Other human uses {addictive effects}

All addictive drugs have two things in common. They produce an initial pleasurable effect, followed by a rebound unpleasant effect. Cocaine, because of its local anesthetic and stimulant effects, produces a positive feeling at first. But when this effect wears off, it leaves a person with opposite feelings of depression and irritability.

Cocaine produces an artificial feeling of pleasure. Most addictive drugs are able to produce pleasurable effects by chemically mimicking certain normal brain messenger chemicals which produce positive feeling in response to signal from the brain. An example of this is the narcotic drug which mimics endorphin. When the drug comes in, it stimulates the reward center. This short circuits the survival mechanism, because the reward center cell can't tell the difference between the drug and the natural chemical messenger.

When the cocaine molecule comes in through the blood stream, it bypasses the natural nerve cells and causes the artificial release of normal, chemical messengers for positive feelings. What happens as a result of this is a feeling of satisfaction, well-being and relief. Then, automatically the system sends a signal of positive reward back to the memory of this activity. The cell adapts to the excess stimulating effect of cocaine by shutting down production of the natural stimulatory chemistry, to try to keep balance.

Experiments with animals suggest that cocaine is perhaps the most powerful drug of all in producing psychological dependence. Rats and monkeys made dependent on cocaine will always strive hard to get more.

At present, researchers do not agree on what constitutes physical dependence on cocaine. When regular heavy users stop taking the drug, however, they experience a "crash."

Overall, during abstinence, many users complain of sleep and eating disorders, depression, and anxiety, and the craving for cocaine often compels them to take it again. Treatment of the dependent cocaine user is therefore difficult, and the relapse rate is high. Nevertheless, some heavy users have been able to quit on their own.

Health problems

Health problems associated with cocaine use may include chronic bronchitis, hepatitis, sinusitis, tetanus, kidney damage, malnutrition, and acute hypertension. Damage to the mucous membranes, septum, eyes, and brain may also develop. Psychological consequences may include depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies and guilt.

Cocaine and pregnancy

There is little research on cocaine's effects on pregnant women or the fetus. One report suggests that its tendency to raise blood pressure may increase the risk of obstetrical complications. Studies of the effects of crack use on offspring have been reported, but the possible contribution to these effects of other factors, including use of other drugs - such as alcohol, cannabis, and tobacco - is difficult to assess.

Return to table of contents