Cocaine: How It Affects The Brain

What Is Cocaine?

Despite the highly destructive nature of cocaine, it is one of the most widely used recreational drugs. Cocaine affects the actions of the brain by modulating the neurotransmitters which in turn causes several personal feelings and experiences. Understanding the way that cocaine affects the brain can help you to avoid potential addiction and brain damage.

READ ALSO: Alcohol is More Harmful to Brain than Marijuana, Study Discovers

Cocaine has a number of ‘street’ names including: crack, dream, candy, foo-foo dust, All-American drug, blow, and Aunt Nora.

Cocaine is derived from the coca plant and is created by turning the leaves into a powder. This powder can then be sniffed for its effects. It is also mixed with a base such as baking soda in some cases, so as to give it a hard texture. It can be smoked in a pipe in this form. This form is mostly preferred because it allows the substance to reach the brain and take effect much more quickly – acting after 8 seconds instead of 10 minutes.

READ ALSO: Does Smoking Cannabis Cause Aggression?

Cocaine acts on a part of the brain called the ‘ventral tegmental’ which is the area that controls reward and motivation. It works by blocking the ‘reuptake’ of the neurotransmitter dopamine through the dopamine transporters, but it also has similar effects on serotonin and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters once again are associated with reward, motivation, pleasure and alertness.

Effects and Symptoms of Cocaine

Cocaine causes the effects that are associated with neurotransmitters and brain region in the short term. That means feelings of euphoria and pleasure as well as lots of energy, alertness and focus. It also subdues appetite.

The effects begin to wear off after about ten minutes, and the amount of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin all drop leaving the user with a ‘crash’ or ‘come down’. This feeling leads to the opposite effects which include malaise, depression, lethargy, and hunger or food cravings.

Excessive intake of cocaine can lead to increase blood pressure and heart rate. This causes the users to grind their teeth and an unusual feeling called delusional parasitosis (users feel like they are covered in lots of tiny ‘bugs’ on or under the surface of their skin). This in turn can lead to ceaseless scratching and itching potentially causing sores and scratches on the skin.

READ ALSO: Does Marijuana Cause Erectile Dysfunction?

Cocaine can damage the nose over time and cause nosebleeds in the short term when continually snorted or sniffed. Also, cocaine can also cause damage to the lungs when smoked as crack. Protracted use of cocaine can damage the dopamine receptors in the brain leading to severe depression.

Tolerance and Dependence

The use of cocaine can create a strong addiction due to the changes that cocaine causes in the brain by changing levels of dopamine receptors. Due to the sudden increase in dopamine that cocaine causes in the brain, adaptation occurs in order to help account for this by decreasing the number of dopamine receptors. In turn this then means that dopamine loses its effectiveness in the brain and that more is needed to feel its full effects.

READ ALSO: All to Know About Opioids

As a result, those who use cocaine will quickly find that the effects start to be less pronounced and that they thus need to increase their doses to enjoy the same effects. This is ‘tolerance’. At the same time, stopping using cocaine results in withdrawal symptoms as a result of ‘dependence’. Basically, when the addicted user stops using cocaine they are no longer getting the amount of dopamine activity they need in order to feel ‘normal’ and thus they experience withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • Insatiable hunger
  • Agitation
  • Slow movements
  • Restlessness
  • Malaise
  • Vivid nightmares


It is essential to get prompt medical help if you or someone you know is showing signs of cocaine addiction. Cocaine addiction mostly revolves around the narrowing of cocaine use in order to gradually help users overcome their addiction without suffering extreme side effects of abrupt withdrawal.

Cognitive behavioral therapy can also be used to try and treat their addiction while also addressing the underlying psychological issues that might have led to the addiction in the first place.

Image source:

Disclaimer: The content provided on is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical doctor or healthcare professional.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *