Cocaine pictured above
When it comes to cocaine, there is a long list of the drastic. negative effects it has on the human body–not only physically, but mentally as well. When we see major celebrities such as Mac Miller, Don Rogers, and Whitney Houston pass from a cocaine overdose, what do you think plays a part in it?
What is cocaine?
Cocaine is a powerful and highly addictive stimulant drug, which first arose in the US in the late 1800s. It can be snorted, injected, rubbed in one’s mouth, and smoked. It is made from the coca plant of South America. It raises our dopamine levels which cause us to feel joy and relief, however, it damages the natural communication cycle in our brain, leading people to take highter and more frequent doses in an attempt to achieve the same high as when they first began using.
Effect of cocaine on our bodies
Short-term health effects of cocaine include, but are not limited to:
- extreme happiness and energy
- mental alertness
- hypersensitivity to sight, sound, and touch irritability
- paranoia—extreme and unreasonable distrust of others
Some long-term effects of cocaine abuse include, but are not limited to:
- extreme weight loss
- cardiac complications such as irregular heartbeat, cardiomyopathy, and acute myocardial infarction (heart attack)
- loss of smell/olfactory function
- mood swings
- movement disorders, including Parkinson’s disease
- auditory hallucinations
- irregular heartbeat
- death by overdose
On a cellular level…
Once in our system, cocaine rapidly crosses the blood-brain barrier and binds to various plasma membrane transporters on neurons. Neurons are the main focus here, as our brains are comprised of 3 to 6 layers. What are they? They are “the fundamental units of the brain and nervous system, the cells responsible for receiving sensory input from the external world, for sending motor commands to our muscles, and for transforming and relaying the electrical signals at every step in-between” (Queensland Brain Institute). Neurons contain cytoplasm, mitochondria and other organelles. Neurons carry out basic cellular processes such as protein synthesis and energy production. Regarding basic cell types and structure, neurons have a cell body comprised of a nucleus and cytoplasm, and also have a mitochondria. The nucleus produces ribosomes which are involved in protein production. The cytoplasm acts as a suspension medium for organelles, and the mitochondria is involved in complex processes of neurotransmission. Overall, this cell body is essential to the neuron’s function as it carries genetic information, maintains the neuron’s structure, and provides energy to drive important cellular activities.
Neuron structure pictured
Or, to put it very simply, cocaine alters our brains and DNA in a complex manner, relating to several neurotransmitter systems, leading to seizures and neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, as well as the more mild symptoms listed above.
Crack and cocaine users: are they bad?
Yes, crack and cocaine use is objectively terrible. They can alter our behavior, emotions, physical abilities, and our future children in drastic ways. However, it is important not to villainize those suffering from substance abuse. Rather, we should focus on what causes these people to turn to drugs. Systemic racism plays a large role in who uses and is distributed crack/cocaine. Lack of access to mental healthcare is yet another factor. As a society, we need to do better and be aware of all these things. If you or someone you know may be susceptible or vulnerable to drug abuse, please contact the Substance Abuse National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357.