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American Academy of Pediatrics

While most people know the effects of alcohol and marijuana, very few know the facts about cocaine. Cocaine is a powerful stimulant. It affects the nervous system and causes a user’s heart rate and blood pressure to increase very quickly. Cocaine triggers pleasure centers in the brain and makes the user feel instantly alert. It also creates a false sense of joy (a “high”). But this “high” is short-lived–from 5 to 30 minutes, depending on how the drug is taken. As the drug’s effects wear off, users may feel anxious, depressed, and tired. Marijuana, alcohol, sleeping pills, or “uppers” are sometimes used to ease cocaine’s effects.

The cocaine “high” tempts users to want more of the drug once its effects start to wear off. The more a person uses cocaine, the greater the desire to keep using it. The amount of cocaine needed to get high depends on how it is used, how long the person has been using it, and the strength (potency) of the drug.

Cocaine is highly addictive. In laboratory tests, monkeys have starved or died because they chose cocaine instead of food and water. Smoking cocaine or crack increases the risk of addiction. When a person smokes cocaine, the lungs transfer the drug quickly into the bloodstream and it goes straight to the brain.

One of the dangers associated with cocaine is that it causes the user’s heart rate and blood pressure to increase. The more cocaine used, the more intense this becomes. For some people, even small amounts of cocaine can cause dangerous increases in heart rate and abnormal heart rhythms. When this happens, the heart may not be able to pump enough blood to the brain, and a cocaine user can die.

In young people, cocaine can cause:

  • Emotional problems
  • School problems
  • Low motivation
  • Isolation from friends or family
  • Family conflicts

Some cocaine users even turn to stealing or prostitution to support this costly drug habit. Pregnant women who use cocaine may have miscarriages, or their babies may be born with severe birth defects.

© Copyright 2000 American Academy of Pediatrics