Many drugs affect the central nervous system and how it works. Many so-called "recreational drugs" can alter the user's consciousness. The risks associated with use of these drugs include:
- loss of motor control.
- impaired judgment.
- lack of quality control in preparing illegal drugs.
- possibility of added substances (such as talc, poisons, herbicides or other particles). Some of these don't dissolve in the bloodstream and may become particles that block blood flow. Others may cause a toxic reaction.
- the toxic effects of the drugs themselves. For example, cocaine and inhalants can cause fatal arrhythmia (abnormal heartbeat). Heroin and opiates (opium) may cause fatal respiratory depression (lung failure).
Cocaine use kills over 15,000 people each year in the United States due to overuse or related accidents. Additionally, cocaine use can cause damage to the heart, which leads to many more deaths each year.
Several cardiovascular complications are closely related to cocaine use. They include chest pain syndromes, heart attacks, heart failure, strokes, aortic dissection, and fatal and nonfatal arrhythmias.
- myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle)
- endocarditis (inflammation of the inner lining of the heart)
- pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs)
- vascular thrombosis (blood clots in blood vessels)
- dilated cardiomyopathy (an enlarged heart)
Cocaine is doubly dangerous for pregnant women. Not only can it cause cardiovascular complications, but evidence is accumulating that cocaine can cause birth defects.
Today law enforcement agencies and the medical community recognize cocaine as one of the most dangerous illicit drugs in common use. Because it's increasingly popular and easily bought, the number of cocaine-related cardiovascular disabilities and deaths may be expected to rise. Furthermore, smoking crack cocaine, which is cheaper, more potent and widely available, will lead to even more strokes and heart attacks in younger people not normally "at risk."