your brain. In addition to creating euphoria, dopamine actually makes a user desire to use cocaine again. Aside from behavioral characteristics, addiction in a user is marked by several changes, including:

  • Tolerance: As abuse continues a user needs more of the drug to produce the same high or euphoria they experienced at smaller doses.
  • Dependence: A person’s brain chemistry has come to rely on the drug’s effects to function.
  • Compulsive use: These patterns signal addiction as a person continues to seek pleasure and reward.

The aforementioned article explains how researchers theorize that cocaine creates addictive tendencies in other ways in regards to:

  • Triggers, cravings, and drug-seeking behavior: When a user gets high, the hippocampus and amygdala—the regions of the brain’s limbic system responsible for memory making—“imprint memories of the intense pleasure as well as the people, places, and things associated with the drug.” These become triggers which may lead a person to fall into compulsive patterns of drug-seeking and -using.
  • Addiction: Researchers found that a certain chemical, ΔFosB, lingers for six to eight weeks in the user after it’s created from cocaine use. While not completely understood, scientists theorize that any additional cocaine exposure during this time increases these levels, thus increasing cocaine’s addictive properties.

Long-Term Effects: Can Cocaine Cause Lasting Damage?

While cocaine’s short-term effects are experienced quickly, with prolonged use an individual can experience a range of uncomfortable, dangerous, and even fatal complications.

Blood-Borne Disease: Some mistakenly think that since they don’t inject they are protected from HIV, hepatitis C, or other blood-borne diseases. This is not true. Cocaine impairs a person’s judgment, increasing the likelihood they engage in unsafe sexual practices which can transmit these diseases.

Cardiovascular Concerns: Cocaine greatly disrupts your cardiovascular system, causing arrhythmias, cardiac arrest, and more. Studies even show that recreational users faced an increased risk of heart attack.

Nasal Complications/Damage: As snorting directly impacts a person’s nose, this region is heavily affected, especially in chronic users. Certain adulterants in cocaine make these effects worse. Risks include:

  • chronic sinusitis (sinus infections)
  • excessively runny nose
  • loss of sense of smell
  • nosebleeds
  • perforated septum (area between your nostrils)
  • saddle nose deformity (flat and broad nose)

Mouth Complications: A user may develop:

  • dental problems from over-brushing, grinding or clenching while high
  • trouble swallowing
  • palate perforation (hole in the roof of your mouth)

Movement Or Muscle Disorders: Cocaine abuse has been linked to:

  • worsening symptoms of Tourette Syndrome
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • rhabdomyolysis (damaged skeletal muscles break down and “leak”)

Overdose: Individuals may use too much cocaine too fast, leading to an overdose; however, as previously noted one use can cause an overdose. Overdose can be fatal.
Cocaine abusers often use with other drugs—including alcohol and heroin—which increase overdose potential.

Pregnancy Complications: NIDA reports: “Cocaine use during pregnancy is associated with maternal migraines and seizures, premature membrane rupture, and separation of the placental lining from the uterus prior to delivery….serious problems with high blood pressure (hypertensive crises), spontaneous miscarriage, preterm labor, and difficult delivery.” Children born to a mother who used during this time may have behavioral or cognitive difficulties and be smaller overall at birth.

Withdrawal: When a person becomes addicted to cocaine they will experience withdrawal should they suddenly stop using the drug.

Other Risks: Cocaine causes other risks, many serious, including:

  • cognitive or brain deficits
  • “coke bugs”: believing imaginary insects are crawling on or under the skin
  • coma
  • emotional dysfunction, including psychosis
  • a headache
  • higher risk of glaucoma
  • malnourishment which may lead to bone density loss
  • reproductive damage
  • seizure or stroke
  • vision impairment or loss

Regardless of how often you choose to use cocaine, you’re exposing yourself to danger. A chronic cocaine habit is expensive and may cause financial strife. Cocaine use disorders can cause damage to relationships, jobs, and any educational endeavors and may cause legal troubles.

Don’t Let Cocaine Destroy Your Life

Despite the promise of a good time, cocaine wields what can be a deadly punch. If you or someone you care about is abusing cocaine or struggling with an addiction, we can offer you more information so you can get help. RehabCenter.net is standing by to help you in any decision regarding drug treatment. Contact us today.

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Cocaine

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Research Report Series: Cocaine

Medscape - Neurologic Effects of Cocaine Follow-up

Canadian Dental Association - Midfacial Complications of Prolonged Cocaine Snort

Mental Health Daily - Long Term Effects of Cocaine on the Brain and Body

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