Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Cocaine is a powerful recreational drug that has a wide range of physical and psychoactive effects including intense feelings of euphoria, happiness, and alertness. Cocaine has gained infamy over the years due to its association with popular culture and celebrity use and abuse. Cocaine continues to be a controversial drug due to its powerful effects on the body, its contentious history, and its addictive nature.

Read on to discover some unlikely health benefits and learn more about the dangerous effects of cocaine.

NOTE: Selfhacked does not support the use of cocaine, even though it may have some benefits.  We feel the negatives far outweigh any of the positives.

Introduction To Cocaine

Cocaine (benzoylmethylecgonine) is a well-known illegal stimulant that is widely used all over the world [R, R].

Cocaine (coca alkaloid) is derived from the leaves of the coca plant (Erythroxylon coca) [RR].

In spite of its recent notoriety, cocaine has a documented history of use by the Amara Indians of Peru. This tribe has “used cocaine” for thousands of years by chewing the leaves of the coca plant [R].

This low-level usage appears to have produced few adverse effects, presumably due to the low concentration of the active component in the leaves and the laborious act of extracting cocaine by chewing the coca leaves [R].

However, its use changed after 1859 when the German chemist Albert Niemann purified cocaine [R].

Around the end of 1884, cocaine started gaining publicity due to the interest conveyed by a number of scientists. Sigmund Freud praised the drug in his famous Cocaine Papers describing its therapeutic properties in relieving depression and anxiety [R].

Following Freud’s publications, Carl Koller discovered the anesthetic properties of cocaine on the human eye [R].

Purified cocaine became commercially available when Merck started refining and producing it [R].

Without regulatory restrictions, cocaine was initially sold as both a therapeutic and consumable product [R].

However, the passage of the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914 in the US banned the distribution of cocaine due to widespread cocaine abuse and addiction [R].

Despite regulatory restrictions, the drug is still sold and used illegally around the world. According to a United Nations report, around 18.3 million people used cocaine in 2014 [R].

Cocaine is a white crystal powder that can be snorted, smoked, or injected [R].

Cocaine is called “crack” when is it smoked (freebase form of cocaine). Its street names include coke, flake, snow, and powder.

Cocaine Mechanisms Of Action

Cocaine is highly addictive and produces a feeling of euphoria through the brain’s pleasure center (buildup of dopamine in limbic system) [R].

Independent of the route of administration (snorted, smoked, or injected), cocaine is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and reaches the brain to initiate its psychopharmacological effects [RR].

Once in the brain, cocaine blocks the reuptake of the neurotransmitters dopamine, noradrenaline, serotonin, and acetylcholine by presynaptic neurons (mesolimbic and mesocortical areas), which increases their effects on the postsynaptic neurons [RR, R].

More specifically, cocaine blocks the dopamine transporter SLC6A3, which causes a buildup of dopamine and an overactivation of dopamine receiving neurons [R].

Also, by blocking neurotransmitter transporters through a similar mechanism, cocaine increases norepinephrine and serotonin, which has a profound effect on both the brain and the heart [R, R].

Dopamine reinforces the addictive behaviors in the limbic “pleasure” or “reward” center of the brain (mesolimbic and mesocortical dopaminergic systems) [RR].

The release of dopamine in the brain causes psychoactive changes as increased body movements and mood [R].

These psychoactive changes can lead to uncontrolled writhing movements (cocaine-induced movements or crack dancing) [RR].

The sustained effects of the leftover dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin cause narrowing of blood vessels leading to heart complications [RR].

As shown by animal studies involving cocaine, endothelin-1 plays a major role in narrowing the blood vessels (vasoconstriction) in the brain (cerebrum) [R].

Receptor And Transporter Gene Products Affected By Cocaine

Cocaine binds to the following dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine transporters and blocks the transport of these neurotransmitters back into the presynaptic terminals enhancing their effects:

  • TAAR1 (Trace amine-associated receptor 1) [R]
  • VMAT2 (Vesicular monoamine transporter 2) [R]
  • DBH (Dopamine β-Hydroxylase) [R]
  • DRD2 (Dopamine Receptor D2) [R]
  • SLC6A3 (Dopamine Transporter) [R]
  • SLC6A4 (Serotonin Transporter) [R]
  • SLC6A2 (Norepinephrine Transporter) [R]

Desired Short-Term Effects Of Cocaine

Cocaine’s appealing short-term psychoactive effects (intense high) include [RR]:

  • Euphoria – a general state of intense happiness or self-confidence
  • Increased energy, alertness, or sociability
  • Inflated self-esteem
  • Decreased fatigue
  • Decreased appetite [R]

5 Adverse Effects/Risks Of Cocaine

Cocaine is a powerful drug that has both short- and long-term effects.

Clinical studies on both humans and animals have shown that cocaine use can damage the heart [R], brain [RR], liver [RRR], kidneys [RR], gut [R], and blood vessels [R].

Also, if snorted, cocaine can damage nostril tissues [R], and if smoked, the lungs [RR].

How Cocaine Exerts Its Adverse Effects

Cocaine exerts its adverse effects at both cellular and molecular levels. Cocaine increases addictive behavior by maintaining dopamine transmission in the brain (nucleus accumbens and dorsal striatum), creating cravings in addicts [RR].

Mitochondria are the energy generators of the cell. As shown by cell-based studies, cocaine can accumulate inside the cell and damage the functional and structural integrity of mitochondria disrupting cellular energy production and resulting in cell death [R].

Also, animal studies showed that cocaine could produce oxidative stress in cells and alter mitochondrial gene products [R].

In the heart, this oxidative stress leads to toxicity and cell death, as observed in human cocaine overdose [R].

1) Cocaine Can Cause Psychological And Mood Disorders

Cocaine can significantly impact the user’s mood and psychological state. Cocaine users have reported a wide range of adverse psychological effects including anxiety, depression, mood swings, paranoia, and panic attacks [R].

Chronic cocaine use can cause symptoms of excited delirium and aggression [R].

Observational research has shown that cocaine users are significantly more likely to develop depression [R] and psychosis [R].

On the flip side, cocaine addiction is also a consequence of depression and other mental health disorders. According to epidemiologists, 53% of adults that have a drug problem also have a coexisting mental health disorder [R].

Although rare, higher doses can cause hallucinations or false sensory perceptions [R].

Abstinence from cocaine use can create withdrawal symptoms like mood disturbances and cravings [R].

2) Cocaine Can Negatively Impact Sleep

Cocaine can alter and impair chemical and physical balance (homeostasis), wakefulness, and sleep due to chemical changes in the brain [R].

In animals studies, cocaine disrupted normal sleep patterns [R].

More specifically, cocaine can lead to a reduction in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which has also been associated with depression. Also, cocaine disrupts the total amount of time spent in REM sleep, REM percent, and REM eye movement density [R].

Cocaine use impairs the normal sleep cycle, while dependence causes associated profound sleep problems [R].

Sustained abstinence in cocaine addicts will produce insomnia and decreased sleep [R].

Consequently, sleep disturbances and insomnia can cause depression and lead suicide [R].

3) Cocaine Damages Cognitive Functioning

Long-term cocaine use can negatively impact the cognitive functions of the brain. A preliminary study based on arithmetics and memory showed brain impairment in 20 heavy cocaine abusers [R].

Studies have shown that cocaine users have decreased short-term memory, attention, and concept formation compared to non-users [RR].

Long-term cocaine use worsened cognitive functions including memory, attention, and decision-making. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies have shown that cocaine deactivates or decreases the activity in many regions of the brain (anterior cingulate, anterior insula, striatum, cingulate gyrus, frontal gyrus, and right prefrontal cortex) [R].

Cocaine reduced memory and learning (neurobehavioral) performance and these effects lasted for up to 4 weeks of abstinence in 56 chronic cocaine users [R].

Cocaine use also compromises an individual’s ability to control drug urges or addictive behavior (impulse control) [R].

4) Cocaine Causes Respiratory Complications

Smoking “crack” (freebase cocaine) can result in pulmonary complications including asthma, airway injuries, difficulty breathing, wheezing, inflammation, and bleeding of the lungs (pulmonary barotrauma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, pulmonary hemorrhage, obliterative bronchiolitis, and pulmonary edema) [RR].

The acute respiratory symptoms of smoking cocaine include coughing with sputum, chest pain, shortness of breath, coughing of blood (hemoptysis), and worsening of asthmatic symptoms [R].

Prolonged exposure to cocaine can lead to obstructive pulmonary disease (transient pulmonary infiltrates), airway obstruction, and fever [R].

A case report of a 26-year-old university student showed that sniffing cocaine could also lead to damage and inflammation of the lung (cellulose granuloma) [R].

Other reports indicated that inhalation of (freebase) cocaine could directly damage the pulmonary gas exchange surface [R].

5) Cocaine Causes Heart Complications

Cocaine use causes several short-term physical effects such as increased blood pressure, constricted blood vessels, and increased heart rate [RR].

By increasing heart rate and blood pressure, cocaine increases the heart’s oxygen demand [R].

When oxygen demand is high, blood vessels normally expand to increase blood flow and oxygen delivery. However, cocaine causes blood vessels to constrict, increasing the overall blood pressure while decreasing the overall oxygen delivered. This can lead to damaging of the blood vessels (atherosclerotic lesions) [R].

Cocaine is also commonly associated with heart complications such as hypertension, irregular heart rates (arrhythmias and tachycardia), reduced blood flow to the heart (myocardial ischemia), heart attacks (myocardial infarction), and sudden heart (cardiac) death [RR].

The risk of an acute heart attack is increased 24 times after cocaine use in relatively low-risk individuals [R].

An autopsy performed on 40 subjects who were positive for cocaine revealed that cocaine use leads to inflammation and damage to the heart muscle (myocarditis) [R].

Intravenous cocaine use can increase the chances of bacterial infections (endocarditis) and also damages the heart [R, R].

Cocaine abusers also have a higher prevalence for coronary artery aneurysms [R].

3 Medical Uses Of Cocaine

Besides cocaine, the coca leaves contain essential nutrients such as vitamins and minerals and have many health benefits [R].

Chewing coca leaves can treat gut symptoms, environmental stress, hunger, and altitude sickness through brain stimulation and mood elevating properties [R, R].

Coca leaves also raises the body’s blood glucose level above fasting levels, which can decrease the feeling of hunger [RR].

However, refined cocaine is a very powerful stimulant that has a limited number of health benefits. These health benefits do NOT counteract the addictiveness and side effects of cocaine.

1) Cocaine Produces Topical Anesthesia For Surgical Procedures

The numbing properties of cocaine make the drug an ideal anesthetic for surgical practices [R].

Cocaine exerts this effect by inhibiting sodium channels, decreasing nerve impulse conduction and neuropathic pain [RR].

Cocaine, when combined with other compounds (tetracaine and adrenaline), can be used as a topical anesthetic for minor facial and scalp lacerations [R].

2) Cocaine Helps Wound Healing

A topical gel, which combines adrenaline and cocaine is also effective in treating cuts on children without toxic side effects unless the topical anesthetic run off onto mucosal surfaces or into the eye [RR].

Finally, cocaine effectively constricts the blood vessel, treating minor skin lacerations and restricting bleeding [R].

3) Cocaine Might Help With Weight Loss

Cocaine decreases storage and increases the breakdown of fat through its effects on the brain (neuropeptide CART) while maintaining fat appetite [R].

Animal studies have demonstrated that both food reward and cocaine increased dopamine release in the brain (nucleus accumbens) [R, R].

Also, cocaine produces a feeling of fullness, which is controlled by dopamine actions in different parts of the brain (nucleus accumbens core) [R].

However, given the adverse effects of cocaine consumption, its effects on weight loss are often overlooked.

Side Effects/Signs of Cocaine Use

Warning signs of chronic cocaine use include:

  • Red or inflammation of the eyes (periorbital and orbital cellulitis) [R]
  • Dilated pupils [R]
  • Runny or bleeding nose with swollen, inflamed mucosa [R]
  • Difficulties standing or sitting [R]
  • Behavioral changes like repetition and ritualistic behaviors [R]
  • Emotional changes [R]
  • Incoherent speech [R]

Cocaine Overdose Symptoms

Consumption of high doses of cocaine can result in overdose or poisoning. Cocaine overdose results in experiencing an augmentation of its adverse side effects. Symptoms include [R, R]:

  • Psychosis, agitation, or delirium (acute behavioral toxicity)
  • Long-term toxicity in the form of seizures or stroke
  • Convulsions
  • Heart problems (irregular heart rate and increased blood pressure)
  • Respiratory problems
  • High body temperature (thermoregulatory problems)

What To Take Under The Influence Of Cocaine

Because of cocaine’s effect on transporters in the brain, synaptic dopamine is metabolized and excreted before normal re-uptake can occur [R].

Depletion of dopamine leads to depression, decreased cognitive function, and fatigue. Administration of L-tyrosine helps increase dopamine concentrations in the brain (L-tyrosine>Dopa>Dopamine) [R].

Tyrosine can come from nutritional supplements [R] or food sources such as chicken, turkey, soy products, or fish.

However, while increasing tyrosine may potentially mitigate some adverse effects of dopamine depletion, such as depression or mood disorders, its efficacy is limited and does not guarantee mitigation of all cocaine’s adverse effects [R].

Treatment Of Cocaine Addiction (Cognitive-Behavioral Approach)

There are many different strategies or treatments for cocaine addiction. One approach is through cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT utilizes several important tasks to combat cocaine addiction, including [R, R]:

  • Maintaining motivation to abstain from drug use by placing the user in perspective of gains/losses through drug use (what is important in user’s life) [R]
  • Teaching effective coping skills [R]
  • Identifying and reducing habits associated with drug use [R]
  • Fostering management and tolerance of withdrawal effects such as depression or anger [R]
  • Building and using effective social supports and environment to decrease the risks of addiction [R]

Individual Experiences with Cocaine

According to the book Cocaine Changes: The Experience of Using and Quitting by Dan Waldorf, cocaine users fall into 1 of 4 categories of cocaine use: ceremonial users, bingers, coke hogs, and experimenters. The book followed and interviewed 267 cocaine users about their experience using cocaine. Most of the respondents found cocaine to be fun and associated the drug with a positive atmosphere such as friends and music. Because the drug has different effects on different individuals, many users feel energized by its mood enhancing effects [R].

One musician’s experience: Cocaine allowed the user to feel glamorous and helped perform in front of a live audience. However, in the end, cocaine produced a sense of paranoia that ultimately inhibited normal day-to-day functioning.

Health Tools I Wish I Had When I Was Sick

At SelfHacked, it’s our goal to offer our readers all the tools possible to get optimally healthy. When I was struggling with chronic health issues I felt stuck because I didn’t have any tools to help me get better. I had to spend literally thousands of hours trying to read through studies on pubmed to figure out how the body worked and how to fix it.

That’s why I decided to create tools that will help others cut down the guesswork:

  • Lab Test Analyzer – a software tool that will analyze your labs and tell you what the optimal values are for each marker — as well as provide you with actionable tips and personalized health and lifestyle recommendations to help you get there.
  • SelfDecode – a software tool that will help you analyze your genetic data from companies such as 23andme and ancestry. You will learn how your health is being impacted by your genes, and how to use this knowledge to your advantage.
  • SelfHacked Secrets – an ebook where we examine and explain the biggest overlooked environmental factors that cause disease. This ebook is a great place to start your journey if you want to learn the essential steps to optimizing your health.
  • SelfHacked Elimination Diet course – a video course that will help you figure out which diet works best for you
  • Selfhacked Inflammation course – a video course on inflammation and how to bring it down
  • Biohacking insomnia – an ebook on how to get great sleep
  • Lectin Avoidance Cookbook – an e-cookbook for people with food sensitivities
  • BrainGauge – a device that detects subtle brain changes and allows you to test what’s working for you
  • SelfHacked VIP – an area where you can ask me (Joe) questions about health topics

FDA Compliance

The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body. We do not aim to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease. Information is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition.


1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (37 votes, average: 4.32 out of 5)


  • Pixie Stix

    I’m bi-polar, manic-depressive (more to the manic side), have both adult forms of ADD & ADHD. I also suffer from extremely low B12 levels and hypothyroidism. I smoke pot on a daily basis, but every once in a while, yeah, I’ll go find some good coke. Seriously, like once ever 4-6 months. But I’ll say this, it helps a LOT when I do get it. Gives me the drive to get up a DO, instead of just sitting here thinking about the 5 million things I’ll never get done… LOL. ANY and EVERY drug can be abused. I see more damage done by LEGAL PRESCRIPTION DRUGS. “They” just don’t talk about it because then big pharma would loose out. Coke used to be a prescribed medicine too.

  • Mario

    No natural extract or pharmacutical chemical will effect everyone the same way. When we are condition to different environments and exposed long term exposure of negative conditions it will change mental and physical state of being and feeling. We are organic! From the earth.

  • Todd P

    Cocaine has no medicinal value whatsoever, outside of being topical analgesic. It’s 1/2 life is 1 hr. 1 hr!!!! Dopamine flood. You will always want more. First few times might be bliss al da.. but continue and you could easily end up with psychosis.

  • Maxine

    Well written – and I think like we both not condoning the use of the drug – don’t let it own you. If you want to know what it is – do a line. You will not be addicted in the click of a finger. And you can then see (actually a bit of a anti Climax or disappointment. It is definitely not a drug to defend – it has hurt too many lives. So has alcohol – so has supporting the wrong political party where I come from) I think this forum is a gentle shake of the head to Hollywood and the media for sometimes, sometimes blaming it when there are deeper demons at work.

  • Maxine

    In my experience of using it – the big question of “honesty with youself” was the most important. I have found in my (14 yrs) years of recreational use – there are certain times when you have to ask YOURSELF if you are walking the knife edge. I have had depression since 15 – and have tried both Herbal remedies , and prescription. I will never go off my anti depressants – and I have rules. Never need it. Never if you have work the next day. And only buy what you can afford AFTER taking care of priorities. I suffer terribly from anxiety ( I was badly bullied ) and when I’m ready to have a good night out – I do coke – I don’t drink – and I never ever lose control. It needs to be a RESPECTED drug that I believe if you are strong enough – you can control and enjoy it ( time and a place ) as always – if you over indulge – be honest – put it down – take a benzo – and walk away – so that there can be a next time. One of the better less opinionated forums to chat on – thanks. _________

  • Pedro

    Yes, I know what you’re talking about. I have a brain disorder related to the production of serotonin and dopamine in my brain, I have been treated for many years with pharmaceutical drugs and I have never been able to solve my problem. The side effects of these remedies are the worst part, some of them are muscle aches, difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating, irritation, discomfort, and many other problems, I really stopped feeling sad and having suicidal thoughts, but in return I won several other problems which made me worse, physically and psychologically. My experience with cocaine was different from these pharmaceutical remedies. I really feel better getting cocaine in my daily life.

  • hazel420

    Would be great if you could include information about how cocaine affects the menstrual cycle and fertility.
    For example “Unfortunately, little research has been done into the specific effects of recreational drugs on the menstrual cycle. However, cocaine causes a spike in levels of the hormone prolactin. In high amounts, prolactin can inhibit ovulation, causing hormonal imbalances and delayed, irregular periods. These effects would normally be from regular abuse. There is a similarity in prolactin levels between heavy cocaine users and sufferers of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, where some patients can suffer from fertility problems due to a lack of ovulation; hence women who abuse cocaine may difficulty conceiving.”

  • Samahdi

    Ok so I’m not saying it’s a good thing to use it has it’s pros and cons like everything as above so below I enjoy it but I can’t let consume me just like anything wether it food,Make up dnt matter it can all be a drug or an escape depends on your perspective in my experience I’ve used it taking advantage of the emotional amplification that goes on while your in the high,if you dnt let it own you you can correlate emotions with past trans or memories to pin point what’s going on with you internally if you notice it makes you feel a alive alert and in this state you approach the mind with a little less fear and your able to question things without fear holding you back point is know your self the the external experience is a reflection of the internal relationship,you are a sum of every choice every though you be ever had to this point

  • Alfredo

    A lot of Helpful information,gracias

  • Alfredo

    that is very true,wise, thank you you helped me feel like my beleifs are not so off.

  • Kim

    I’ve done it. In my youth. My ex bf died from eventually smoking crack and mixing pills years after I had removed myself from the “party” life. He was also depressed. Anyone on here stating that it’s a positive drug and big pharma is just holding it from us like Marijuana is ingiranr and has no experience.

  • Red

    My understanding is that it can actually make psychosis worse.

    I think that pretending that cocaine isn’t really all that bad is kind of irresponsible.

  • Red

    You know, maybe they’re onto something when they say that the paranoia it produces is intense.

  • Ricardo

    The reason why cocaine is illegal is because it helps people with mental health issues to fix their logic and get on the business which is against the interests of pharmaceutical corporations and Drs, it also helps against electronic harassment and covert gang stalking operations from the gov of good samaritans being targeted and spurred into crime in which case If it is consumed more intellect, logic and alertness for work is the outcome.

  • Ricardo

    Cocaine is a stimulant and can work as an antipsychotic to remove depression and anxiety it can also remove depression and make your logic work better.

  • Mike

    I’ve had depression and anxiety since teenage years. Been on psychiatric medications for about 20 years. There was a time when I used cocaine for about 6 months. Best part of my life. Psychiatric medications take away any reward system and causes you to just feel fearful or angry.

  • taivin98

    My brother was a lifetime cocaine addict and though he quit he now has
    COPD and A-fib…sad.

  • Bill Belmonte

    Really appreciate that you would include articles about recreational drugs and your experiences.
    Very insightful and honest which is why I’m such an avid reader of your work.
    Thank you.

  • Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.