Did you know that as recently as 2020, 7.5% of drug trafficking cases involved crack cocaine, and that the average sentence for crack cocaine offenders was 74 months? Experts, like Boulder criminal defense attorney Moorhead Law Group, will rightly tell you that this is a serious drug with serious potential consequences, but it’s not just the legal ones that are intense. Cocaine can also affect your biology—your brain—in ways that beggar belief. We’ll be covering the latter today, so read on to learn about some of the frightening ways in which cocaine can affect your brain.
First, let’s talk short term, shall we? Being a stimulant, cocaine can have some powerful effects on your central nervous system. Specifically, it gives you a surge of energy and alertness, and can also cause a few unpleasurable side effects, which include jitters, irritability, paranoia, and decreased appetite.
Now, these short-term effects normally wear off within a day or two, but there are also long-term changes that will start to take place with prolonged cocaine use, and these are quite a bit more alarming than those less severe, short-term side effects. The include:
- Loss of smell
- Mood swings
- Problems with movement
- Severe paranoia
- Auditory hallucinations
So, what’s going on in your brain that’s causing these negative changes? Cocaine stimulates the release of a chemical called dopamine. It occurs naturally in small doses, and provides a feeling of pleasure or satisfaction. When you’re using cocaine, however, you’re flooding your brain with an excessive amount of dopamine, and over time, this disrupts your brain’s reward system and the way your brain responds to stress. This means that your brain—now less sensitive to dopamine—will seek out larger quantities to produce the same effect, so you may be prone to use more cocaine in order to feel satisfied.
Over time, this also changes the actual structure of your brain, and it’s at that point that you’ll start to experience some of the heaviest side effects—seizures and neurological conditions. On top of altering the structure of your brain, cocaine can damage the regular maintenance process your brain would use to keep itself in order, and this can start killing off brain cells. And if this all wasn’t enough, cocaine narrows out your blood vessels, which makes it more difficult for you to get blood (and oxygen) to the brain.
The result of all these profound changes? Heavy cocaine use warps who you are as a person. You may become less capable of exercising forethought, and more prone to poor decision-making. You may start lashing out at friends and family, and they, in turn, might find it more difficult to deal with you as your behavior and personality change. Thankfully, though, it is possible that the long-term effects of cocaine may be reversed—at least to a degree, and under the right circumstances.
Provided one’s cocaine use was moderate, and they started the recovery process within a year, some studies suggest that the negative effects can be reversed, in part. In combination with a deepening understanding of therapeutic recovery approaches, it could be possible, in the future, to more dramatically correct the damage to the brain done by long-term, heavy cocaine use.