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DRUG USE AND BODY TEMPERATURE

THE UNNERVING CASE OF DRUG OVERDOSE DEATHS AND ORGAN TRANSPLANTS

Drug use can affect many different systems in the brain. We know that the frontal cortex, or the area of the brain where risks and benefits are weighed and decisions are made, is disrupted by drug use. Dopamine pathways in the midbrain are also affected, which hijacks pleasure and reward signals and makes the brain want to repeat the experience of taking drugs. One symptom of substance use that you might not be aware of, however, is the way it deregulates temperature in the body.

People who take cocaine, methamphetamine, ADHD medications, antidepressants, and other psychiatric medications are risk for becoming dangerously overheated. One study looked at the deaths of cocaine users in New York City in order to determine if ambient temperature played a role in overdose deaths. Using data from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for 1990 through 2006, they found that overdoses due to cocaine increased by two per week when the average temperature was above 24 degrees Celsius (about 75 degrees Fahrenheit). The number increased proportionally, so on a 100 degree day there might be four to seven extra cocaine-related deaths.

Cocaine and other stimulants raise the body’s core temperature and interfere with its ability to cool itself down. Also, the chemical reactions that injure or kill brain cells when drugs are used become more harmful in hot weather. This excess of cell death can lead to overdose.

A part of the brain called the hypothalamus is largely responsible for regulating temperature. It acts a bit like a thermostat, responding to internal and external stimuli and making adjustments to keep your temperature within a normal range. The hypothalamus also controls thirst (overheating problems are sometimes compounded by a lack of hydration) and regulates skin, sweat glands and blood vessels (which expand and contract, moving blood and heat closer to or farther away from the skin, thereby releasing or conserving warmth). Many drugs can interfere with the proper function of the hypothalamus. Another problem is that drug use can dampen your awareness of your surroundings, meaning sometimes you may not even be aware of the dangerous heat.

Some examples of other drugs that affect body temperature are:

  • antimuscarinic medications (which provide treatment for overactive bladder symptoms) such as antihistamines
  • some antidepressants
  • anticholinergic and antispasmodic drugs such as Scopolamine (a class of medications that are used to treat various medical conditions that involve contraction and relaxation of muscles, such as overactive bladder, muscle spasms, breathing problems, diarrhea, and gastrointestinal cramps)
  • certain antihistamines, Beta-blockers, anti-epileptic medications, antipsychotics, diuretics, and blood pressure medications

If you do go out in hot weather (and assuming that you aren’t able to stop your drug use), protect yourself by limiting your time outdoors, drinking lots of water, and cutting back on the amount of strenuous activity that you do.

If you or a loved one need help with quitting drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504.

 

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