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The Dangers Of Eating Cocaine (Oral Use)

Medically reviewed by

Debra Wallace, MA.Ed, LPCC-S, LICDC-CS

February 11, 2019

Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant that may be ingested orally. Individuals that eat cocaine are at risk for addiction, seizures, and overdose.

Cocaine is a stimulant drug that can be injected, snorted, or eaten. When a person uses cocaine orally, the drug hits their bloodstream very fast and can result in addiction. People who eat cocaine are also at risk for heart problems, high blood pressure, and respiratory illnesses.

Oral cocaine use can include rubbing small amounts of the substance on the gums, as well as swallowing the drug. The most common way individuals eat cocaine is by wiping traces of the drug off a surface, and rubbing the residue onto their gums. This can result in an intensified high.

What Is Cocaine?

Cocaine is a central nervous system stimulant that can have dangerous effects on the heart and lungs. Because cocaine is so potent, even short-term use can lead to an addiction.

Cocaine comes from the coca plant, typically found in South American countries. People in South America chewed the stimulating leaves to stay alert during long days of fieldwork.

The purified chemical taken from coca leaves is called cocaine hydrochloride, and is usually found in powder form. On the street, cocaine may be called coke, blow, powder, or white lady.

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What Happens In The Brain When You Eat Cocaine?

When a person ingests cocaine orally, the drug gets absorbed into the bloodstream through gum tissue. Eating cocaine can cause feelings of intense energy and euphoria, or feeling “high.”

This high is a result of the way cocaine affects the brain’s reward system. The drug triggers a release of hormones like dopamine and norepinephrine, which are responsible for feelings of accomplishment and confidence.

Because of these pleasurable feelings, cocaine is extremely addictive. The high from eating cocaine is short-lived, and the brain quickly requires another dose in order to continue the high. This immediate craving is part of what makes cocaine so dangerous.

Cocaine also changes the way the mind and body handle stress. While this drug can cause temporary feelings of well-being, it ultimately affects a person’s ability to manage stress. Poorly managed stress can lead to a host of medical issues.

Eating cocaine can impact the brain in additional ways, including:

  • anxiety
  • altered judgment
  • poor decision-making
  • lack of self-awareness
  • irritability
  • panic
  • paranoia

What Happens In The Body When You Eat Cocaine?

Eating cocaine can have many dangerous effects on the body, including raising the risk of heart attack, stroke, and seizure. Even a single instance of using cocaine can lead to fatal consequences.

Other ways cocaine can negatively impact the body include:

  • tremors
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • excessive sweating
  • muscle twitches
  • increased energy and alertness
  • euphoria
  • irregular heartbeat
  • restlessness
  • sexual dysfunction (men and women)
  • erratic or violent behavior
  • coma
  • death

Additionally, individuals who sell cocaine on the street may dilute or “cut” the powder with various toxic chemicals. Ingesting these chemicals contributes to the dangers of eating cocaine, including the risk of overdose.

Cocaine Overdose Symptoms

Eating, smoking, or snorting cocaine can lead to overdose (cocaine poisoning). If a person is drinking or using other drugs with cocaine, their risk of overdose increases.

Signs of a cocaine overdose include:

  • seizures
  • unconsciousness
  • loss of urine control
  • high body temperature
  • excessive sweating
  • blue tint to the skin
  • fast breathing
  • difficulty breathing

Knowing the signs of an overdose could save a person’s life. If you or someone around you is showing signs of a cocaine overdose, call emergency services immediately.

Cocaine Addiction And Detox

Cocaine use can quickly lead a person down the path of drug addiction. Addiction can include a mental preoccupation as well as a physical dependence on a substance.

When a person is dependent on cocaine, their body is accustomed to having that substance in order to function. Over time, a tolerance is built and they begin needing higher and higher doses of the drug to get the desired effect.

If a person stops using cocaine suddenly, they will likely begin to experience withdrawal. Cocaine withdrawal has three stages, beginning with what is called a “crash.” This phase occurs when the high of cocaine begins to wear off, and individuals experience symptoms like fatigue and depression.

Acute withdrawal occurs next, where individuals experience strong cravings for the drug. This phase can last anywhere from one to ten weeks.

The last phase of withdrawal is extinction, where individuals may or may not experience recurrent cravings.

Additional signs of cocaine withdrawal include:

  • depressed mood
  • change in appetite
  • vivid or unpleasant dreams
  • compromised sleep
  • low energy

Sometimes, people that are dependent on cocaine continue using the drug simply to avoid unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Because of the extended timeline of cocaine withdrawal, many people require drug detoxification in order to stop using this drug.

Medical detox programs offer compassionate care for those who are dependent on cocaine. Medical staff provides support and monitoring in an environment that aims to keep patients comfortable as they pass through the withdrawal stage.

Many detox programs offer medication-assisted treatment, which helps to reduce withdrawal symptoms and prevent relapse.

Treatment For Cocaine Addiction

More than 5,000 Americans died from a cocaine overdose in 2014, and millions more suffered from health conditions related to the drug.

Cocaine addiction does not have to steal someone’s chance at a healthy life. There is help available — formal addiction treatment centers provide hope to those struggling with cocaine addiction.

Addiction treatment centers typically offer inpatient, outpatient, or partial-hospitalization program options.

Inpatient programs provide residential treatment, where individuals live on-site and participate in therapies like counseling, nutritional wellness, and sober living skills.

Outpatient and partial-hospitalization programs are scheduled in either day or evening sessions. These programs offer treatment in a more flexible format, to accommodate those who have family or professional commitments.

Because outpatient programs are less secure environments, this type of treatment is usually recommended for those who have a strong support system and a low chance of relapse.

At each level of treatment, clients will participate in therapies that include addiction education, 12-Step meetings, and group counseling.

The ultimate goal of treatment is to empower those struggling with addiction toward a fulfilling life in recovery. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that at least 90 days of treatment is associated with better outcomes for recovery.

If you are concerned about the cost of addiction treatment, many public and private insurance companies help ensure that treatment is affordable.

To learn more about the dangers of eating cocaine, reach out to one of our treatment specialists today.

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Cocaine

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition)

U.S National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus - Cocaine intoxication

U.S National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health - Repeated Dosing with Oral Cocaine in Humans: Assessment of Direct Effects, Withdrawal and Pharmacokinetics

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