Hypertension, or high blood pressure, has many causes. Sometimes high blood pressure is due to a natural cause, like old age. High blood pressure can also be caused by drug use. Certain types of drugs, including stimulants like cocaine, can cause dangerous spikes in blood pressure. These drugs can also cause other problems related to the heart and blood vessels. With prolonged use, cocaine can cause major damage to the heart.

Article at a Glance:

  • Cocaine can cause the levels of flight-or-flight hormones to be higher than normal, which can cause blood pressure to increase.
  • Cocaine can also cause many other toxic effects on the heart and blood vessels.
  • Heart attack, stroke, and sudden cardiac death are all possible effects of cocaine use.

Cocaine and the Heart

Doctors know that cocaine is toxic to the heart. The reason cocaine harms the heart is that the drug causes some important hormones in the body to become unbalanced. Cocaine stops the body from getting rid of the hormones as quickly as it usually would. Therefore, the hormones stay in a person’s body longer than normal, where they can then cause damage. These hormones include:

  • Norepinephrine (noradrenaline)
  • Epinephrine (adrenaline)
  • Dopamine

Each of these hormones has a powerful effect on the heart, blood vessels and central nervous system. Together, these hormones trigger the body’s fight-or-flight response. The side effects of cocaine on the body are, therefore, very similar to symptoms of the fight-or-flight response:

  • High blood pressure
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Big pupils
  • Trouble sleeping or relaxing
  • Loss of appetite

Cocaine and High Blood Pressure

Cocaine causes high blood pressure because it triggers the fight-or-flight response. When a person takes cocaine and the fight-or-flight hormones are released, their blood vessels contract. This contraction makes blood vessels skinnier. However, blood vessels still need to carry the same amount of blood even though they are skinnier than before. Therefore, the person’s blood pressure goes up because their heart needs to use extra force to push the blood through smaller blood vessels.

Cocaine and Heart Attacks

Cocaine has been called “the perfect heart-attack drug.” Even if a person does not use cocaine often, studies showed that chronic use leads to changes in heart and blood vessels that set a person up for a heart attack or stroke. These changes can happen even if a person is otherwise healthy. Changes include:

  • Stiff, unhealthy blood vessels
  • High blood pressure
  • Changes to the heart that cause it to not pump well over time

In addition, cocaine use can cause the blood vessels in the heart to spasm and promote clots. Together, these can lead to blocked blood vessels that cause a heart attack. This process often happens within an hour of cocaine use.

Cocaine and Stroke

Studies have shown that cocaine use can cause a stroke. A stroke can happen instantly after someone uses cocaine, or a few hours later. About 73% of people who have a stroke from cocaine use do not have any risk factors for stroke other than their drug use. Doctors are not sure what exactly causes the stroke to happen. However, doctors suspect that some of the impure chemicals that contaminate cocaine may play a role in strokes from cocaine. Cocaine use can cause two different kinds of stroke:

  • Ischemic stroke: from a blood vessel that is blocked or too narrow for blood to pass-through
  • Hemorrhagic stroke: from bleeding in the brain

Each of these kinds of stroke can have possibly deadly consequences. Depending on the location of the stroke and how severe it is, the stroke can lead to brain damage or death.

Cocaine and Sudden Cardiac Death

Cocaine use is linked to sudden cardiac death. Doctors think that cocaine may cause sudden death because of its effect on the heartbeat. Besides causing a fast heartbeat, cocaine can also cause an abnormal heart rhythm in some people. Cocaine can cause abnormal effects on chemicals the heart needs to beat properly, such as potassium, sodium and calcium. When this happens, the heartbeat can become irregular and the heart may stop beating.

If you or a loved one are ready to address your cocaine addiction, contact The Recovery Village today. Using individualized treatment programs, The Recovery Village helps patients address their addiction and secure the coping skills necessary for living a healthy, sober life after treatment. Take the first step toward a healthier future, call today.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a 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 provider.