In The News: Recreational Cocaine Use Increases Risk of Heart Attack & Stroke

What is cocaine?

Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant drug. Cocaine’s addictive properties are related to its effect on the body’s reward pathways. It is a strong central nervous system stimulant that increases levels of dopamine, a brain chemical associated with pleasure, in the brain’s reward circuits. This release of dopamine causes the euphoric “high” that users experience when cocaine is ingested. The “reward” effect causes powerful cravings of the drug. Studies in mice found that if you give mouse cocaine every time it hits a lever, it will continue hitting the lever until it has overdosed, not stopping to eat, drink, or sleep. Cocaine can be snorted or injected. The crystalline form of cocaine, known as crack, is generally smoked.

How to beat cocaine.

Aside from becoming physically addicted to using cocaine, your body also goes through physical changes – specifically your heart. Recreational cocaine users may have higher blood pressure, stiffer arteries and thicker heart muscle walls than non-users — all of which can cause a heart attack.

Australian researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure the effects of cocaine in 20 otherwise healthy adults who chronically used the illegal substance. Compared with 20 non-users, cocaine users had higher rates of multiple factors associated with higher risks of heart attack and stroke:

•30 percent to 35 percent increase in aortic stiffening;

•8 mm Hg higher systolic blood pressure; and

•18 percent greater thickness of the heart’s left ventricle wall.

“It’s so sad,” said Gemma Figtree, M.B.B.S., D.Phil., lead researcher of the study. “We are repeatedly seeing young, otherwise fit individuals suffering massive heart attacks related to cocaine use. Despite being well-educated professionals, they have no knowledge of the health consequences of regularly using cocaine.”

“It’s the perfect heart attack drug,” she said.

The study is the first to document persistent hypertension and vascular stiffness in cocaine users, long after the acute effects have worn off. Previous studies have shown the immediate effects of cocaine on the heart, and primarily among cocaine addicts — not social users.

Although it is currently unclear how repeated social cocaine use causes blood vessels to stiffen, researchers are investigating a signaling pathway that might be activated to cause such a response.

The study outcomes underscore the need for education about the short- and long-term effects of cocaine use to help prevent heart attack and stroke, Figtree said.

Sources:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/11/study-cocaine-increases-long-term-risk-of-heart-attack-and-stroke/264573/

http://newsroom.heart.org/pr/aha/podcast-post.aspx?id=5186

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