What Is Cocaine?
Cocaine is a powerful stimulant drug that activates the central nervous system and strongly affects the reward pathway in the brain. It is derived from the coca plant, native to South America, the resulting purified chemical being cocaine hydrochloride. Cocaine-related overdose is responsible for a large percentage of drug overdose deaths every year.
Cocaine is classified as a Schedule II drug due to its addictive nature and potential for abuse. It exists in two primary forms: white powder form and crack cocaine as a recreational drug. In powder form, cocaine is snorted or dissolved in water and injected into the user's veins. Crack cocaine, which looks like a whitish rock or crystal, needs to be heated, and the user inhales or "smokes" the resulting vapors.
The potency of a cocaine dose depends on the way and the form in which it is taken. When smoked as crack or injected, the cocaine high is felt within less than a minute, peaks only minutes after that, and lasts between half an hour and an hour. When the powder form is snorted, the effects take a few minutes to kick in, peak in under thirty minutes, and wear off within a couple of hours. For this reason, crack cocaine is often considered the most addictive form of the drug.
Can You Overdose On Cocaine?
The short answer is an unequivocal yes. An overdose is the ingestion or application of a drug in quantities that are dangerous to a person's health. If toxic levels are reached, an overdose on cocaine can cause anything from a need for immediate medical attention to long-term effects, permanent damage to health, or even death.
From a medical perspective, any time you use cocaine, there is a potential risk of overdose. However, most cocaine overdoses occur because the user has also been drinking alcohol or mixed it with other drugs - in 2020, around three-quarters of overdose deaths involved cocaine combined with synthetic opioids.
How Much Cocaine Does It Take To Overdose?
Cocaine sold on the streets varies in strength and purity - it can be mixed with other substances. Nonpsychoactive substances like flour, baking soda, cornstarch, or even talcum powder (a tactic dealers employ to increase profits) will weaken it. It can also be "cut" with less harmless ingredients or contain traces of gasoline or acetone used during manufacture, making an adverse reaction from the user's body more likely.
An average cocaine user might snort several lines of coke out of a 1 gram purchase. A 20-milligram dose of crack cocaine is about as strong as 30 to 50 milligrams of the powder. 1.2 grams is considered the minimum amount to produce a lethal cocaine overdose, but even a few hundred milligrams can be life-threatening. Overdose can also be triggered by the cumulative amount taken by a user in one day - in rare cases of unusually high tolerance, some cocaine users have reported taking up to 5 grams daily, a dose which would be fatal for most people.
Injecting the drug produces the quickest high and therefore increased risk of overdose on cocaine. Other risk factors include a history of substance use, the person's current state of health, and any previous or ongoing mental health concerns.
Tolerance built up through regular drug abuse can also increase the likelihood of a cocaine overdose. The user will need more of the drug to feel the desired effects and may indulge in binges.
Symptoms and Signs of a Cocaine Overdose
While the range and severity of cocaine overdose symptoms vary depending on the individual, too much cocaine produces predictable effects.
Behavioral Signs of Cocaine Overdose
Cocaine overdose signs include abrupt changes in a person's behavior. Below are the most common ones the user will experience or that you will notice if you're with someone who has overdosed.
- Extreme mood swings, aggressive behavior
- Restlessness, irritability, talkativeness
- Paranoia and panic attacks
- Cocaine-induced psychosis, if extreme agitation and hallucinations set in
- Erratic and violent behavior are very representative of a cocaine overdose
Physical Symptoms of Cocaine Overdose
Dilated pupils, a faster heart rate, elevated blood pressure, sweating, and higher body temperature are all common side effects of cocaine use. With an overdose, they are all exacerbated, and a whole range of other symptoms of cocaine overdose appear. These include:
- Chest pain, abdominal pain, headache
- Nausea, vomiting
- Dizziness, fainting
- Tremors, twitches, shaky hands
Several physical symptoms may be challenging to detect as an onlooker, so if you're worried about a person who has taken cocaine, try and ask them what they are feeling in their body.
Dangers of Cocaine Overdose
Cocaine is one of the most infamous drugs for a good reason. Cocaine overdose is life-threatening, and the physical effects can rapidly put you into a critical condition. Any one of cardiac arrest, stroke, heart attack, or deadly arrhythmias could cause death. Renal infarction and acute kidney damage can also be fatal, less quickly perhaps, but no less painfully!
In short, just like heroin, cocaine can cause wreak havoc on all your internal organs, your gastrointestinal tract, and your nervous system. A person's lungs can go into bronchospasm, causing them to develop blood clots or collapse. Blood vessels in the brain can rupture, causing cerebral bleeding and fatal aneurysm. Whichever way you look at it, cocaine use is not safe.
Is Cocaine Overdose The Same as Cocaine Toxicity?
Cocaine overdose and cocaine toxicity are not identical, though they have similar symptoms, and treatment is almost the same for both. An overdose is a result of taking too much cocaine at one time. Cocaine toxicity happens over time as the cumulative effect of regular cocaine use. It frequently occurs due to cocaine addiction or in a person battling substance abuse problems. On the other hand, an overdose can occur even the first time you try the drug.
How Cocaine Overdose Is Treated
If you are concerned you or someone close to you may have taken too much cocaine, call 911 immediately - paramedics will at once recognize cocaine overdose symptoms and take appropriate action.
There is currently no antidote to a cocaine overdose. Therefore, medical treatment can only focus on the symptoms of the overdose, particularly those such as high blood pressure and heart rate, which could cause a heart attack or stroke. This is usually done by administering benzodiazepines.
Because of the immense strain, cocaine overdose puts on the body, particularly the vital organs and nervous system, it is essential to prevent it from reoccurring. Help and treatment for addiction and drug use are available - if you or someone you know has suffered a cocaine overdose, the decision to find help could be a life-saving one.
Find Help: Cocaine Abuse Treatment
Cocaine is a highly addictive drug, and the treatment process can be challenging. Recovery from addiction is only likely to succeed if a person fully commits to the process and the possibility of a new life it offers. That is why it's good to be aware that the decision to enter treatment means there will be difficulties ahead. But in the right environment, you will be fully supported to navigate them.
At Cornerstone, we have over 40 years of experience offering professional, innovative substance abuse treatment to help people lead a healthy, happy life free of drugs. Our treatment options are designed to fit the needs of each individual, and we are pleased to respond to your inquiries. Finding help always starts with taking the first step - and there's no better time than the present to begin!