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Article Summary

Cocaine Overdose

Cocaine is among the most infamous of addictive substances in the world. A powerful stimulant, it can prove hard to beat. The drug is synthesized from coca, a plant that is native to South America. Today, it is popular all through the globe on account of the short term effects that it creates in the brain.

When you use cocaine, it will cause euphoria, hypersensitivity to stimuli, and increased alertness. Although the drug can create both negative physical and psychological effects over the short term, in addition to consequences in the long term, the most serious danger associated with it is overdose.

NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse) reports that cocaine overdose happens when you take enough of the substance for it to get to toxic levels in your system. This leads to serious reactions inside the body.

To this end, the drug can poison your system although its toxic levels are not entirely dependent on the dosage. The University of Arizona, for instance, reports that there have been cases of cocaine overdose from several hundred milligrams whereas other users report ingesting several grams of the drug without experiencing an overdose. This goes to show that the toxicity of cocaine overdose can largely depend on the user as well as their specific susceptibility to its toxins.

The potency of cocaine also varies greatly since the drug that is sold on the street is often cut or mixed with other chemicals to increase its profitability for dealers. As a direct result, the potency of a single gram from one source might be significantly different from that got from another source.

Some time back - particularly during the early 1980s, however, the drug wasn't viewed as harmful. At the time, people thought that cocaine's primary purpose was the positive short term effects they associated it with.

However, as cocaine overdoses became more commonplace, people started realizing just how dangerous it could be. Len Bias, a famed basketball star, for instance, overdosed on cocaine and died, showing the perils of the drug.

Today, some cocaine users assume that they will come to no harm. However, the reality is that this is one of the most lethal drugs on the face of the earth, particularly because even first time users have been known to overdose on it.

Coming in second after alcohol, cocaine now accounts for the 2nd most frequent reason for substance related visits to hospitals and emergency rooms in the United States. Therefore, you can be sure that if you inject, smoke, or snort too much of it, you are likely to suffer an overdose.

To live through the overdose - or otherwise survive an otherwise life-threatening health scare related to cocaine - can be quite traumatizing. However, it might also serve as a motivation to force you to kick your habit.

Read on to learn more about cocaine overdose:

What Is Cocaine?

As mentioned above, cocaine is one of the most powerful stimulants. It elicits several pronounced and sometimes dangerous effects on the user's body and brain. The drug is often sold in its powder form, which users ingest orally, inject, smoke, or snort. It is also available in rock form - crack cocaine - that is almost always ingested intranasally through smoking.

Since the effects of cocaine tend to come on relatively fast to create an euphoric and energetic high, most users eventually fall into a rather dangerous pattern of continued abuse. This sometimes leads to an overdose. In 2014 alone, for instance, over 5,500 people lost their lives as a result of cocaine. The best way you can save your life - or that of another - from overdosing on the drug is by understanding the symptoms of such an overdose, as well as the other risks associated with cocaine.

As an illicit stimulant, cocaine can have powerful effects on your general wellbeing and health. In 2014, for instance, close to a million people met the basic criteria for dependence on cocaine. Similarly, the rates of abuse have remained fairly stable from 2009 onwards.

Irrespective of the form of the drug, its effects tend to come on quite fast. As a direct result, some users may suffer an overdose as well as potentially permanent consequences.

Common Signs Of Use

If you suspect that a loved one has been abusing cocaine, you might want to learn more about the signs of use. This way, you will be able to intervene early on before the use escalates to overdose.

Abusing cocaine may have negative effects on the user's physical and mental health. There is some evidence, for instance, to suggest that the drug kills brain cells. When abused, the user will experience several reinforcing effects - from a sense of exuberance and outgoingness to increased energy and euphoria. Hidden behind these enrapturing effects, however, is a darker variety of unpleasant and sometimes dangerous side effects.

Some of the common symptoms of cocaine use, to this end, include but are not limited to:

  • Anxiety
  • Dilated pupils
  • Erratic or strange behavior
  • High body temperature
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle twitches
  • Panic
  • Paranoia
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Reduced appetite
  • Restlessness
  • Tightened blood vessels
  • Tremors

Apart from these basic effects, abusing cocaine can also cause severe cardiovascular problems - including heart attacks - as well as neurological issues like coma, seizures, strokes, and persistent headaches.

When you use the drug, you will find that the euphoric effects you were looking for will diminish over time. This will lead you to using more of the drug, and eventually you might suffer an overdose.

How Much Cocaine Do You Need To Take To Overdose?

Cocaine is primarily used as a party substance. As such, an overdose can happen in one of two ways. For starters, you might ingest too much of the drug to begin with. Secondly, you may use more and more cocaine to maintain your high. This is where the true danger of the drug lies.

The primary euphoria from cocaine rarely lasts for more than about a hour. As such, you might be compelled to use more of it incrementally. When you mix this with the fact that most users do not even realize how much of the drug is already in their systems, you can see the potential for danger and disaster.

But exactly how much cocaine should you take to overdose? Essentially, the answer will depend on various factors. The mode of use - intravenously, nasally, or orally - does play a role. Your personal tolerance as well as the purity of the batch you ingest will also determine the likelihood that you will overdose on cocaine.

What is clear is that injecting cocaine tends to require the least amount of the drug to elicit a fatal reaction - with researchers now putting the figure at about 20 mg. This is still dangerous considering that most people take doses ranging anywhere from 10 to 150 mg.

Apart from the above, mixing cocaine with another intoxicating substance - particularly alcohol or heroin - may also exacerbate the potential for a fatal overdose. Therefore, you should desist from using cocaine with anything else.

Effects Of Cocaine Overdose

The effects of cocaine arise from its interaction on different body systems and processes. The immediate physical harm the drug causes - as well as and eventually its fatal impact - may originate from the various organ systems it affects throughout your body.

Consider the following:

a) Heart Problems

Overdosing on cocaine may cause serious effects on your heart. These include intense chest pressure and pain. This is because cocaine causes the coronary arteries feeding blood to the heart to constrict.

When this happens, your heart will be starved of the oxygen and blood it needs to function properly. Since your heart will be in a critical state at this point, it will be forced to start working excessive and abnormally harder than it is supposed to. Ultimately, this may lead to a heart attack or a stroke - even in those instances where the user is relatively healthy and in good shape.

During a cocaine overdose, your heart rate and blood pressure will also spike dangerously. This may cause your heart to fail. On the other hand, if you already have heart problems or high blood pressure even without using this stimulant, the risks of dying from a stroke or heart attack may be much higher.

Additionally, overdosing on cocaine may cause irregular heart rhythms. This may increase the possibility that you will die as a direct result of your excessive cocaine abuse.

b) Lung Problems

Overdosing on cocaine may also cause acute bronchospasms and any other number of serious lung problems - including causing pneumothorax, a condition in which the lung collapses. Some users, especially those who take the drug intravenously, may also increase their risk of blood clotting or thrombus in the lungs.

c) Others

The other bodily organs that might incur damage when you overdose on cocaine include:

  • Bones and muscle; overdosing on cocaine can result in life threatening metabolic imbalances
  • CNS (central nervous system) and brain; intracranial bleeding, headaches, coma, and seizures
  • Eyes: Alterations in visual acuity, pupil dilation, microvascular infarcts, and retinal vessel spasms, all of which may cause loss of vision
  • Kidneys and intestines; leading to metabolic acidosis (where too much acid is produced), insufficient blood supply, and perforated ulcers

d) Effects on CNS and Brain

As we mentioned above, convulsions and seizures are quite common among people who overdose on cocaine. This is because the brain tends to be acutely sensitive to the drug's toxic levels.

Another one of the systemic cardiovascular effects that is played out inside the skull, the brain's blood vessels might rupture during a cocaine overdose. This might cause you to suffer a lethal hemorrhagic stroke or aneurysm.

Additionally, the heightened neurotransmission of catecholamine may result in miscommunication between nerve cells. At this point, you might experience uncontrollable muscle spasms and movements, such as teeth chattering, jaw grinding, and general shaking.

Your arms and legs might also feel weak and shaky. The increase in muscle activity, on the other hand, may lead to high fever or dangerous elevated temperatures. With time, your overtaxed muscles might seize up to a point where you might not even be able to scream, shout, or yell for assistance.

Imagine your body having to go through these effects and still being helpless to do anything about it. If you do, you may have a better idea about the horrors caused by a cocaine overdose.

e) Long Term Effects

Even if you do survive an overdose, it may still affect both your mental and physical health forever. For instance, you may experience serious damage to some of your major organs, including the kidneys, brain, lungs, liver, and heart.

This excessive damage sometimes also occurs inside the intestines, reproductive organs, and your developing fetus if you continue using the drug when you are expecting a child.

In the same way, the mental trauma caused by a cocaine overdose may also change how you feel and think, even if you are able to quit using it successfully. This means that you may suffer delusions, tremors, panic attacks, paranoia, and psychosis.

Typical Overdose Symptoms

As you already know, abusing cocaine cases powerful stimulant effects. Therefore, if you take the drug in high doses, you may overstimulate your brain and body, the basic definition of a cocaine overdose.

During the overdose, you may experience an amplification in the usual effects of cocaine, such as high body temperatures and increased heart rate. When you experience these stimulant effects extremely, some of your physiological functions and organ systems may fail. This will cause your brain and/or brain to shut down or even result in death.

Most overdoses happen because people continue using more of the drug in spite of the fact that they are still experiencing its initial effects. This essentially involves stacking the dangerous pharmacological impact of the drug on their organ and cardiovascular systems.

Others might increase their risk of an overdose simply because they try taking large amounts of the drug at one time - particularly after the initial high subsides or dissipates. As you continue chasing after the euphoric feeling generated by cocaine, you may not realize the amount of the drug you have taken. Since it can be so deadly and fatal, such an overdose require urgent and immediate medical attention.

Some of the common signs and symptoms indicative of a cocaine overdose include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Chest pain
  • Coma
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Extreme changes in mood, including feelings of depression and exhilaration
  • Fainting
  • Frenetic energy levels
  • Headaches
  • High blood pressure, which may be dangerous
  • Increased body temperature
  • Increased heart rate
  • Insomnia
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Panic attacks
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis
  • Restlessness
  • Seizures
  • Talking excessively
  • Tremors or twitches in the legs and arms
  • Vomiting

When you abuse cocaine, your body will experience different physiological changes and sensations. All of these effects are related to the drug's powerful and strong stimulant effects.

At times, the effects of a cocaine overdose may spiral right out of control, particularly when you use too much of the drug. During the overdose, your body and brain will be dangerously overstimulated leading to a situation in which the effects of the drug you commonly experience - like increased heart rate - will reach potentially lethal and dangerous levels.

Predicting the likelihood of a cocaine overdose is difficult. This is because it is often influenced by different variables - such as the purity of the cocaine, the mode of administration, as well as your stage of general wellbeing and health. However, even a first time user can die as a result of overdosing on cocaine.

Most of the symptoms listed above might precede the onset of fatal seizure, heart attack, or stroke. Dying from an overdose generally results from dangerous overstimulation. However, you can still deal with it by signing up for treatment at a qualified rehabilitation facility.

Cocaine Overdose Prognosis

A variety of factors influence the prognosis of a cocaine overdose. For starters, such an overdose tends to be painful. It also takes the body some time to stabilize. This is because it first has to metabolize the cocaine and normalize any additional symptoms. For instance, you might feel depressed and experience suicidal ideation after an overdose.

At the moment, no specific antidote has been officially approved for cocaine overdose. However, it is treated as an emergency through the administration of benzodiazepine sedation agents like Valium (diazepam) to decrease high blood pressure and elevated heart rate.

The hyperthermia, on the other hand, can be treated through physical cooling methods like cold blankets and ice. Further complications are dealt with using other specific treatments.

Cocaine Overdose Death Rate

The high doses of this drug affects sodium effects. In the process, it may cause cardiac arrest. Cocaine, to this end, is unlike other addictive substances in the sense that it has qualities that make it cross the barrier between the brain and blood quite fast. This may cause the brain to shut down.

According to recent statistics, 100 people die every day from a drug overdose in the United States. Cocaine is the second most abused drug after marijuana in the country, and causes 3 times as many deaths as other illicit drugs. As a result, more than half a million users of the drug visit emergency rooms following complications from an overdose - with more than 7,000 of them turning into fatalities.

Dangers Of An Overdose

It is important that you learn how to recognize the potential indicators of a cocaine overdose. This is because time is often a crucial factor in such situations. Today, cocaine is among the most serious stimulants sold illegally, primarily because its potential for overdose sometimes leads to death - which can occur as a result of various complications, including stroke, seizure, and heart attack.

NIDA reports that death totals related to cocaine have been fluctuating in the past decade. In 2006, for instance, over 7000 cocaine related deaths were reported in the United States - the highest number over the past two decades.

However, these totals declined steadily in 2007 and bottomed out at close to 4000 by 2010. Since then, the deaths have again been on the rise. In 2015, for instance, there was an increase of 1.6 in the deaths from 2010 - the highest mortality rate from cocaine overdose since 2006.

With regards to gender, these statistics prove that males are more likely to overdose on the substance than females, with an approximate average of 3 to 1 ratio for male to female.

Cocaine overdoses are also influenced by polydrug use, particularly in those overdoses that result in death. Most of these drugs include opioids, a class of substances that includes heroin and prescription painkillers. This trend has also been on the rise, according to NIDA.

For instance, the number of deaths from cocaine overdose that involved opioids and those that did not involve this class of drugs was somewhat equal in 2010. However, by 2015 the number of annual overdose deaths that involved opioids more than doubled while deaths not involving opioids increased at a less significant rate. This goes to show that polydrug use with cocaine has been on the rise and it has become more fatal by the day.

Whereas death is the most drastic consequence arising from cocaine overdose, it is by no means the only one. At times, overdose may also lead to seizure, stroke, or heart attack, all of which can cause significant damage to your body without necessarily resulting in death.

To this end, it is essential that you learn how to recognize the main symptoms of cocaine abuse. This is one of the most effective ways to prevent an overdose. The potential for cocaine potency, however, is affected by differences in the batches of the drug. This means that even casual users run the risk of suffering an overdose.

The following are the main psychological and physical signs and symptoms of cocaine abuse:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Frequent nosebleeds
  • Increased aggression
  • Nose constantly running
  • Overconfidence
  • Paranoia
  • Unusual levels of excitement

On the other hand, bingeing on cocaine or using it over the long term is marked by the following symptoms:

  • Agitated behavior
  • Apathetic attitude
  • Depression
  • Excessive sleeping

Even though casual users are still in danger, the risk of suffering an overdose tends to increase dramatically for serious users. This is because cocaine addicts tend to take the drug in binges - sometimes ending up ingesting large amounts of the drug in relatively short periods.

NIDA, for instance, reports that the short term effects from this method of use tend to be quite drastic. It can, for instance, disturb your heart rate - leading eventually to a heart attack in case you overdose. It is also possible to suffer serious neurological effects - ranging from coma to headaches. As an user, you may additionally suffer gastrointestinal problems.

In instances where you use more than one drug together with cocaine - such as a combination of alcohol and cocaine - you will put your heart in grave danger. This is because of the toxicity of this cocktail will be heightened by the drug mixture. Polydrug use of heroin and cocaine - commonly referred to as a speedball - can also be quite hazardous.

Additionally, the long term effects of the drug can be drastic. Users will, for instance, become tolerant to the drug. This means that they will need larger quantities of it to achieve the desired effects.

Apart from the above, long term psychological effects are also quite common. They range from psychosis all the way to irritability. In the most extreme of cases, the user may lose their sanity and connection to reality or even start experiencing hallucinations.

In terms of the physical, the long term effects of cocaine use vary greatly depending on the mode of use. Cocaine is usually sold as a fine white powder, which is popularly ingested by snorting through the nose. This may cause you to feel the effects of the substance faster. Over time, however, it may cause issues such as difficulty swallowing, loss of your sense of smell, and nosebleeds.

Another form of cocaine is crack, which is sold as a crystal rock that is typically smoked. This can cause serious damage to the lungs.

On the other hand, some people take cocaine intravenously. This increases the risk of coming into contact with the diseases that are commonly associated with blood and bodily fluids coming into contact when needles are shared among drug users. These diseases include HIV and Hepatitis C.

Long term cocaine use may additionally cause internal damage. For instance, the lack of blood flow might damage the gastrointestinal tract while your heart tissue can rupture or become inflamed.

Apart from the above, the brain is highly susceptible to cocaine and its various effects. Some neurological issues that can arise as a result of long term abuse include cerebral bleeding while your cerebral blood vessels can expand.

Similarly, you may get Parkinson's disease - a condition that will affect your movements and bring on tremors. Over time, using the drug can affect basic brain function negatively, including but not limited to those parts of your brain charged with motor functions, memory, and decision making.

Overall, it is clear that even if you survive long term cocaine abuse or get treatment for your overdose before it turns fatal, there are many other health problems that can plague you for the rest of your life.

Risk Factors For Cocaine Overdose

Cocaine overdose may happen to just about everyone who tries using the drug - from novice users to regular abusers. If you been taking too much of the drug, the consequences you are likely to suffer can also be quite dire.

Although it might seem obvious, abusing this drug in the first place is the biggest risk factor for suffering an overdose. Therefore, the best way to prevent yourself from overdosing is quit using.

Another major risk factor is combining the drug with any other addictive and intoxicating substance. When you use it with depressant or sedating drugs, the stimulant effects of cocaine might seem to diminish. This may lead you to start ingesting higher, more toxic amounts of the substances you are taking without realizing just how intoxicated you are.

On the other hand, if you combine cocaine with another stimulant - such as Ritalin - the stimulant effects may be compounded. This could potentially lead to adverse and lethal effects and consequences.

It is particularly dangerous to combine cocaine with alcohol. This combination tends to produce powerful toxins in the body - cocaethylene - which the body eliminates even slower than alcohol and cocaine individually. The toxin can also intensify the common cardio-toxic effects of cocaine in the body. For instance, it may increase your heart rate further, and enhance cocaine's concentration in your bloodstream.

The other specific combination that tends to turn fatal is that of heroin and cocaine - known as a speedball as discussed above. Both of these drugs have powerful but opposing effects. They may, therefore, cause you to think that the subjective effects of every individual drug is less intense. This might lead you to take higher and unpredictable doses of the combination, thereby increasing your risk of suffering a lethal and fatal overdose.

Last but not least, when you use cocaine, you may build up tolerance to its euphoric effects. With an increase in tolerance comes the need to continue increasing the dose of the drug to achieve the desired effects. This is another major risk factor for suffering an eventual overdose.

Dealing With Cocaine Overdose

In case you suspect that someone is overdosing on cocaine - or you are overdosing on the drug - the first thing you should do is call 911 and ask for immediate medical help. If the user has a seizure, you should move anything that might cause them harm away from them. You can also use a cold compress to decrease their body temperature as you wait for the first responders to arrive.

If the user survives the cocaine overdose, you should get them to seek treatment through detoxification and rehabilitation. They will be weaned off the drug and cleaned up before they come back into society, especially if they check into an inpatient rehabilitation center.

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