Cocaine is a stimulant drug, and it’s typically sold as a white powder. While cocaine can be injected into the veins, ingested as a powder, or rubbed directly onto the nose and tongue, the Center for Substance Abuse Research reports that snorting is the most common method of abuse.
People who snort cocaine may expect to feel a rush of power and energy. They may also expect that sensation to fade away in a minute or two. But cocaine can produce some sensations that are a little unexpected, and long-term abuse can lead to some nasty side effects that users just never saw coming.
These are just four of those unexpected consequences.
The tissue that separates the mouth from the sinuses is the hard palate, and it’s designed to be tough and impermeable. A hard palate allows us to eat and drink without flooding our sinuses with fluids. The hard palate also works as a tapping point for the tongue, so we can communicate freely.
In a study published in the journal Clinical Oral Investigations, researchers report that cocaine can cause large holes to form in the hard palate. Cocaine can restrict the amount of blood that moves through blood vessels in the roof of the mouth, and that can lead to tissue death. The holes can be quite large when they are discovered. In this study, the holes were around 19.32 mm in diameter.
A hole like this will not heal. There are no tissue fragments left to knit together, and the tissue around the hole can be dead or dying. The best way to correct a hole like this, according to research published in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Dentistry, is through surgery. Dentists take a flap of tissue from nearby structures, and they sew that tissue over the hole and monitor healing. In time, the tissue can take hold and grow to cover up the hole.
Surgeries like this can be expensive, researchers say, and people with an addiction may not be able to pay for surgery or handle the demands of surgical recovery. People like this can get a prosthesis that covers up the hole, and sometimes that prosthesis can impact the person’s ability to talk clearly.
Cocaine molecules restrict the size of blood vessels on contact. People who snort cocaine put a very dangerous substance in close proximity to the plethora of blood vessels in the nose. That can lead to tissue death, and it typically manifests as a hole between nostrils.
In a report published in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, researchers said that septal perforation, or holes between the nostrils, is one of the most common complications caused by snorting cocaine. Some people have to pinpoint holes, researchers said, while others have complete destruction of all the tissues that hold the nose up.
Someone with a septal perforation may be able to breathe with ease, but that person may have a nose that looks collapsed or dented. They may even have a nose that is dented on just one side.
Surgery is, again, the only way to fix this issue. Dead tissues simply will not grow back. Dentists take tissues from other parts of the nose or mouth, and they implant them in place of the tissues that have died away. They monitor healing very carefully, to ensure that the new tissues take hold and grow.
People who take in cocaine feel energized, and that means they can:
All of these movements can raise body heat, and for many years, the movements were blamed on a body temperature increase that can come with cocaine abuse. In 2002, researchers writing in the Annals of Internal Medicine discovered something interesting.
In this study, researchers found that cocaine increases body temperature, even if the people using cocaine didn’t move more. Researchers also found that people taking cocaine couldn’t tell that their body temperature had risen, so they didn’t try to keep themselves cool. Their bodies also didn’t compensate by sweating more.
This means people who snort cocaine may have dangerously high body temperatures that can lead to seizures and/or organ failure. Meanwhile, they may not feel hot at all.
People who snort cocaine aren’t putting the drug anywhere near their eyes, and yet, researchers have discovered that snorting cocaine can do a great deal of damage to the delicate tissues within the eye.
In a study in the journal European Journal of Ophthalmology, researchers found that people who snort cocaine can experience changes in color perception. In this case study, a man complained that he could no longer see colors in the blue/yellow spectrum. This kind of disturbance is common in people going through cocaine withdrawal, researchers said, but it’s also possible in current drug users. This type of condition can be treated by laser surgery, but it can also be chronic and impossible to treat.
In a secondary study published in the journal Neuro-Ophthalmology, researchers found that people who snort cocaine can also take in contaminants, including bacteria. Small cells of bacteria thrive in environments that are warm, moist, and dark, so they can proliferate within the sinus. If the bacterial infection spreads, it can cause swelling that presses on optic vessels. That can lead to eye inflammation and a permanent loss of vision.
People who abuse cocaine may be at risk for serious and unusual health complications. They may also be at risk for addiction. Each hit of cocaine changes brain chemistry, and those changes can lead to compulsive drug use.”
People who have these extensive changes may not be able to stop drug use even if they want to. But drug treatment programs can help people build the skills they need to stay sober for life.
(December 2010) Hard Palate Perforation in Cocaine Abusers: A Systematic Review. Clinical Oral Investigations. from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00784-009-0371-4
(2010) Palatal Perforations Secondary to Inhaled Cocaine Abuse. Presentation of Five Cases. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Dentistry. from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/418e/7ef1ee06da68f32c38b15a18c08f644ec1b6.pdf
Patients With Facial Artery Mucosa-Based Perforator Flap. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. from https://journals.lww.com/plasreconsurg/Fulltext/2014/01000/Reconstruction_of_Nasal_Septal_Perforations_in.58.aspx
(June 2002) Body Heat Management in People Using Cocaine. Annals of Internal Medicine. from http://annals.org/aim/fullarticle/715330/body-heat-management-people-using-cocaine
(January 2018) An Unusual Case of Cocaine-Induced Maculopathy. European Journal of Ophthalmology. from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/112067210901900533
(November 2013) Recurrent Optic Perineuritis After Intranasal Cocaine Abuse. Neuro-Ophthalmology. from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/01658107.2013.874450