THE EFFECTS OF COCAINE ON THE BRAIN
- July 18, 2018
Cocaine produces a short-term high that is immediately followed by depression, which leads to a craving for more cocaine. While most people already know that cocaine produces euphoria and is highly addictive, not everyone knows that cocaine also induces paranoia, anger, hostility, and anxiety in the individual, even after the cocaine has worn off. Long-term effects of cocaine can even include hallucinations, insomnia, and depression that can lead to murder or suicide.
Derived from a coca plant, cocaine is classified as a heavy central nervous system (CNS) stimulant, and this substance directly affects the ventral tegmental area (VTA) of the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that communicates with cells and affects the pleasure, or reward, center of the brain. Neurotransmitters can increase or decrease the speed of electrical impulses in neurons. Dopamine chemicals attach themselves to a chemical responsible for inducing pleasure in the reward pathway of the brain and the individual experiences the subjective sensations of pleasure.
Dopamine needs to stop eventually, however, so the brain usually reabsorbs dopamine through the dopamine transporter by the neuron that produced it. What cocaine does is block the dopamine transporter, so dopamine builds up unnaturally and the neurotransmitter serotonin is affected. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter responsible for mood balance. Norepinephrine controls the body’s flight or fight response that normally activates during perceived life-threatening situations and is also activated by cocaine vid chain reactions. These chain reactions are what produce high blood pressure, heightened body temperature, increased heart rate, and increased respiration when cocaine is used.
However, while the brain is extraordinarily complex, the brain is not perfect. Cocaine does not always produce the same effects every time because cocaine does not always block every dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine receptor in the brain all at once. This variation results in feelings that can range from euphoria to paranoia to impulsive behaviors. The way cocaine is used also affects the effects of the drug on the brain because cocaine can be snorted, smoked, or injected. Snorting cocaine produces effects in 3 minutes, whereas injection produces effects in only 14 seconds.
The high of cocaine can last up to an hour, but when cocaine wears off, the brain starts to feel the sudden drop in dopamine supply. Dopamine levels naturally fluctuate through the day, but when the levels of dopamine are abruptly heightened then suddenly lowered to near zero, the brain does not take this effect gradually. Instead of a gradual descend from dopamine, the individual experiences a sudden drop in pleasure, which the brain interprets as anxiety and depression. Then, withdrawal effects set in because now the brain wants that same amount of dopamine that was achieved before, but this same level can only be achieved by taking more cocaine or by using another dopamine inducing drug.
Over time, the brain becomes dependent on cocaine for a normal level of dopamine. The neurotransmitter dopamine in the reward pathway anticipates the cocaine molecule to block the neurotransmitter transporter, so when this does not happen, the body longs for cocaine.
Consider visiting a treatment center if you or someone you know feels that they are struggling with a cocaine addiction. Asana Recovery offers detox and residential rehabilitation with various therapies. Call 949-438-4504 to learn more about their treatment services.