Cocaine, a dangerous substance in any amount, can cause an overdose. In 2017, there were 13,942 cocaine overdoses in the United States. That is up from 3,222 in 1999, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Cocaine OD symptoms can be life-threatening, often leading to brain damage, ongoing health complications and death in some situations. It’s essential to understand if cocaine overdose is a risk someone you love could be experiencing.
What Is a Cocaine Overdose?
Cocaine can create a number of risks for a person using it, including negative psychological effects and short-term physical effects. However, an overdose is the highest risk of use.
It occurs when the amount of the drug in the system is at a toxic level and causes a serious reaction. Cocaine can work as a poison to shut down the various functions of the body, leaving a person facing a life-threatening situation.
There is no specific amount of cocaine that will do this. Rather, it varies from person to person based on previous use, body size and other factors. Toxicity can occur even with the first dose of just a small amount.
If you believe your loved one has signs of a cocaine overdose, call 911 for immediate help.
Cocaine OD Symptoms
Cocaine overdose symptoms range significantly from one person to the next. However, the most common symptoms of overdose from cocaine include:
- A very high heart rate
- Chest pain
- Increasing body temperature
- Severe nausea, often with vomiting
These physical symptoms are typically paired with psychological changes. A person facing overdose is likely to feel extreme panic and anxiety.
This can escalate to delirium and paranoia, which can further worsen a person’s risk of physical symptoms such as heart attacks and fainting. Coke overdose signs can be present right away or manifest over a period of an hour or more.
The Mechanisms of Cocaine Overdose
Cocaine impacts the mesolimbic dopamine system of the brain. This is the area that is stimulated by things such as food and sex, creating a rewarding, positive feeling, and it’s located in the part of the midbrain called the ventral tegmental area.
Cocaine also interacts with the area of the brain that regulates motivation and emotions. All of these brain locations are impacted when an overdose occurs.
Cocaine interferes with the normal communication processes in the brain. It can bind to the dopamine transporter, which removes dopamine from the gap between neurons.
The rest of this is an amplified signal sent to the neurons that receive those pleasure senses, creating a sense of euphoria. This typically occurs right as a person is using the drug.
When cocaine is ingested at a high level or the drug is present in toxic levels due to other factors such as potency, there’s an intense reaction in the brain. Without the ability to communicate between each area, the brain can’t function properly, causing other symptoms to occur in the body.
The heart speeds up, breathing becomes shallow and the other organs begin to shut down. This creates the intense effects of an overdose, leading to a life-threatening situation.
Effects of Overdose on the Body
Cocaine overdose affects numerous systems of the body. Take a look at what can happen with a single dose if toxicity occurs.
During a cocaine overdose, a person may experience cardiovascular symptoms such as:
- Abnormal heartbeat, often a very rapid heart rate
- A drop in blood pressure due to the fast heart rate
In severe cases, cardiogenic shock can occur, a situation where the heart is unable to pump enough blood to the body, potentially causing blood vessels to burst. Excess cocaine consumption can cause bleeding in the brain, known as a cerebral hemorrhage.
Central Nervous System
During an overdose, the brain can be impacted in several ways, most commonly:
- Creating an initial sense of euphoria
- Causing a lack of communication between neurons, which can limit function
- Decreasing mental alertness
- Inducing paranoia and anxiety
In severe cases, muscle tremors and fast reflexes can occur throughout the body. Some individuals may also become very sensitive to touch.
If an overdose occurs, the central nervous system fails to communicate properly with the brain. This can create symptoms such as:
- Painful muscles
- Tremors and the difficulty of walking or holding something
Muscle breakdown can occur in severe overdoses due to a lack of blood flow and oxygen.
Cocaine overdose typically creates a sensation of rapid breathing initially and then slowed breathing. The breath may not be full and may seem very shallow. A lack of oxygen coming into the body is a key factor of overdose sudden death. This may be evident with:
- Shallow breathing
- Slowed breathing
Different Forms of Cocaine Overdose
Cocaine, often called coke, is sometimes mixed with other substances. Also, there are several types of cocaine, including freebase and crack.
Freebase and cocaine hydrochloride are powders that are often snorted. All of these can cause overdoses.
During an overdose, cocaine enters the brain very quickly, creating a rapid euphoria. However, the symptoms of overdose can be more pronounced and happen much faster, for example, sudden cardiac arrest, a loss of consciousness or a cocaine overdose seizure, in which the brain simply cannot function properly due to the high toxicity of the substance.
Smoking cocaine can create the same impact, but it generally takes more time. The damage may be less during smoking because it moves through the lungs. However, during an overdose, the same level of risk is present in the brain, including difficulty with breathing and cardiovascular problems.
Treatment for Cocaine Overdose
If you are asking, “How do I know if I am overdosing on coke,” don’t wait to get immediate help. Cocaine overdose can create a sudden life-threatening situation requiring emergency resuscitation. Initial treatment will always be to stabilize a person’s vital signs.
If you see someone who may be experiencing an overdose, react immediately. The signs of a cocaine overdose nearly always require medical intervention. Good Samaritan laws are available to help you.
That means if you seek help for someone who is experiencing what you believe is an overdose, you can’t be sued for the care you provide if you contact 911. Don’t wait for another person to respond.
What Is Cocaine Overdose Treatment?
If a victim is struggling, the paramedics will work to restore normal heart rate and breathing. From there, they will likely be admitted to hospital so they can be monitored as the body works to get rid of the substance.
In most cases, the body removes about 50% of all cocaine in the system within the first hour. Then, it can take some time for what remains to work through the liver and be removed.
During this time, doctors need to keep the body’s core temperature stabilized. They will also have to ensure that breathing remains strong.
Intubation is often necessary due to shallow breathing. Some individuals may need medications to stop seizure activity.
You shouldn’t try to support a person at home using any type of remedy for an overdose. For example, some believe that activated charcoal can prevent toxicity from occurring, but this is not a proven treatment.
There is the potential for permanent damage to the brain if a person doesn’t receive the necessary treatment in a timely manner. The extent can range from a lack of cognitive function to impaired motor skills and stroke-like symptoms.
Cocaine Overdose and Death
Overdose death is more likely in individuals who use cocaine that’s laced with another drug or substance. This can make it very difficult to detect the signs of an overdose. However, because cocaine is a powerful stimulant impacting the nervous system, any overdose will likely involve changes to the brain’s function and body control.
Seeking Help for Cocaine Addiction
If you or your loved one uses cocaine, contact FHE Health for immediate help. Our counselors are available 24/7 at (833) 596-3502.