Can you die from taking cocaine?

Potentially dangerous physical effects of cocaine include raising heart rate and blood pressure. But can cocaine actually kill you? Learn more here.

minute read

Yes, cocaine has triggered fatalities.

Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant drug made from the leaves of the coca plant native to South America. It produces short-term euphoria, energy, and talkativeness, in addition to potentially dangerous physical effects like raising heart rate and blood pressure. But, what are the signs of cocaine overdose and how can you treat it? When do they become life threatening? We provide answers to these questions in the text below. Then, we invite your feedback or questions in the comments section at the end.

Dangers of cocaine ingredients

The danger of cocaine ingredients are far-ranging. They cause sudden death, acute medical and psychiatric illness. Physiological effects of cocaine include increased blood pressure and heart rate, dilated pupils, insomnia, and loss of appetite. The widespread abuse of highly pure street cocaine has led to many severe adverse health consequences related to cocaine overdose such as:

  • cardiac arrhythmias
  • convulsions
  • death ischemic heart conditions
  • sudden cardiac arrest
  • stroke

In some users, the long-term use of inhaled cocaine has led to a unique respiratory syndrome, and chronic snorting of cocaine has led to the erosion of the upper nasal cavity.

Serious adverse side effects of cocaine

In general, medical complications of cocaine reflect the intense sympathomimetic activities of cocaine itself, also known as a ‘sympathetic neural storm’. Cardiovascular complications include arrhythmias and sudden death, acute myocardial infarction, myocarditis, dissecting aneurysm and bowel infarction. Neurological complications include seizure, intracerebral haemorrhage and brain injury due to hyperthermia and/or seizures, and headache. Psychiatric complications include acute anxiety or panic, as well as paranoid psychosis.

While the serious side effects of cocaine can be physical or psychological (affecting body and mind), other effects of cocaine include those to society. These can include:

  • criminal activity
  • infectious complications
  • reproductive disturbances
  • societal disruption (including child neglect, abuse and lost job productivity)
  • trauma

Signs of cocaine overdose

Fatal instances of cocaine overdose have been reported often due to the other major systemic effects of cocaine overdose (myocardial infarction, stroke, multiorgan failure). There is no specific therapy or antidote for acute cocaine toxicity. Experience of, and exposure to, overdose are not rare events. How much cocaine does it take to OD? This you cannot predict. Cocaine users need to be aware of the possibility and nature of overdose, and that cocaine overdose can occur irrespective of method of use. In fact, there is a need to emphasize the potential danger of combining cocaine with other drugs and health officials are working to educate the public about these risks.

How to treat cocaine overdose

In cases of cocaine overdose, a health care provider will typically measure and monitor the patient’s vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will then be addressed as appropriate. For example, a class of medications called benzodiazepines may be given to calm slow a rapid heart beat, and lower blood pressure, and treat anxiety and/or agitation. These medicines include diazepam and lorazepam. Further, fluids maybe be administered through a vein.  Heart, brain, muscle and kidney complications will be treated with additional medications. Long-term treatment to address the reason for cocaine overdose requires drug counseling in combination with medical therapy.

FDA warnings about cocaine

Presently, there are no FDA-approved medications that treat cocaine addiction. Consequently, NIDA is working aggressively to identify and test new medications to treat cocaine addiction safely and effectively. Several medications marketed for other diseases (e.g., vigabatrin, modafinil, tiagabine, disulfiram, and topiramate) show promise and have been reported to reduce cocaine use in controlled clinical trials. Among these, disulfiram (used to treat alcoholism) has produced the most consistent reductions in cocaine abuse.

Are you taking too much cocaine? Help for cocaine use or misuse

People addicted to cocaine might take bigger doses or take it more often to get high. A cocaine high usually doesn’t last very long. So people take it again and again to try to keep feeling good. 12-step support groups, such as Cocaine Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, have helped many people addicted to cocaine. Alternative groups such as SMART Recovery are also an option for those who do not like the 12-step approach. However, if you’re taking too much cocaine…it may be time to stop. Reach out for help by calling out hotline number.

Questions about cocaine fatalities

If you have any further questions about the danger of using cocaine, please share them in the comments section. We will do our best to provide you with a quick, personal answer.

Reference sources: DEA: Drug of abuse
LiverTox: Cocaine
NCBI: Non-fatal cocaine overdose among injecting and non-injecting cocaine users in Sydney, Australia
MedlinePlus: Cocaine intoxication
NIH: Signs of Cocaine Abuse and Addiction
NIH: What treatments are effective for cocaine abusers?
MedlinePlus: Cocaine withdrawal
NCBI: How toxic is cocaine?
NIH: Cocaine
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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