Science, Science and Tech

The science behind cocaine

Cocaine is a well-known stimulant that causes alertness and euphoria, which it does by stopping the re-absorption of the neurotransmitters serotonin, adrenaline and dopamine which causes anaesthetic properties and the resulting “high”. The cocaine molecule is lipid soluble, and is able to easily cross the blood-brain barrier as cranial cells are lipophilic, so cocaine enters the brain as a passenger on the lipids being absorbed into the brain. Once it has entered the brain, cocaine is able to constrict blood vessels, which can cause a stroke as the brain is starved of oxygen.

The most common type of stroke is an ischemic stroke, and is the result of a clot formed in the blood vessels supplying the brain, which occurs when the vessels become constricted. If the brain is starved for longer than a couple of minutes, then the cells will begin to die as they are receiving no oxygen and are unable to produce any energy. A study at the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine has showed that acute cocaine use has a high correlation with risk of stroke in young people. Within 24 hours of cocaine use, there was an increased risk of stroke with participants being six to seven times more likely to suffer from a stroke, regardless of ethnicity or gender.

The risk of stroke after cocaine abuse is far higher than other risk factors such as diabetes and smoking which has led to the leaders of the study calling for toxicology screens of all young patients hospitalised after suffering from a stroke, as it could provide an explanation for the number of strokes in younger patients. As 10-15% of ischemic strokes occur in young adults, these results begin to provide an explanation as to why these strokes that traditionally affect those over 60 are appearing more and more in the younger generation. This discovery means drug awareness can be developed to show the harsh realities of drug abuse, as even a single use could be fatal.


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April 2021
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