Ask the Docs: About Cocaine

How does cocaine affect your brain? Can using cocaine cause seizures? Can using cocaine once be deadly? And what exactly is crack? Students from around the country got these questions and more answered by scientists during the National Institute on Drug Abuse Chat Day, held earlier this year. Check teen girl and cocaineout the Q&A below.


MBG from Instituto Asunción Aguilas asked:
What is cocaine?

Dr. Belinda Sims answered: 

Cocaine is derived from the coca leaf. Doctors occasionally use cocaine in small amounts as a short-acting topical anesthetic--for example, ophthalmologists may apply cocaine to a patient's eye to reduce pain in surgery. When ingested, cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant drug. Such use is illegal. For more information:

Dadrian FVSU 4H from Fort Valley State University 4-H Healthly Living asked:
Does snorting cocaine affect your brain?

Dr. Steve Gust answered:

Hi Dadrian, it sure does. Cocaine is one of the drugs with the most powerful effects on the brain. It stimulates some of the most important brain circuits and can cause a lot of different effects. Stimulants such as cocaine cause the body’s blood vessels to narrow, constricting blood flow, which forces the heart to work harder to pump blood through the body. The heart might work so hard that it temporarily loses its natural rhythm. This is why people can die suddenly from a heart attack after using cocaine.


MSpearman from Sugar Land Middle asked:

[Why is coke so addictive?]

Dr. Will Aklin answered:

Cocaine is a very powerful stimulator of brain regions involved in positive feelings and reward. It stimulates these regions more than natural brain chemicals and for a longer time period. It is thought that these effects are what make cocaine so addictive. For more info, see:


Imahan from Sugar Land Middle asked:

How could cocaine cause seizures?

Dr. Mary Kautz answered:

Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant drug made from the leaves of the coca plant. Cocaine usually makes the person feel euphoric and energetic, which is a common reason why people take cocaine. But cocaine also increases body temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate. People risk heart attacks, respiratory failure, strokes, seizures, stomach pain, and nausea. In rare cases, sudden death can occur on the first use of cocaine or unexpectedly afterwards. Check out information on our NIDA for Teens website about cocaine:


Patrick from Ardsley High School asked:

What is crack cocaine?

Dr. Ericka Boone answered:

Crack is a form of cocaine that has been processed to make a rock crystal that people smoke. The term “crack” comes from the cracking sound the rocks make when they are heated. To make crack, powder cocaine is mixed with ammonia or baking soda and water and then heated to produce the crystal. Crack is addictive, so stay clear! Check out this NIDA resource on cocaine to find our more information on the effects of cocaine on the brain -



TheTableOfQuest from Blanco Middle School asked:

Why does cocaine cause the deterioration of the cartilage in your nose???

Dr. Michelle Leff answered:

Some people snort cocaine to get a rapid and short "high." Chronic snorting causes nasal problems - chronic runny nose, frequent nosebleeds, and damage to the nasal passages. We do know that cocaine causes the blood vessels to constrict, and this loss of blood may cause cartilage damage. Read more at


eadams from Windham Middle School asked:

Can one-time moderate use of cocaine lead to permanent brain damage, loss of memory or any other effects?

Dr. Anto Bonci answered:

It is possible to suffer negative effects from one-time use of cocaine. Cocaine increases body temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate. Users risk heart attacks, respiratory failure, strokes, seizures, abdominal pain, and nausea. In rare cases, sudden death can occur on the first use of cocaine or unexpectedly afterwards. Check out information on our website about cocaine:


KHSstudent1 from Keene High School asked:

Why does coke kill you?

Dr. Michael Baumann answered:

Taking cocaine can cause adverse medical consequences leading to death. Common causes of death by cocaine include cardiac arrest (i.e., heart stops beating) or stroke (i.e., blood vessel bursts in the brain). See the link below for more information about the what cocaine does to your body and brain: http://


RCC from Instituto Asunción Aguilas asked:

When I went to Peru, they gave me a coca plant. Does the cocaine come from there? And is it bad?

Dr. Ruben Baler answered:

Yes, cocaine is extracted and derived from the coca leaves. Chewing coca leaves however, produces a far milder stimulant effect than pure cocaine. The locals who chew coca leaves on a regular basis are most likely dependent on the drug but most would probably not qualify as being addicted to cocaine, meaning they did not lose control over their consumption or seek to ingest in spite of the negative consequences. It's probably not that bad if it was a single experience and did not lead you to try cocaine or other drugs when you came back.