Cocaine: Mental effects

Last modified: Thursday, 25. December 2008 - 10:05 am

Small doses of cocaine can cause users to feel both mentally and sexually excited, self-confident, uninhibited, talkative, clever, and in control. Larger doses and heavy use can cause the opposite effects. Heavy users can become confused mentally, uninterested in sex, paranoid (feeling everyone is against them), antisocial, aggressive, and are subject to cocaine psychosis (a mental illness whose symptoms include paranoia, disorientation, and severe depression).

The pleasurable feelings from cocaine use last only 15-30 minutes if it is snorted and only five to 10 minutes if cocaine is smoked or injected into the veins. When the “high” is over, the user feels tired, sluggish, and “low.”

This cycle can precipitate repeated cocaine use to try to recapture the first high. Oddly, the more often cocaine is used, the less intense the pleasure. This is called tolerance. If use continues to the point of addiction, users take cocaine just to feel “normal.”

Heavy users and binge users can experience visual and auditory hallucinations. A tactile hallucination (a hallucination involving the sense of touch) called “cocaine bugs” causes users to feel imaginary bugs crawling under their skin. Users can scratch or use a knife to try to remove the “bugs” in reaction to this sensation. In 1999, two NIDA-funded studies confirmed that heavy cocaine use can cause long-lasting brain impairment. In one study, it was found that the user’s problem-solving skills and cognitive skills lagged behind that of moderate or non-users. In a second study, a month after last use, heavy users performed much worse than moderate or non-users in tasks involving planning and reasoning. Users can become psychologically dependent on cocaine, using the drug to take the place of real-life experiences and problem-solving strategies. People who become dependent and then quit using cocaine often experience an intense craving for the drug long after the last use.

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