What Does Cocaine Do?

Cocaine is a powerful stimulant of the central nervous system. It causes an intense, euphoric high when ingested, snorted, smoked, or injected. Cocaine is illegal to possess, manufacture, and distribute in almost every country in the world. Cocaine produces a quick, intense high followed by a low crash. To prolong the crash, many users chose to do increasing amounts of cocaine once they start to come down. This is a dangerous activity that can easily lead to addiction. Cocaine rehab facilities have treatment programs designed to help thousands of addicts each year.

Cocaine acts as a local anesthetic by blocking the construction of sensory impulses within nerve cells. Some users will put powder cocaine on the inside of their gums to insufflate the drug into their system. This practice is called getting the “numbies”, due to cocaine’s anesthetic properties. Cocaine also acts as a Central Nervous System stimulant. It is the only known drug to produce both CNS stimulation and local anesthesia.

As a CNS stimulant, cocaine interacts with the brain’s reward system. It specifically affects the limbic system and the neurotransmitter dopamine, causing extreme levels of positive reinforcement in the brain. It alters the dopamine system by blocking the synaptic reuptake of dopamine. By not allowing neurons to remove dopamine for intracellular space, cocaine floods the brain with dopamine. Recent studies have shown a relationship between the intensity of cocaine’s effects and the degree to which the dopamine reuptake transporter is blocked. For most users this creates an intense state of euphoria.

Short term effects of cocaine intoxication include:

  • Euphoria
  • Increased alertness and concentration
  • Restlessness
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Itching and sweating
  • Possibility of seizures, strokes, and heart attacks in susceptible individuals

Side effects of chronic use:

  • Increased risk of strokes
  • Paranoia
  • Irritability
  • Weight loss
  • Insomnia
  • Snorting cocaine can lead to cartilage and mucosa damage in the nose