How dangerous is cocaine? Can it kill you instantly? Find out how deadly the stimulant drug is and what to do if you or a loved one develop a cocaine addiction.

Using too much cocaine at one time, known as an overdose, can be fatal. Out of all illegal drugs, cocaine is the most likely to lead to an emergency room visit. Almost 14,000 drug overdose deaths resulted from cocaine use in 2017.

Article at a Glance:

  • Cocaine is a stimulant that can cause immediate death.
  • Deaths most commonly occur through an overdose.
  • Cocaine overdose can cause heart attack, stroke, or seizure.
  • The most common signs of cocaine overdose include chest pain and rapid heartbeat.
  • If a cocaine overdose is suspected, contact emergency medical help immediately.

How Much Cocaine is Lethal?

The median lethal dose or LD50 of cocaine, which refers to the expected lethal dose for 50% of test subjects, is 96 mg per 1 kg of weight. While most studies on lethal doses of cocaine have been done on mice, based on the generalized LD50 of cocaine, 50% of individuals who weigh 150 lbs (or 68 kg) would experience a lethal dose at about 6.5 grams of cocaine. While this might seem like a lot, there are a lot of variables that influence this metric, such as an individual’s age, cardiovascular health, drug tolerance, method of consumption, etc.

Deaths from cocaine are most commonly caused by:

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Seizures

While cocaine increases dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain to create euphoric effects while boosting confidence and focus, it also stimulates the cardiovascular system. These cardiovascular effects are by far the most dangerous.

Cardiovascular effects of cocaine use include:

  • Blood vessels constriction
  • Rapid or irregular heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure

A rapid heart rate increases the amount of oxygen that the heart requires, which it receives through blood flow. However, when blood vessels are constricted, less oxygenated blood is available to supply the heart muscle. A heart attack occurs when not enough oxygen can reach the heart muscle.

The risk of heart attack is 23 times more likely after cocaine use compared to baseline.  Cocaine has been called the “perfect heart attack drug” due to the multiple ways it increases heart attack risk.

Older adults and those with any cardiovascular disease are more susceptible to the effects of cocaine. However, young people and those with no risk factors may still experience a heart attack due to cocaine use.

Cocaine deaths are not solely attributed to heart attacks. Cocaine can cause a fatal stroke. Although the exact reasons for this risk are unknown, it is partially due to the increased risk for blood clots. Cocaine also lowers the seizure threshold, meaning it can make seizures more likely even if someone has not had a seizure before.

Signs of a Cocaine Overdose

Cocaine intoxication and overdose are serious risks when abusing the drug. Intoxication comes when the person feels high but ill at the same time. Overdose is more extreme than intoxication and can be deadly. Signs of a cocaine overdose include:

  • Chest pain
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • High body temperature or severe sweating
  • Bluish color of the skin
  • Difficulty breathing

What To Do During an Cocaine Overdose

A cocaine overdose is a medical emergency. Although dangerous, it may be treatable if recognized early. An overdose can even occur the first time someone uses cocaine. Seek medical attention immediately if a cocaine overdose is suspected.

  • Call 911 immediately.
  • Gather information to provide to emergency responders, including age, pre-existing conditions, drug allergies, drug/alcohol use and the amount of cocaine taken.
  • Lay the person on their side to prevent aspiration.
  • If the person feels overheated, try to keep their body temperature down with cold compresses.
  • Keep the individual in a safe environment, away from anything that can potentially injure them in the event of a seizure, such as objects with sharp edges.
  • Stay with the person until emergency workers arrive.

Cocaine is a dangerous and addictive drug. If you or a loved one struggle with cocaine use, The Recovery Village can help. Contact The Recovery Village today to speak with a representative and learn more about cocaine addiction treatment. You deserve a healthier future.

Thomas Christiansen
Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more
Nathan Jakowski
Medically Reviewed By – Nathan Jakowski, PharmD
Nate Jakowski is a clinical pharmacist specializing in drug information and managed care. He completed his Doctor of Pharmacy degree at the University of Wisconsin. Read more
Sources

American Heart Association. “Illegal Drugs and Heart Disease.” September 30, 2015. Accessed May 5, 2019.

Kariisa, Mbabazi. “Drug Overdose Deaths Involving Cocaine and Psychostimulants with Abuse Potential — United States, 2003–2017.” May 3, 2019. Accessed May 5, 2019.

Richards, John. “Cocaine Toxicity.” March 2, 2019. Accessed May 5, 2019.

Mittleman, Murray. “Triggering of Myocardial Infarction by Cocaine.” June 1, 1999. Accessed May 5, 2019.

Wagner, William. “Recreational use of cocaine promotes blood clots.” May 14, 2000. Accessed May 5, 2019.

Borke, Jesse. “Cocaine Intoxication.” January 12, 2019. Accessed May 5, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.