How Cocaine Affects the Heart

Many people are addicted to cocaine in the United States and around the world.

Millions of men and women snort, smoke, or inject the drug into their body without thinking of its effects on their hearts or overall health.

Australian researchers called cocaine the “perfect heart attack drug” because of the stress it places on the heart.

According to the American Heart Association, the user’s risk of a heart attack goes up nearly 24 times within the first hour after using the drug.

The drug also produces other effects on the heart, which makes it a dangerous illegal drug.

What Is Cocaine?

When it comes in a rock-like form, cocaine is commonly known as crack or crack cocaine.

Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant that causes you to feel high.

The drug is made from the leaves of the coca plant that is native to South America.

In another common form, cocaine is a fine white powder and is also known as C, snow, and coke.

Sometimes street dealers cut cocaine with other psychoactive substances such as amphetamine and fentanyl to increase their profits.

But this only makes it more potent, addictive, and dangerous.

Today, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies cocaine as a schedule II illegal drug because of its ability to adversely affect the brain and heart and cause dependency and addiction.

However, there was a time when cocaine hydrochloride (purified cocaine) was used in pharmaceutical medicines to treat pain and illnesses.

Medical professionals sometimes use small, controlled amounts of cocaine to treat nosebleeds and pain, but such uses are rare.

Short-Term and Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Use

Drugs such as cocaine can be extremely dangerous for your brain, heart, and overall health.

People who use cocaine most commonly snort the white powdered form of the drug or rub cocaine powder onto their gums.

Others use water to dilute the drug and inject the substance into their veins (intravenous use) or heat the rock crystal form and inhale the smoke.

Injecting cocaine sends the drug directly into the bloodstream and creates a quick, intense euphoria.

Regardless of the method used to take the drug, cocaine produces a long list of acute and chronic physical, emotional, and psychological side effects or health risks.

Short-Term Effects of Cocaine

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Alertness
  • Irritability
  • Increased energy
  • Intense happiness (euphoria)
  • Paranoia

Long-Term Effects of Cocaine

  • Lung damage
  • High blood pressure
  • Shrinking brain size
  • Convulsions and seizures
  • Cocaine-induced chest pain
  • Heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke

The Damaging Effects of Cocaine on the Heart

Cocaine is especially bad for the heart.

It may cause sudden death or long-term damage.

In fact, it is frequently associated with drug-related visits to the emergency room.

In 2011, 505,224 or 40.3 percent of all illicit drug-related emergency room visits involved this stimulant.

The need for emergency medical attention stems from the stress that cocaine places on the heart and arteries when the drug enters the bloodstream.

The following are cardiovascular or heart-related conditions of cocaine.

Some are serious or life-threatening and may occur after the very first use:

Increased Heart Rate

Since it is a stimulant, cocaine sends high levels of dopamine (a feel-good hormone) to the brain.

Both the blood pressure and heart rate increase, leading to constriction of arteries that take blood to the heart.

Disrupting blood flow increases the risk of a heart attack.

The more you use stimulants such as cocaine, the greater stress you place on your heart, raising the potential for a heart attack or heart damage.

High Blood Pressure

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a condition where blood consistently flows through the arteries at a pressure level that is higher than normal.

Hearts need to work harder than usual to maintain blood circulation for people with this condition.

Blood pressure rises as the heart uses extra force to push blood through the narrowed blood vessels.

Uncontrolled hypertension can cause blood vessel damage and increases your risk of serious health conditions such as atherosclerosis (hardened arteries), arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), heart attacks, and strokes.


Atherosclerosis is another serious cardiac condition related to cocaine.

The condition occurs when the walls of the arteries become blocked, hard, and stiff due to a buildup of cholesterol, fats, and other substances such as plaque.

Blocked arteries can restrict blood flow to your heart, other organs, and tissues.

Blood flow to the heart can become severely restricted if atherosclerosis progresses and plaques almost completely block an artery.

Atherosclerosis is associated with an increased risk of heart failure, heart attack, and stroke.

Myocardial Infarction

Acute myocardial infarction (AMI), also known as a heart attack, is a well-known complication of acute cocaine intoxication.

Any dose of cocaine can trigger the condition.

First-time users are also at risk.

Most cocaine-induced heart attacks happen within one hour of using the drug.

A heart attack can occur when blood flow to some area of the heart is restricted.

The lack of blood and oxygen to the heart can cause extensive damage to cardiac muscle.

Chest pain, tightness, and chest discomfort are common signs of cocaine-related myocardial infarction.


Using cocaine can induce cardiac arrhythmias that are difficult to treat or potentially fatal arrhythmias.

Cardiac arrhythmia means irregular heartbeat due to a disruption of heart signals.

Signs of the condition include a pounding or rapid heartbeat, chest pain, pressure in the chest, anxiety, and shortness of breath.

While these symptoms are not life-threatening by themselves, they may be signs of a cardiac arrest in some cases.

Aortic Dissection

Cocaine use is a cause of aortic dissection.

Aortic dissection refers to the tearing of the walls of the aorta and is a painful and life-threatening condition.

Tearing occurs suddenly due to increased pressure on the heart muscle.

Sudden severe, sharp, stabbing chest or back pain are usually signs of torn aorta walls in cocaine users.


This condition is caused by an infection of the inner lining of the heart and heart valves.

The infection occurs when substances such as bacteria and fungi spread through the bloodstream and attach to parts of the heart damaged from cocaine use.

People who inject cocaine are at an increased risk of endocarditis. Sharing needles used to inject the drug increases the risk even more.

Strangely, injecting cocaine can also damage the heart in areas not usually damaged in people who inject other drugs.


Another cardiovascular condition associated with using cocaine are ischemic strokes.

This type of stroke can occur when there’s a blockage in an artery that supplies blood to the brain.

Users with uncontrolled high blood pressure, restricted blood vessels, or atherosclerosis are at a higher risk of an ischemic stroke.

Studies suggest that the risk of ischemic stroke is highest within the first few hours after cocaine enters the body.

Cocaine-Induced Heart Attacks

Cocaine’s effects on the heart and cardiovascular system increase a user’s risk of heart-related issues or complications such as cardiovascular disease and cocaine-induced heart attacks.

Your blood pressure and heart rate increase as soon as you use the drug.

This causes narrowing of the arteries that pump blood to your heart.

Once this happens, less blood flows to the heart, thereby increasing your risk of a heart attack.

The drug is especially damaging to the heart because it poses the risk of sporadic heart attacks in the small vessels of the heart.

The drug also interferes with beta blockers and other cardiac drugs that doctors prescribe to treat heart conditions.

A heart attack can occur after your first-ever dose of the stimulant.

Also, there are instances where cocaine-induced heart attacks caused sudden deaths.

Additionally, smoking or drinking alcohol while using cocaine further increases the risk of heart damage and death.

Dangerous effects also occur in those who combine cocaine with heroin or other opioid drugs, a practice known as speedballing.

Consider it a lethal cocktail that leads to premature heart disease, heart attacks, and fatalities.

Kicking Cocaine Addiction the Safe Way

You’re putting your heart health and life at risk by using cocaine, whether you’re trying it for the first time or have used it for years.

Hopefully, knowing how cocaine affects the heart will help you find help at a rehab for drug and alcohol before it’s too late.

Professional addiction treatment specialists understand your desire to live a healthy and sober life and can provide comprehensive treatment to help you recover.

Cocaine addiction recovery generally involves detox and behavioral therapy to help you lose your physical and mental dependence on the drug.

Detox precedes therapy and allows the body to remove the drug either on its own or with the use of approved medications.

Therapy, counseling, and other treatment options at drug alcohol rehab centers typically last for thirty, sixty, or ninety days depending on your needs, and can be done in inpatient or outpatient settings.

Inpatient options require people to stay at facilities while they receive treatment, while outpatient programs allow people to live at home during treatment.

People may also participate in dual diagnosis programs if they have cocaine addiction and a co-occurring mental disorder such as anxiety or depression.

Other treatment options include intensive outpatient programs (IOPs), medication-assisted treatment (MAT), 12-step and non 12-step programs, cognitive behavioral therapy, and holistic therapy.

The decision to give up cocaine can be difficult because the drug hijacks the brain and makes you think you need it to survive.

But sobriety is possible.

The first step is to admit that you need help, then make that life-changing call to a rehab that offers the right treatment options to suit your needs.

Sources – Cocaine Is “The Perfect Heart Attack Drug” Even If You Use It Only a Few Times a Year – Cocaine Triggers Heart Attack Within One Hour – What Is Cocaine? – Illegal Drugs and Heart Disease – The Cardiovascular Effects of Cocaine