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  • Writer's pictureNicholas Nack

Cocaine and its effects on the body

Cocaine works on a part of the brain called the mesolimbic dopamine system, which is part of what is known as the reward pathway in the brain. There are many things that can activate this system such as sex, food, drugs, and more. Normally, dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps send messages through the brain, is released into the gap between two neurons and is received by other neurons by attaching to receptors that are specifically for dopamine. In this way the signal travels between neurons. Once the dopamine is attached to the dopamine receptor is is removed by transporters and gets recycled. When stimulants like cocaine enter the brain, they take the place of dopamine at the receptors, meaning that there is more dopamine hanging out in between two neurons. This makes the signal to the receiving neuron stronger, causing a euphoric feeling ("How does cocaine produce its effects?," 2016).

In the short term, people who use cocaine will see more mental alertness, sensory sensitivities, irritability, restlessness, and paranoia. In the long-term, prolonged use can lead to changes in the brain. Repeated use leads to there being more dopamine in between neurons, which will lead to a reduction in receptors for dopamine. This means that when cocaine use stops, it is much harder to activate those neurons with dopamine, making the individual feel less pleasure, less motivation, and they may also be more compulsive (Weeks, n.d.). In the long term, cocaine use can lead to people developing a tolerance, which means they will need more of the drug to produce the same effects. Some people with prolonged use may even experience hallucinations (Hardey et al., 2022). There are health risks associated with prolonged use as well. Stroke, depression, anxiety, and drug addiction are more likely for people who consistently use cocaine (Weeks, n.d.). Cocaine causes heart rate and blood pressure to increase, which can be harmful to the body as well (Hardey et al., 2022).

Some signs that one may be overdosing are elevated heart rate, elevated body temperature, nausea and vomiting, chest pain, tremors, panic, anxiety, delirium, and paranoia. This can lead to heart, attack, stroke, seizures, or even death. It is certainly a drug that people die from, so it is important that people are educated on the risks of using it. Statistically, males are three times as likely to overdose than females. Using drugs like opiates in combination with cocaine lead to much higher overdose and death rates, so combining cocaine with other drugs is much more risky (Hardey et al., 2022).


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