COCAINE wreaks havoc on the body from the moment it’s snorted, smoked or injected.
Within seconds it enters the bloodstream and begins its assault on your brain.
It creates a euphoric high, but this is short-lived, lasting between 20 to 30 minutes – leaving users desperately chasing the same high.
The more you use it, the more your brain will adapt to it, meaning you need a stronger dose to feel the same euphoria the next time around.
In the long-term, this can cause changes in the brain’s chemistry as the body comes to rely on the Class A drug.
So, what exactly is going on in the body from the moment cocaine is taken?
As part of our End Of The Line campaign, which is raising awareness of the devastating impact even casual cocaine use can have on mental health, we break it down, minute-by-minute…
Within 5 minutes
Cocaine works by speeding up the central nervous system, which controls most of the functions of the body and mind.
When snorted in powder form, it can take around five minutes to kick in whereas the effects of smoking crack – the crystal form – are almost instant.
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Harry Sumnall, a professor in substance use at the Public Health Institute, told The Sun: “The nose is rich in blood vessels, so when someone snorts cocaine it’s rapidly absorbed into the blood stream, where, pumped by the heart, its soon transported across the blood-brain-barrier into to the brain.
“Although this process is quite rapid, and takes about 5 minutes, peak effects are only felt about 10-30 minutes after taking it.”
10 minutes later
It takes about 10 minutes for the drug to fully take hold – leaving users feeling invincible.
Prof Sumnall says: “Cocaine causes the brain to release a number of neurochemicals and these produce the desired effects of the drug, including euphoria, talkativeness, and confidence.”
For crack cocaine, the effects will have already come to an end after 10 minutes, with the peak lasting about two minutes after smoking it.
End Of The Line
Cocaine use is reaching epidemic levels in Britain, with the UK branded the ‘Coke capital’ of Europe.
Use has doubled in the last five years, and with young people the numbers are even worse.
A staggering one in five 16-to-24-year-olds have taken cocaine in the last year.
That’s why The Sun has launched its End Of The Line campaign, calling for more awareness around the drug.
Cocaine use can cause mental health problems such as anxiety and paranoia, while doctors have linked the rise in cheap, potent coke to an increase in suicide rates.
People from all walks of life, from builders and labourers to celebrities like Jeremy McConnell – who is backing our campaign – have fallen foul of its lure.
It’s an issue that is sweeping the UK and, unless its tackled now, means a mental health crisis is imminent.
30 minutes later
Within 30 minutes, users will enjoy the high.
How long it lasts depends on the purity of the cocaine and a person’s tolerance.
“The effects last for about 20 to 30 minutes, which is why people can repeatedly re-dose in order to maintain the effects that they want,” said Prof Sumnall.
With continued use, people can quickly build a tolerance to cocaine and over time, it will take larger amounts of the drug for them to experience the same sort of high.
1 hour later
After about 60 minutes, the effects of the drug will have worn off.
Prof Sumnall said that in casual users, heart rate, blood pressure and mood tend to return to normal.
He added that people are unlikely to experience a “crash” after a single use of cocaine.
“They tend to want to re-dose because they want to keep partying and maintain the positive effects, rather than trying to hold off negative effects,” he added.
But Prof Sumnall warns that the drug can be just as dangerous for one-off users as those who have been abusing cocaine for some time.
“On the negative side, short term harms can be experienced by anyone, whether they are first time or regular users.
“People might experience symptoms of anxiety and paranoia, chest pain and overheat, especially if they’ve taken too much. It can also make someone’s asthma worse.”
He added: “Because cocaine increases feelings of confidence, people might say and do things that they later regret, and take sexual risks that they might not ordinarily contemplate.”
Cocaine has a very short half-life for a drug, which means withdrawal symptoms can set in as soon as 90 minutes after the last dose, experts say.
Between an hour and a few days, people will experience a “crash”, with feelings of exhaustion, increased appetite, restlessness and irritability.
The experience of the comedown will vary depending on the purity of the cocaine and the individual person’s sensitivities to the drug.
For heavy users trying to quit the drug, the withdrawal symptoms can be harder to cope with – and they set in sooner.
It’s those symptoms that can trigger further drug use, often leading to addiction.
The “withdrawal” period lasts around a week to 10 weeks, according to a study by Gawin and Kleber in 1986.
The timeline of withdrawal symptoms varies depending on individual factors.
This includes how long the person was abusing the drug, the average dose used, whether they’re also using other substances, their environment and whether they are suffering from mental health issues.
During this time period, people will start to feel lethargic, anxious, have strong cravings and experience erratic sleep.
As the weeks go on, they will reach the third phase, known as “extinction”.
By this point they might be having intense cravings and some feelings of dissatisfaction with life.
That can last up until 28 weeks, or just over six months, according Gawin and Kleber’s research.
Some people going through cocaine withdrawal can experience strong suicidal urges, paranoid thoughts and even temporary psychosis.
In these cases, medical interventions such as rehab may be needed.
Am I addicted to cocaine? The signs and symptoms of addiction
Cocaine is highly addictive and what can start out as a one-off can quickly turn into a habit.
Regular use of the drug changes the way the brain releases dopamine – a chemical in the brain that makes you feel happy.
But the high is short-lived so often users will take more to feel the desired effects again.
Over time, the body and brain can become too used to cocaine that it builds up a tolerance, which means you have to take more to feel the same high.
If you recognise any of the following behaviours in yourself, it might mean you’ve developed an addiction to cocaine:
- You’re taking more of the drug to feel the effects
- When you stop or reduce your dosage, you feel agitated, restless and depressed
- You’re struggling to cut down or control how much you take, even if you try to
- You spend a lot of time thinking about and trying to get cocaine
- You’re disregarding family, friends and work in favour of taking cocaine
- You know the damage it’s doing to you, but you can’t stop taking it
The long-term impact on the body
Even after a long-term user has managed to withdraw from the drug, the abuse overtime could have had lasting physical effects on the body.
These include heart problems, increased blood pressure and a higher risk of stroke.
Prof Sumnall said: “Cocaine was historically used as a local anaesthetic, and is still sometimes used for this purpose today for some types of eye surgery.
“Feeling pain is the body’s signal to you that it has been damaged or is at risk of damage.
“So whilst being slightly anaesthetised might sound like a positive, it can also put the body at risk.
“Because cocaine is pumped through the blood vessels around the body it also has effects on other organs.
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“Whilst effects in the brain can lead to a rapid and large increase in heart rate or irregular rhythms, cocaine can also cause damage directly to cells in the heart, which can lead to long term problems.
“It can also cause blood vessels to constrict which means that blood pressure rises.
“The combination of high heart rate and increased blood pressure makes the risk of stroke much more likely.
“This can be completely unexpected, come on rapidly and occur in otherwise healthy people.”
Where to go for help
Helpline open 24/7: 0300 123 6600
For help finding a service or to Instant chat
Help for families affected by drugs and alcohol
Mental health support line: 0300 304 7000
Help for anyone with drug and alcohol issues.
Dedicated help for people under 25.
Rehab and community addiction treatment
0300 330 0659
Help, support and advice
There could also be some more obvious physical injuries to the face caused by cocaine abuse, including damage to the nose.
“Something which gets a lot of attention, but which is relatively rare is damage to the nose, or more technically necrosis of the nasal mucosa and septum,” Prof Sumnall said.
“This happens when repeated snorting leads to constriction of the blood vessels in the nose and irritation of the nasal airways.
“This leads to damage to the nasal tissue and cartilage which divides the right and left nasal cavities, and in serious cases can lead to holes, or even collapse of the bone structure of the nose.”
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