Although the known number of deaths from stimulants is relatively small when compared with those in which opiates are involved, US studies show that up to 25% of heart attacks in people aged between 18 and 45 years are due to cocaine use. The risks of having a possible heart attack are increased by 23 times in the hour after cocaine use. The risks are further increased if alcohol is used as well.
Increased risks of heart attack come from a number of factors, including:
- increased adrenaline (released because of cocaine use)
- high blood pressure (increased heart rate caused by adrenaline)
- constricted blood vessels (cocaine releases a chemical that constricts blood vessels)
- hardening of the arteries (caused by cocaine use)
- weakened heart (congestive heart failure)
- arrhythmias (erratic heartbeat)
- underlying heart problems
- other drugs that may be used in combination with cocaine, such as alcohol and/or Viagra.
Coca-ethylene, a chemical produced in the liver when using cocaine and alcohol together, has a more damaging effect on the cardiovascular system than if cocaine were taken on its own. Sodium bicarbonate, used to ‘wash’ cocaine to turn it into crack, also may have a stressful effect on the heart.
Strokes and seizures
Strokes and seizures can also be made more likely by cocaine use. Strokes may be connected to the constriction of blood vessels and repeated increase in blood pressure from regular use. These combined factors can sometimes cut off blood flow to parts of the brain (causing seizures/blackouts) and also in some cases cause delicate blood vessels to break (causing bleeding in the brain).
British Heart Foundation Web Site
See our page on Alcohol health – heart disease, much applies to drugs too.