Cocaine is widely considered to be one of the most addictive drugs on the streets today. The euphoria and energy that it can provide is only bolstered by the sense of confidence that many abusers feel during the high.
But unbeknownst to some, cocaine is also one of the deadliest drugs on the market as well. Here’s why.
Cocaine Addiction: The Pains of Cocaine Withdrawal
One of the biggest contributors to cocaine’s lethality is, in fact, the likelihood of users becoming and staying addicted.
Studies show that former cocaine users will actually revert back to a weekly cycle of abuse almost 25% of the time after treatment.
And when you take into account the different methods of cocaine abuse, such as smoking it in the form of crack cocaine or injecting it directly into the blood, this number only increases.
Part of the reason this drug is so addictive is the fact that cocaine’s withdrawal symptoms are so difficult to endure for many people. Though the withdrawal process is not potentially fatal, cocaine is incredibly effective at altering the brain’s natural reward system.
As such, the symptoms of withdrawal are mostly psychological and include varying degrees of the conditions below, some of which can be quite severe:
- Slowed thinking
- Unpleasant dreams
- Increased appetite
Many describe the effects as being extremely hard to bear and, as such, often resort back to using again simply to stave of the cocaine withdrawal symptoms, putting them on a road to further life-threatening dangers.
The Effects of a Cocaine Overdose
In addition to the symptoms listed above, a cocaine overdose can cause a host of other adverse effects in the body.
First, the body will typically experience an increase in blood pressure, a condition known as hypertension. This is a common result when taking stimulants like Adderall and crystal meth as they tend to put the body, including the heart, into what’s effectively overdrive.
When it comes down to which organs have the biggest impact on the rest of the body, the heart undoubtedly ranks near the top. Blood courses through our veins and arteries at a near-consistent pace, and when the oxygen it carries isn’t delivered to an organ, even for a few seconds, it can lead to permanent damage or even death.
As such, cocaine abuse and cocaine overdose can cause an irregular heartbeat that increases the possibility of:
- Heart attack
- Respiratory failure
- Cerebral hemorrhage
- Heart failure
- And various other bodily failures
Each of these symptoms can have fatal consequences.
You Can’t Handle the Heat
As your body is set to overdrive, that means that all of your internal systems are working harder than before. And when your body works harder, it produces more heat.
Plus, the burst of energy that crack and cocaine abuse provides also causes many people to become more physically active, sometimes in the form of pacing, jaw clenching or grinding, and even talking more.
To make things even worse, cocaine use also causes a narrowing of the blood vessels. The more constricted your blood vessels are, the less able they will be to reach the skin and radiate heat away from the body.
Harder working systems + heightened physical activity + constricted blood vessels = more heat than your body can handle.
When this heat builds up faster than your body can get rid of it, you’re experiencing a state called hyperthermia.
The longer your body is in this state of overheating, the more likely you’ll suffer direct and severe damage your muscle cells, which could result in your body not being able to filter out the damaged tissue and may result in kidney failure.
What’s more, a cocaine overdose may also affect your body in a long list of other ways simply because it is often mixed with other substances (or “cut” with them).
Always A Dangerous Mix
One of the most lethal factors when it comes to using illicit substances is the fact that, many times, drug users don’t know if the product they’re getting is 100% pure.
Dealers will often “cut” drugs with other substances in order to increase their profit by packing the drugs with fillers. That way, they’ll ultimately have more to sell.
They may also include certain chemicals into the mix to intensify the buzz felt by the abuser, leading to a higher likelihood of addiction and, thus, repeat business.
Unfortunately, that also means that a lot of the drugs on the street have additional harmful additives. In fact, levamisole, a chemical used to kill parasitic worms in farm animals, was found in almost 75% of all coke seized by the DEA.
Here are just a few of the substances that have been used in cocaine as fillers:
- Powdered sugar
- Baking soda
- Phenacetin – a painkiller
- Creatine – a bodybuilding supplement
- Boric Acid – an insecticide and disinfectant
- Mannitol – a food flavoring and diuretic
- Paracetamol – a pain reliever also known as acetaminophen
Levamisole: A Lethal Crack Cocaine Additive
There are a wide variety of chemicals used to intensify coke’s effects as well.
Levamisole, as mentioned above, is present in the majority of crack cocaine on the streets today. It’s so widely used by drug dealers because it not only looks and has a similar texture to pure cocaine, it also can produce an amphetamine-like effect in the body.
While levamisole isn’t itself a stimulant, one of the chemicals it breaks down into once inside the body has been shown have “upper” qualities. Plus, it also increases dopamine production in the brain, further intensifying the euphoric effects caused by cocaine abuse.
But levamisole is highly toxic by itself. It’s presence in the body has been shown to increase the risk of agranulocytosis, a severe depletion of the body’s white blood cells and weakening of the immune system.
In fact, agranulocytosis has been compared to a “chemical form of AIDS,” whereby the body’s defenses are so fragile that even a simple scratch can turn into a life-threatening illness.
And it’s worth repeating here that almost 75% of cocaine on the street contains levamisole. Scared to use cocaine yet? You should be.
Other Hazardous Compounds Found in Coke
There are loads of other chemicals and substances used in street drugs as well. Some more include:
- Lidocaine – a local anesthetic that blocks nerve signals to reduce pain or discomfort. It can be used to treat burns, insect bites, poison ivy, minor cuts, etc.
- Benzocaine – another local anesthetic.
Beyond the fillers and intensifiers discussed here, cocaine in its various stages of production has been shown contain some portion other chemicals and substances such as:
- A strong chemical oxidant known as potassium permanganate
- Hydrochloric acid
All of these fillers, intensifiers, and additional chemicals contribute to the extremely diluted and incredibly deadly cocktail known as modern crack cocaine. In fact, studies have shown that the purity of street cocaine today is only 20% to 30%.
That leaves 70% to 80% of the drug being made up of these other substances.
It’s no wonder, then, that overdoses involving such easily cut drugs like cocaine and heroin are both so common and deadly.
Using Cocaine and Crack with Other Drugs
Cocaine is widely considered to be a “party drug,” a substance that’s frequently found in clubs, dance scenes, and bars.
Like many other kinds of stimulants, it’s used to intensify an experience. It can help make people feel more confident when interacting with others, enjoy music and light shows more, and help free them of the self-consciousness holding them back from enjoying a night out.
But like other party drugs, cocaine is often used in conjunction with other substances like alcohol, amphetamines, and even opioids like heroin. Coupling cocaine’s already potentially lethal effects with other substances can, and does, increase the likelihood of adverse health effects.
Coke with Alcohol and Opioids: A Deadly Mix
While mixing cocaine with any substance can be deadly, there are two particular drugs worth warning against: alcohol (and other depressants) and opioids.
When it comes to depressants like alcohol, the effects on your body are to slow down your internal systems. Your heartbeat drops, your breathing becomes shallower, and everything your body does tends to slow to a crawl.
When you add a stimulant like cocaine into the mix though, the two substances are counteracting each other, putting even more stress on an already taxed body. The result is a higher risk of complications because of it.
When it comes to opioids like heroin, the same mechanism is putting your body at risk, only much more so due to the inherent toxicity of opioids themselves.
In fact, the number of coke-related overdose deaths involving opioids is currently experiencing a surge. What’s even more surprising is that cocaine overdoses without opioids have remained steady.
What this tells us is that the rising opioid epidemic is impacting other drug use as well. What’s more, a cocktail of cocaine and opioids is not only becoming more common, it’s also leading to a staggering number of deaths each and every year.
The Physical Dangers of Injection
A lot of people may not consider injection to be one of the methods for getting high on cocaine but the truth is it’s one of the most common forms of abuse. And it’s also the most dangerous.
As cocaine is water soluble, it can be diluted with H2O and injected directly into an abuser’s veins without much more preparation or distillation. The ease of turning cocaine in powder form into an injectable form is in fact one of the reasons this method is so common.
Like other injectable substances, when coke is transmitted directly into the blood, the high is much faster acting and often far more intense, though the length of the high is much shorter.
This means of cocaine abuse adds an entirely new level of danger to the drug for a variety of reasons.
In the first place, injecting anything into the body continuously will often result in direct physical damage like:
- Internal bleeding
Injecting cocaine also requires you find a vein for the drug to be pumped into. Many injectable substance addicts will often reuse a vein so as to reduce the physical signs of injection, often called track marks.
After the vein is exposed to high levels of the drug, it can eventually become infected or collapse entirely. This will effectively block circulation in the vein and cause your body to reroute the blood that it was once used to transport.
Other Risks of Injecting Coke
Beyond the direct physical damage that injection causes is also the fact that your body has less of a chance to filter cocaine into a less harmful substance.
When ingested by inhalation or through the nose, the toxicity of cocaine is mitigated by the various safeguards our body has in place. Our lungs, liver, mucous membranes and the like all do their part to make the substances we bring into our system far less dangerous.
But when cocaine is injected, it bypasses most of our body’s defenses entirely. This leads to a greater high, but it also causes more damage to our internal organs, some of which may end up being permanent.
Beyond the physical and chemical damage injection can cause is also the fact that injecting drugs increases the likelihood of contracting diseases like HIV, Hepatitis B and C, and other blood-borne pathogens.
In fact, the transmission of such diseases is so prevalent among intravenous drug users (IUDs) that programs like needle exchanges (sponsored efforts to provide clean needles to drug users) have reduced HIV transmission in the USA by 33% and have eliminated risk behaviors in IUDs by 80%.
So while the idea of supplying clean needles to drug offenders may come as a shock to some, it’s proven to be the single most effective method of curbing disease and further infection for this population. In fact, many organizations like the CDC the World Health Organization even recommend it.
Cocaine: NEVER Worth the Risk
In the shadow of the massive opioid epidemic that our country is facing today, it can certainly be easy to forget that there are many drugs on the streets that can end up being just as deadly.
Cocaine and crack’s inherent toxicity, high likelihood of addiction, and the tendency to be mixed with other substances coupled with its impurity and riskiness associated with injection make it one of the deadliest drugs available.
So if you or someone you know has a cocaine problem, don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s not that dangerous. Doing so could end up costing you your life.
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