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General overview

Cocaine can be used as a local anaesthetic in a medical setup where procedures such as drawing blood, dental work and nose related procedures are performed. Cocaine though is more infamous as an illicit drug which can be snorted, inhaled or even injected directly into the veins. It is a drug that is highly addictive and makes the user dependent on it because of the various effects it has on the body and especially the brain.

Symptoms of cocaine use

Cocaine use can lead to the following symptoms:

  • Increased heart rate.
  • Excessive sweating.
  • Dizziness.
  • Pale skin colour.
  • Nosebleeds.

Overdose

Cocaine causes a euphoric feeling which causes the person using it to crave it further. This then leads to persistent use of this drug. Since this euphoric feeling is short lived, the user may consume a large amount of this drug and unintentionally overdose. The following are symptoms and signs which the affected individual may experience.

  • Aggressive behaviour.
  • Paranoid thoughts.
  • Panic attacks and acute anxiety.
  • Excessive talking and may be out of touch with reality (acutely psychotic).
  • Hallucinations.
  • Convulsions.
  • Chest pain.
  • Severely elevated pulse and blood pressure.
  • Irregular heartbeat.
  • Rapid breathing.
  • Shortness of breath.

These are indicative of mental changes that can occur and this can cause the affected person to become a danger to themselves and/or others. Cocaine can also lead to reduced blood flow to the heart due to the coronary arteries constricting. These are all medical emergencies and these patients will need immediate medical attention.

Long-term cocaine use

Persons using cocaine over the long-term can end up with multiple organ related issues and mental and behavioural changes. Facial features can also change due to snorting and inhaling/smoking cocaine.

These issues are as follows:

  • Heart failure.
  • Liver disease.
  • Kidney complications such as glomerulonephritis.
  • Brain related changes which can lead to paranoid thoughts, panic attacks and psychoses (hallucinations and delusions)
  • Chronic lung related changes which can lead to issues such as COPD and emphysema.
  • The intestines, bladder and reproductive organs can also be affected due to decreased blood flow to these areas.
  • The chances of experiencing a heart attack or a stroke are also increased.
  • Facial changes can include nasal septum changes due to erosion of the cartilage between the nostrils. Tooth enamel can also be cracked and chipped due to involuntary and persistent grinding of teeth.

Management

Cocaine use has many detrimental effects but overdosing on this drug can be fatal. Cocaine overdose would be managed in a hospital setup where life-saving procedures may have to be performed. Managing a person who uses cocaine may be a difficult process but these patients can be helped.

If the person is stable, then they would need to be managed in a drug rehabilitation centre where they can receive counseling and the correct medical intervention to help them prevent any withdrawal symptoms.

Social services and occupational therapy are also important pillars in the management of these patients as they would need help to integrate into society and to find suitable employment. 

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