What Does Cocaine Do to the Heart?

Racking up those lines could cause swelling, scarring and heart disease – good stuff!

by VICE Staff; photos by Emily Bowler
15 July 2019, 6:12am

Emily Bowler

Hate to be the one to tell you this, but: cocaine is not good for you. Let that bombshell sink in for a moment. As well as being bad for the soul, coke is also terrible for your heart, which is easily one of the top five most important organs... of all time. How can you expect to live, laugh or love without a heart? Consider the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz, the most famous heartless man of all. What is the Tin Man? He's a pathetic oddball. A weird, sexless, freak. Hopefully this gives you some food for thought re: your gear intake.

It's a bit of a buzzkill having to consider your own mortality while hoovering up a line, which means that if you're a regular user it can be tempting to respond to information about the risks by putting your fingers in your ears. But it's worth knowing. Ignorance is bliss, but only up to the point you find yourself having a cardiac arrest at the age of 34.

So what does using cocaine actually do to your heart?


Nick Hickmott, Team Leader at drug and alcohol charity Addaction, explains: "Cocaine constricts the blood vessels around the heart, reducing the blood flow. It raises blood pressure, making it beat faster. It puts pressure on the heart and makes it work harder than it usually needs do." The result is that regular cocaine use can increase your risk of heart disease.

But it's pointless considering the risk posed by cocaine use in isolation – because who ever takes coke by itself? As Vod in the Channel 4 sitcom Fresh Meat says, "Coke is not a drug. It's a facilitator for consuming other substances. Think of coke as your mate – poking you awake with a pointy stick at 4 in the morning, reminding you to pour more and more dirt into your system."


Cocaine and alcohol are the two most notorious bedfellows: the Alfie Deyes and Zoella of poly-drug use. It's estimated that three-quarters of cocaine users drink while doing gak. Unfortunately, this combination is even more dangerous, elevating your heart rate and blood pressure more than cocaine would on its own.

In the short term, this could literally kill you: a recent study showed that emergency department patients who used a combination of alcohol and cocaine died more often than those who had just taken coke.


When taking cocaine, you should try to keep your alcohol intake as low as possible. And if you really don't enjoy doing cocaine without drinking, maybe you just... don't enjoy it? Being really pissed yet wide awake can be fun, yes, but is it enjoyable enough to worth risking death, either immediately or after a drawn out bout of heart disease?

If you are fully committed to the sesh, or have regularly used cocaine in the past, is there any way of fortifying your heart? Is the damage reversible?

Guy Jones, a harm reduction specialist, tells VICE, "Long-term regular cocaine use can lead to heart tissue swelling and scarring, and while the swelling is reversible via exercise and not doing loads of gear all the time, the scarring – which results in permanent damage to the heart and a potential early death – is not."

It's possible, and generally a good idea, to strengthen your heart by living an otherwise healthy lifestyle, with regular exercise and a healthy diet (a professional athlete, Guy says, would "probably be less likely to die" from coke). But you can neither reverse nor avoid the damage it causes entirely. As annoying as it is having to think about death, it’s important to understand and acknowledge the risks you’re taking. That way, at least you're well within your rights to say, "Fuck it, I’m gonna do it anyway – heart disease be damned!"


This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

heart disease