Cocaine Effects on the Brain

South American natives have been chewing the leaves of the Erythroxylon coca plant for thousands of years. Commonly known as the coca leaf, this plant contains the alkaloid cocaine, which is a central nervous system stimulant. The leaves were consumed much as chewing tobacco is modernly. After Europeans discovered the effects of the alkaloid cocaine, people began extracting the substance and selling it as a recreational drug. According to a 2009 study in the United States, one in four adults have tried cocaine at least once in their life. If you or a loved one is suffering from cocaine abuse cocaine addiction rehab may just save your life.

As a stimulant, cocaine increases dopamine intake and produces feelings of euphoria and pleasure. Users experience increased energy, insomnia, hunger inhibition, and heightened sexual drive. With larger doses or chronic use, effects may include anxiety, paranoia, and restlessness. Most commonly taken nasally, cocaine generally lasts from fifteen to thirty minutes. Injected, the effects are much stronger, but the average time of peak effects is only two minutes after administration. Smoked in crack cocaine form, euphoria and pleasure are achieved instantly, but also only last for about five minutes.

Cocaine effects on the brain are produced by responses from the dopamine receptors. Usually, synapses in the brain use the dopamine appropriately, and then release it. When using cocaine, the synapses do not let go of the dopamine, and continue the intake. Dopamine is responsible for pleasure-seeking, and as more cocaine is used, more dopamine is taken in. Cocaine’s effects on the brain also cause the brain to become accustomed to the increased amount of dopamine, which is a key component of its addictive properties. As the brain has increased dopamine levels over extended periods of time, it begins to need more in order to achieve the same pleasure. This results in tolerance, or the need for cocaine abusers to use more of the drug in order to achieve the original level of euphoria and pleasure. Since the brain is accustomed to having heightened levels of dopamine, removal of cocaine causes the individual to experience withdrawal symptoms. During detox, the user may experience extreme anxiety, fatigue, depression, and cravings to use cocaine. As cocaine’s effects on the brain control the dopamine intake, withdrawal symptoms are largely psychological, and the addict may feel as if they cannot experience pleasure.

As an addictive substance, cocaine can be very dangerous. Because of increased tolerance, users may take more cocaine than there body can handle and overdose may occur. Symptoms of overdose include seizures, irregular heart function, and respiratory failure.

Those struggling with cocaine addiction often are not able to cease use without a medical detox. Because of cocaine’s effects on the brain, the cravings for cocaine are often unbearable, and relapse is common. Seeking quality substance abuse treatment is the best way to ensure that the person will stay cocaine-free, and lead a healthy life.