Why Does Cocaine Cause Nosebleeds, Weight Loss, Dry Mouth, & Bloodshot Eyes?
Cocaine a well-known drug of abuse that is manufactured by processing the leaves of the coca plant. Cocaine has a rich history of use by many of the indigenous tribes in Central and South America in addition to its illicit use throughout the world. Cocaine also still has some medicinal uses, such as being used as an anesthetic for eye surgery or nasal surgery; however, its distribution in the United States is tightly controlled as it is classified as a controlled substance by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (a Schedule II controlled substance, which is the highest level of control offered to drugs that can be obtained with a prescription).
Cocaine is most commonly abused by snorting it, smoking it, or by dissolving it in water and then injecting it. The immediate effects of cocaine include extreme euphoria, a rush of energy, decreased need for sleep, and other effects. Cocaine abuse is also associated with numerous short-term and long-term negative health effects.
Nosebleeds from Cocaine Use
Very often, individuals who snort cocaine suffer effects to their nasal passages. According to several articles published in the journal Plastic Reconstructive Surgery:
- A significant long-term effect that often occurs from cocaine abuse is damage to the nose.
- Nasal damage is most often caused by snorting or sniffing cocaine.
- Snorting cocaine results in an increase in nasal congestion and nasal discharge that appears similar to the common cold or an allergy.
- The snorting or sniffing of cocaine irritates the very sensitive lining in the nasal passages, and this can cause them to rupture and bleed, leading to frequent nosebleeds (epistaxis).
- As a result of the irritation, individuals may develop chronic infections that can lead to further issues with nosebleeds.
- Snorting cocaine can lead to even more serious injuries to the nasal passages. The nose has a very fragile supply of blood, which is shut off by using cocaine via vasoconstriction or the closing of blood vessels. This results in less oxygen being delivered to areas in the nose, particularly the septum (the divider between nostrils), and the lining of the septum may die. When the septal lining dies, it may produce a whole or septal perforation. A septal perforation can be a serious injury to the nose, often will not heal on its own, and may require surgery to repair.
- The hole that occurs in the septum will be prone to develop infections and will actually increase in size over time even if the individual stops using cocaine. This can result in the nose becoming misshapen (often referred to as saddle nose). In addition, issues with the voice can also occur as a result of a perforated septum.
- Snorting cocaine on a long-term basis can lead to other issues, such as loss of smell.
The surest way to eliminate the nosebleeds associated with sniffing cocaine is to quit the practice altogether. When an individual has suffered a perforation of the nasal septum as a result of chronic cocaine snorting, the individual will most likely need medical treatment in order to resolve the issue. This means that nosebleeds will most likely continue until treatment is administered.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), chronic use of stimulant drugs, like cocaine, leads to decreased appetite that may be due to activation of the sympathetic nervous system that is most often involved in speeding up bodily actions and functions. Certain stimulant drugs, like amphetamines, have been used for weight loss due to their ability to speed up an individual’s metabolism and suppress appetite. Chronic use of stimulant drugs like cocaine may result in weight loss in some individuals.
Recent research has suggested that weight loss associated with cocaine use (and other stimulants) may not quite be that simple, however. For instance, research articles published in the journals Appetite and The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse suggest the following:
- In some chronic cocaine abusers, there is evidence that these individuals exert less restraint over their diet and often eat uncontrollably or binge.
- Cocaine-dependent individuals often consume more carbohydrates and fats than individuals who do not chronically abuse the drug. They are also more likely to skip breakfast.
- Individuals with significant cocaine abuse issues (stimulant use disorders) often have significantly lower body fat content than individuals without cocaine abuse issues.
- Findings indicate that regular use of cocaine interferes with the normal metabolic processes in individuals and reduces body fat content. A hormone known as leptin was significantly lower in individuals with chronic cocaine abuse compared to those without such an issue. Interestingly, this lower plasma level of leptin in this group combined with their higher fat diet should have led to an increase in the weight of cocaine abusers, but instead, lower fat contents were observed, and these individuals also had less body mass. This finding indicates that chronic cocaine abuse somehow interferes with the individual’s metabolism, leading to weight loss.
- A subsequent finding in individuals who are in recovery from chronic cocaine abuse is that they gain weight. Often, many individuals in recovery experience significant weight gain. This is further evidence to suggest that cocaine interferes with their metabolism.
Before readers get the notion that using cocaine may be a great diet aid, it should be noted that while some individuals who chronically abuse cocaine do lose weight, once the individual stops using cocaine, there is almost an inevitable rebound effect, and the individuals gain significantly more weight than they lost. Thus, individuals using stimulants for weight loss inevitably have to change their diet anyway.
In addition, chronic use of cocaine has numerous other detrimental effects to an individual’s health, including increased potential for heart attack, stroke, cognitive difficulties, and, of course, the development of an addiction. Thus, using cocaine is not a sound strategy for weight loss.
A very common symptom of any drug use or abuse is the experience of dry mouth (xerostomia). Different types of drugs produce this effect through different mechanisms. Stimulant drugs activate the sympathetic nervous system, which has been shown to decrease salivation in individuals. Thus, the stimulant effects of cocaine probably account for its common side effect of producing dry mouth. Chronic issues with dry mouth can lead to serious issues with dentition, as saliva helps to protect the mouth and teeth from infections.
Blood Shot Eyes
Another common effect of drug or alcohol abuse is reddening of the eyes or the appearance of bloodshot eyes. Cocaine and other stimulants as well as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC: the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana or cannabis) and certain types of hallucinogenic drugs, like mescaline, result in the pupils of the eyes having a delayed reaction, or a lack of a reaction, to light. This results in these drugs producing dilated pupils.
In addition, cocaine use activates the sympathetic nervous system, which leads to a constriction of blood vessels and increased blood pressure. This can lead to bloodshot eyes, and it can also lead to significant damage to the cornea. The symptoms can often last longer than the actual effects of the cocaine, and individuals may experience sensitivity to light, reddened eyes, and other issues for hours or even days after the psychoactive effects of cocaine have dissipated.
The best way to avoid these troublesome side effects associated with cocaine abuse is to get into a recovery program and stop using the drug.