From Snort to Synapse: We Map Out Cocaine’s Trip in Your Brain

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The powder is perfectly lined on the table. With no straw handy, you roll up a Washington and seconds later, the snow is gone. Inhaled into your nostril, this stimulant drug has started a trip that will change your brain…forever.

What does this trip look like? Let’s join the coke as it makes its way through your system.

The Cocaine Trip

Working its way around the mucus, cocaine finds its way to the blood vessels in your nose. And that’s the access point – through these vessels and into the bloodstream it goes. Now it takes a ride. Flowing into the bloodstream, it travels throughout the body and quickly crosses the blood-brain barrier (BBB) to enter your brain.

Now we’ve come to the point when your body reacts. But before we get to the euphoria, let’s take a look at what happens when the coke crosses that BBB line. Rest assured, this is not a casualty-free journey.

Crossing the BBB Turnpike

Your BBB is a barrier that separates circulating blood from your brain fluid and the entire central nervous system. It’s a dynamic surface that responds to various signals. It’s job is basically to let good stuff in and keep bad stuff out. So how does it respond to cocaine?

Cocaine scrambles the pieces of your complex BBB structure and disrupts its function. This leaves your brain open to other toxins, which leads to central nervous system disorders. Like what? Oh, just a few things like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, MS and neuroAIDS.

Creating a Traffic Jam

What’s next? Once the cocaine enters your brain, it causes neurotransmitter traffic to back up – specifically the neurotransmitter dopamine (your brain’s natural happy drug) is stimulated.

Normally, this chemical is released when you sense something rewarding, like a mouthwatering smell or a really awesome prize. Normally, dopamine returns to its origin shortly after being released, but there’s nothing normal about a coke trip. The stimulant drug prevents dopamine from recycling, causing a jam-up of excessive amounts in your cells.

This build-up of natural happy chemicals causes the euphoric high you feel after snorting coke. It also interrupts your general brain communications in the process. As a result, your body feels effects from head to toe. Some of those effects include:

  • Dilated pupils
  • A boost of energy
  • Body temperature goes up
  • Blood pressure increases
  • Heart beats faster
  • A wave of exhilaration
  • Nausea
  • Muscle twitches and tremors
  • A feeling restlessness
  • A loss of appetite
  • Hallucinations and/or paranoia

Changing You Forever in a Moment

Researchers have intently studied this coke trip under the microscope; they tell us a single dose of cocaine changes your brain’s reward center. And that’s partly why it’s so easy to get hooked.

In the end, the high you feel from snorting a line of cocaine only lasts around 15 to 30 minutes, yet your brain is altered forever. Is it really worth it?

Additional Reading: Meet Cocaine and Her Wicked Step-Child, Crack

Image Source: iStock

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The editorial staff of is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers . Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands of pages for accuracy and relevance. Our reviewers consistently monitor the latest research from SAMHSA, NIDA, and other reputable sources to provide our readers the most accurate content on the web.
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