The Risks of Smoking Cocaine

Cocaine is a powerful stimulant drug that causes serious health problems with frequent use. This goes for snorting and smoking cocaine, however, the risks of smoking cocaine are far greater. Smoking offers a faster delivery system but it also compounds the damage that cocaine does to the body.

How Cocaine Affects the Body

Cocaine acts as a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant, speeding up chemical processes throughout the brain and body. It does this by stimulating neurotransmitter chemical secretions in the brain, specifically, dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine chemicals. Cocaine’s effects on dopamine, in particular, directly interferes with how the body perceives pleasure, pain, joy, and contentment.

Cocaine’s ability to interfere with CNS functions takes a toll on the body’s health with continued use. Ultimately, the body’s systems will completely break down if cocaine abuse is left to its own devices. Here are just a few ways cocaine’s effects on the CNS interferes with normal bodily functions:

  • Makes blood vessels narrow
  • Speeds up your heart rate
  • Increases blood pressure
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Suppresses appetite

Smoking Cocaine vs Snorting Cocaine

While cocaine produces powerful effects in any form, smoking cocaine intensifies these effects even further. In order to smoke cocaine, it has to be converted from a powder into a solid form known as crack. This is done by mixing cocaine powder with water and baking soda, which is then boiled down to a solid material.

Smoking cocaine delivers near-instantaneous effects that reach their peak in three to five minutes. Snorting cocaine produces effects in one to five minutes and peaks within 20 to 30 minutes. Crack’s ability to produce effects so much quicker accounts for many of the risks of smoking cocaine.

Risks of Smoking Cocaine

Highly Addictive

Addiction develops in an area of the brain known as the reward pathway. This area is highly sensitive to experiences it perceives as positive. Positive experiences are then used to form your beliefs, values, and priorities based on what it’s learned. Reward pathway processes rely heavily on the levels of dopamine present at any one time.

Cocaine’s ability to boost dopamine levels triggers the reward pathway in a big way. One of the most dangerous risks of smoking cocaine lies in how quickly addiction can take root. Crack’s short-acting effects combined with the severely uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that result sends a strong message to the reward pathway.

Heart Problems

As a stimulant drug, the intense rush that comes from smoking cocaine places an incredible strain on your body’s cardiovascular system. Cocaine forces the heart to beat faster, which sends blood through your blood vessels with more force. For chronic users, the wear and tear on the blood vessels come with an increased risk of developing heart disease.

The added strain placed on the heart can be especially dangerous for people with existing heart conditions. Other heart-related issues to watch for include:

  • Aortic ruptures
  • Inflammation of the heart
  • Increased heart attack risk
  • The heart’s ability to contract becomes compromised

Brain Damage

Smoking cocaine on a long-term basis places users at increased risk of developing brain damage. The damage that is done to the body’s blood vessels also applies to blood vessels inside the brain. The repeated pressure placed on blood vessel linings can cause balloon-like bulges to form along vessel walls. When these balloons burst, bleeding in the brain is the result.

Bleeding in the brain paves the way for serious health problems to develop, including paralysis of the face, arms, legs, sudden tingling, and numbness. Here are a few other conditions that can result from brain damage caused by cocaine use:

  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Brain seizures
  • Cognitive impairments
  • Motor function impairment
  • Lack of impulse control
  • Memory problems

Other Health Risks

Any substance capable of interfering with the brain’s chemical system can pose a risk to the body’s overall health, especially in the case of substance use disorder. Cocaine may target dopamine levels but excess amounts of dopamine or any other chemical create a ripple effect that sends the brain into a state of chemical imbalance. Smoking cocaine (as opposed to snorting) creates chemical imbalance at a faster rate. For these reasons, the risks of smoking cocaine extend to most every major bodily system.

Here are just a few other health problems that can result from abusing cocaine in any form:

  • Tooth decay
  • Gum infections
  • “Crack lung,” which is scarred lung tissue that results from constricted blood vessels in the lungs
  • Infertility
  • Insomnia
  • Malnutrition
  • Respiratory disorders
  • Sexual dysfunction

Increased Overdose Risks

The five to 15 minute high that results from smoking cocaine is followed by a “crash” of withdrawal symptoms. Exhaustion, depression, agitation, and strong cravings for more of the drug makes you want to use it again. Since the high is so brief, a cycle of using and withdrawal develops. Combine this with the brain’s increasing tolerance for the drug and bingeing behaviors are soon to follow.

Bingeing on cocaine places a tremendous strain on the heart so the risk of going into cardiac arrest increases with each use of the drug. Also, the strong effects of cocaine have been known to cause sudden death for people who try it for the first time. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that cocaine accounted for the deaths of 14,000 Americans in 2017 making overdose a very real risk any time you smoke cocaine.

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Mental Instability & Suicide Risks

Mental instability is all but inevitable for chronic cocaine users, especially when smoking cocaine. The brain’s limbic system regulates emotions and dopamine levels affect how this system functions. The limbic system is also part of the reward pathway, which ropes it right into the addiction cycle.

In cases of severe cocaine abuse, suicidal thoughts and behaviors become more frequent as withdrawal effects intensify. Other signs of mental distress to watch for include:

  • Irritability
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Severe depression
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis
  • Panic attacks
  • Hallucinations

Overall, the risks of smoking cocaine far exceed those associated with snorting it. Actually, any form of cocaine abuse comes with risks that only increase the longer you continue to abuse this drug. If you’re concerned that you or someone you know has a problem with cocaine and can’t stop using it on their own, it may be time to consider getting treatment help. A cocaine problem left to its own devices will only get worse, so call today.


  • – VA Healthcare, “Cocaine”
  • – National Institute on Drug Abuse, “ What Are the Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Abuse?”
  • – National Institute on Drug Abuse – “Overdose Death Rates”

Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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