AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Cocaine’s Abuse on the Body: How Far Does it Go?

Cocaine powder on black table | 🇩🇪Professional Photographe… | FlickrCocaine 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:

  • headaches
  • 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
  • paranoia
  • 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.

File:Blausen 0657 MultipolarNeuron.png - Wikimedia CommonsNeuron 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.




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  1. lipidliv

    Great information! I feel so much more educated! As we have been learning about cocaine in Psychology, we have learned that there are many harmful effects not only on the brain but also the body. The struggle with drug abuse in America is a rising problem. Many factors have contributed to the rise in drug use in America. The problem is not related to youth. People of all ages and income levels are using drugs. Some struggle with some form of substance use disorder. Drug use is also becoming more accepted in society. All of these factors contribute to the rising rate of drug use and cocaine is one of them.

    I went further into the abuse of cocaine and found that the use of cocaine can create much more health problems than I was aware of. As you said there can be headaches and extreme weight loss as well as many mental health issues. In the link, here: substance abuse is discussed and it also talks about what we as people who do not struggle with addiction can help those people in need. Thank you so much for the information on the use of cocaine and hope this information will help others further understand!

    Link to more info:

  2. biosyntaysis

    Thank you so much for this well-written, educational post, Cytokinesav! Cocaine usage is such a prevalent issue today, and it was impactful that you mentioned celebrities who had overdosed, rather than just used, as I have found celebrities have glamorized it in a sense ( This post taught me not only a tremendous amount about cocaine, but also about my brain! I had always known that we had neurons etc., but it is fascinating to read how vital they are for every aspect of our well-being. Additionally, your mention of system racism was fascinating – an article discusses how treatment of substance use disorders is also racialized, and what reforms should occur. I would recommend reading it too! Finally, it is so interesting how the nucleus, cytoplasm, and mitochondria are affected by cocaine as we have learned so much about them in class.

  3. eukericotic

    Cytokinesav, this is a really interesting topic to write about and I liked the way you formatted it; It had a really clear flow of information to follow. Plus, I truly appreciated your efforts to share facts of science to help inspire understanding of others.

    It’s really important that you went through the structure and various roles of neurons, especially in relation to the way cocaine affects the human body. I read this study which discusses the signal transduction pathways involved in the brain’s dopamine response to cocaine: It says that when a person takes in cocaine, it triggers a dopamine response in the brain which sends cell signals to striatal neurons, activating the cell transduction pathways in them and leading to our body’s response. Scientists never knew what specific pathways were involved until the work of these scientists with mice!

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