Physiological Effects: Cocaine




According to, cocaine works by triggering the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and is typically put into the body by sniffing or snorting through the nose. It can also be taken in by injection, orally, or by inhalation. Once it gets into the brain, it begins to mess with the VTA and the nucleus accumbens. The way this happens, is that cocaine gets into the VTA and begins to trigger the reward system in the same way as if you won a trophy or received an A on a project. The user feels as if they did a good job because cocaine increases the levels of dopamine, which then gets sent to the nucleus accumbens. After it reaches the nucleus accumbens, it gets sent out to different areas of the brain, creating the illusion of a job well done. Typically, when enough dopamine has been taken up by the receptors, the excess is either recycled for later use or eaten up by enzymes. Cocaine stops that process from happening, so the user feels really good for a larger amount of time.



According to Buddy MD, although cocaine has no set amount of time in the body, certain factors can play huge roles. For example, the type/amount of cocaine, the BMI of the user, and health status of the user can all change the amount of time the drug is in the user’s system. “Cocaine is metabolized in the liver into various metabolites, mainly benzoylecgonine. These are then washed off predominantly via urine and partly through feces.”



According to John Hopkins, cocaine literally causes the brain to eat itself because of “overactive autography”. This is the process where cells digest their own insides. The more cocaine is used, the more the process will continue. They backed this up by performing cell autopsies. Typically, the cell performs autography to clean itself up. It doesn’t destroy the entire cell. However, when the autography becomes extreme, the cell will begin to destroy itself completely. Through the autopsy they have realized that this is curable, but for the time being we will have to wait.



Cocaine has both short term and long term side effects. The short term effects can be noticed on the very first use, but can intensify over time. These include loss of appetite, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, fever, contracted blood vessels, quickened breath, dilated pupils (which is commonly associated with cocaine use), disturbed or abnormal sleep patterns, nausea, hyper stimulation, bizarre or violent behavior, hallucinations, irritability, tactile hallucinations, intense euphoria, anxiety, paranoia, depression, drug craving, panic and psychosis, and even convulsions and seizures leading to sudden death (from high doses, can happen even the first time).

The long term effects can be the result of frequent use over time. These include permanent damage to blood vessels of the heart and brain, high blood pressure (which could lead to heart attacks, strokes, and death), liver damage, kidney damage, lung damage, destruction of tissues in the nose if the user’s preferred method is snorting or sniffing, respiratory failure if the user’s preferred method is smoking, infectious diseases and abscesses if injected, malnutrition, weight loss, severe tooth decay, auditory and tactile hallucinations, sexual problems including infertility for men and women, disorientation, apathy, irritability and mood disturbances, increased frequency of risky behavior, delirium or psychosis, severe depression, tolerance, and of course addiction. The last two can result after just one use.



Since cocaine gives false positivity and reward, when stopped, the effects can be seen almost immediately. Different from other drugs, it is possible for cocaine withdrawal to cause absolutely no physical symptoms. Other symptoms, however, include agitation, depressed mood, fatigue, general increase in appetite, discomfort, vivid and unpleasant dreams, and the slowing of activity. In extreme cases, it can also cause suicidal thoughts. These effects can go  on for months.


Written and Research Conducted by: Alanna Dent