Casual Cocaine Users At Risk For Heart Disease

By Shawn Dwyer 05/02/14

According to a study, even recreational cocaine users suffer from high blood pressure which can lead to irreversible damage to the heart.

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A recent study conducted by the University of Sydney and published in the journal PLOS One found that people who use cocaine recreationally had a higher long-term risk of heart attacks and strokes than non-cocaine users.

Researchers used magnetic resonance imaging to examine the cardiac and vascular structure of the hearts of 20 cocaine users as compared to 20 non-users. Users were classified as people who took cocaine at least once a month, with two-thirds saying that they used the drug weekly. They found that users had higher blood pressure, stiffer arteries, and heavier hearts, thus putting them at risk for serious heart problems later in life.

''We have seen a number of young adults suffering heart attacks after cocaine use, with irreversible damage to their heart muscle and substantial impact on their quality of life thereafter,'' said Professor Gemma Figtree, a cardiologist at the University of Sydney and lead author of the study.

The immediate effects of cocaine are well known, causing immediate heart risks. But researchers at the University of Sydney were the first in Australia to look at the chronic effects cocaine has on people who think of themselves as social users.

“While some people who use cocaine recreationally may not think they are doing their body a lot of harm, our results show this is not the case, and that cocaine is dangerous for your health even when taken socially,” Figtree said.

Another author of the study, Dr. Rebecca Kozor of the Sydney Medical School, said that even those subjects with high levels of education don't know about the effects cocaine had on their hearts. "Some individuals and professionals are unaware of the acute and long term effects of cocaine use."

“The chronic effect of regular cocaine use in otherwise healthy adults who consider themselves 'social' users is more difficult to establish,” Figtree said. “We have examined the longer term consequences in individuals who take cocaine socially, and the results are alarming.”

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Shawn Dwyer is a writer, editor and content producer living in Los Angeles. You can find him on Linkedin.