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Can Cocaine Use Cause A Heart Attack?

Cocaine’s enduring popularity has a lot to do with how it makes people feel. Once the drug is smoked, snorted, or injected, people are on their way to an intense, short-lived euphoric high that will eventually leave them searching for the next one when they “come down.”

Whether people experiment with cocaine, use it occasionally or casually during social outings, or binge on it regularly, they are taking chances with their health, especially their heart health. In the past, specifically in 2011, cocaine sent more people to the emergency room than any other illegal drug, according to the SAMSHA Drug Abuse Warning Network’s data. And there has been at least one study that shows cocaine use can cause heart attacks and other heart conditions.


Cocaine is a potent, highly addictive stimulant derived from coca leaves that are native to South America, where residents chewed and ingested them for their potent effects. In the early 1900s, purified cocaine was isolated from the plant and used in tonics and elixirs to treat different illnesses, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Cocaine is still one of the most widely used illicit street drugs used in the U.S., although there are legitimate medical purposes for its use. It is used for anesthesia for surgeries of the eyes, ears, and throat. For this reason, it’s classified as a Schedule II drug. As the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) explains, the white, crystalline powder is often “cut,” or diluted with different substances. The most common ones are sugar and local anesthetics, it says.

The drug stimulates the central nervous system, which is why users have feelings of euphoria. It also causes:

  • Increased alertness
  • Excitation
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety

How potent cocaine’s effects depend on how quickly it travels to the brain. And, how fast it reaches the brain depends on the manner in which it enters the body. If a person smokes or injects cocaine, it reaches the brain in seconds and builds up rapidly, causing users to feel a “rush.” Snorting the drug results in less intense effects as the buildup is slower. Also known as Coke, Blow, and Snow, among many other slang names, cocaine can be snorted, smoked, injected, or mixed with other drugs.


Cocaine speeds up breathing and elevates the heart rate and blood pressure. Intoxication can also make users sweat, feel hot or cold, and experience muscle weakness, nausea, and other symptoms. Frequent or regular use of the powdered substance causes external and internal damage to the body, sometimes permanently. It also often leads to a higher tolerance for the drug, which means more of it is needed to achieve the same results for each use. Repeated use can lead to addiction.

Externally, snorting or sniffing the drug can cause septal perforation damage in the nose and rotting teeth. Internally, damaged blood vessels and sinus cavities are characteristic of cocaine use. Cardiovascular health also is affected and users are at increased risk of having a cocaine heart attack.

Chronic cocaine use takes its toll on various parts of the body, causing damage to blood vessels, the nose, and sinus cavities. Users may not be aware of how much stress cocaine puts on the heart and vascular system.


Cocaine use also means users could possibly have a cocaine heart attack or other heart-related problems. Cocaine’s stimulating effects on the body put stress on the heart and vascular system and increases the risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association writes that the drug, along with amphetamine and ecstasy, all adversely affect the cardiovascular system.


The long-term heart risks of cocaine were documented in a 2012 study conducted in Australia and presented at the AHA’s Scientific Sessions conference. Researchers reviewed the MRIs of 20 recreational cocaine users, who all reported they used cocaine at least once a month for the past year. According to the study, all of the users, 17 men and three women, were all healthy outside of the physiological effects of their cocaine use.

However, it was found that study participants showed a 30 percent to 35 percent increase in aortic stiffening, higher blood pressure, and an 18 percent greater thickness of the heart’s left ventricle wall than people who did not use cocaine.

All of these factors are linked to higher risks of having a cocaine-related heart attack or stroke. A cocaine heart attack can happen to first-time users or with any size dose of the drug. A cocaine overdose often leads to a stroke or heart attack, WebMD writes. In general, a heart attack, also called myocardial infarction, is an event that permanently damages the heart muscle, WebMD explains. This is caused when blood cannot reach the heart, and when that happens, cells of the heart muscle don’t receive the oxygen they need, which means they will either become damaged or die.

The study’s lead researcher Gemma Figtree, an associate professor of medicine at Sydney Medical School at the University of Sydney, Australia, at the time, said in a news release:

“It’s so sad. We are repeatedly seeing young, otherwise, fit individuals suffering massive heart attacks related to cocaine use. Despite being well-educated professionals, they have no knowledge of the health consequences of regularly using cocaine. It’s the perfect heart attack drug.”

According to an article published on, “Most cocaine-induced heart attacks occur within one hour of using the drug, and they are particularly prevalent among younger people. In fact, cocaine use has been implicated in nearly 25 percent of heart attacks that occur in people under [age] 45.”


A study published in 2014 found that medical tests may not show damage to heart’s vessels related to cocaine use, according to an article in LiveScience. According to one study researcher, chest pain that occurs after cocaine use brings patients to the emergency room, but test results may show the heart’s main arteries appearing normal, which offers no cause of the chest pain. This means many users may not know how much closer they are to a cocaine-related heart attack

“The findings suggest that even when there’s no sign of damage to the arteries, cocaine users may have damage in their small vessels, leading to symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath.”


The possibility of a cocaine-induced heart attack is not the only threat regular users face. There are other cardiovascular conditions that can come about from cocaine use, reports VeryWell. Among them are:

  • Aortic dissection. Cocaine use can cause a sudden tear in the wall of the aorta This condition is painful and life-threatening.
  • Coronary artery aneurysm. According to, this condition, which happens when coronary arteries dilate in a balloon-like manner, is common among people who use cocaine and that it occurs in up to 30 percent of those who use it chronically.
  • Heart rhythm disturbances. Cardiac arrhythmias also are common in cocaine users. An arrhythmia happens when the heart’s electrical system is disrupted. This system regulates heart rate and heart rhythms. Some are life-threatening and dangerous while others are not.


Repeated cocaine use often leads to dependence and an addiction that can be difficult to quit without professional help from trained addiction specialists. Cocaine users are getting more than they may have bargained for with each hit and high they take. Cocaine-related heart attacks are possible, but it’s a risk many users may not know about.

Pathway to Hope, a Delphi Behavioral Health Group facility, specializes in helping people who are battling with substance addiction. We treat substance addiction and the thought patterns and behaviors that can prompt individuals to abuse substances. We do this by using effective treatments that focus on the roots of your addiction and mental health condition and help you or your loved one start healing from substance abuse.

If you or someone you know is struggling with cocaine addiction, call Pathway to Hope at (866) 643-9415 today or contact us online, so we can help you find the right treatment program. Don’t delay. If you need addiction treatment, now is the time to make that important step for your health and your life.


Elysia Richardson

Elysia L. Richardson is a writer and editor at Delphi Behavioral Health Group.

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