Drug Addiction

Illegal Drugs And Cardiovascular Diseases

The intake of illegal drugs by individuals is often known as substance abuse. Whether the drugs are taken recreationally over a long period of time or occasionally. Substance abuse can be defined as the compulsive and/or excessive intake of a substance that causes changes in the biochemical or neurological state of an individual. In many cases, this is accompanied by a physical or physiological dependence on the particular compound. It is often referred to as abuse when this intake leads to significant impairments in the ability to effectively function in societal or occupational terms. Intake of illegal drugs may lead to the deterioration of already existing health issue in the user or the need for treatment of arising health conditions caused by the intake.

Introducing the body to harmful substances such as drugs and alcohol can be associated with the deterioration of major organs in the body including the heart. Deterioration of the heart or blood vessels is known as cardiovascular disease, which may have significant effects on the quality of life of an individual, his health and general longevity. This article will explore the different types of illegal substances commonly used and their effect on the vascular system and pre-existing conditions.

Cardiovascular disease

You may wonder what the difference between heart and cardiovascular disease is. Cardiovascular disease encompasses all heart and circulatory diseases. It is the damage or dysfunction to the tissues of the blood vessels or the heart that results in the inherent ability to effectively carry out their functions. The function of the cardiovascular system includes the regular and consistent pumping of blood throughout the body to supply nutrients and oxygen to all body parts including the brain. The vascular system also does the job of exchanging oxygenated blood with deoxygenated blood from the veins to arteries in a continuous loop. Blood vessels are also concerned with transporting harmful materials to the liver and waste products to the kidneys, contributing to their removal from the body.

Cardiovascular disease may severely reduce the functioning of the heart and blood vessels to carry out their functions, interfering with their basic capabilities (i.e. the muscular actions involved with rhythmic beating of the heart and blood flow). This may result in starvation of the tissues of the body, and in extreme conditions, necrosis (tissue death). Brain abnormalities and damage are also a risk due to interruptions in the supply of oxygen to the brain.

Some types of cardiovascular disease may involve physical blockages within blood vessels resulted in the issues mentioned above or the need for surgeries or amputations. Cardiovascular diseases severely affect the quality of life and are associated with several other risk factors. Couples with other effects of substance abuse, cardiovascular disease can be fatal.

Conditions related to Cardiovascular Disease

Myocardial Infarction

Commonly known as a heart attack, Myocardial Infarction is the impairment of blood flow to a part of the heart inhibiting the flow of oxygen and resulting in extensive damage to the cardiac muscle and other tissues. This may manifest itself in chest pain and tightness, discomfort, loss of consciousness and in some cases, death. This condition does not just crop up out of the blue but rather it builds up over time even without a person knowing. This progressive build p may be due to the effects of other conditions such as coronary artery disease and atherosclerosis. This cumulative cardiac damage and notable symptoms are what lead to a heart attack.


Cardiac arrhythmias can be defined as irregularities in the normal beating o the heart, or the rate at which the heart pumps blood around the body. Most common of these is atrial fibrillation, related to disorders of one of the main chambers of the heart. Another type is ventricular fibrillation. Arrhythmias can be perceived as palpitations in the chest and may be asymptomatic. Many of the are not life-threatening but can lead to cardiac arrest ( rapid decline in the contraction of heart muscles) resulting in the stoppage of blood circulation.

Brain Hemorrhages

These are the disruptions of blood vessels in the skull resulting in the accumulation of blood in the spaces around and within the brain. They can manifest themselves as intense, acute headaches, leaving the patient with disorders including pulmonary edema and neurological issues. They may also lead to increases in blood pressure. Also, depending on their size and location, they may result in cognitive, functional or sensory capacities.


This involves the formation of plaques and subsequent hardening of the walls of the arteries (sclerosis). This plaque is mostly made of blood proteins and cholesterol. The proteins facilitate the introduction of cholesterol into arteries but do not remove it. This condition is usually caused by unhealthy eating habits of consuming foods rich in certain fats or sugars. In the case of illicit drug abuse, this condition can be made severely worse involving adverse effects like peripheral artery disease, stroke and increased risk of heart failure.


This term simply describes an irregular or damaged heart muscle. Types include hypertrophic and dilated cardiomyopathy. It may be associated with several risk factors, one of those being genetics. Such a condition can easily be aggravated with the abuse of illegal drugs.

Coronary Artery Disease

This is the narrowing of major arteries that feed the heart with oxygen. It is often, but not always related to atherosclerosis. It is a common cause of congestive heart failure and heart attack. It greatly limits the heart’s ability to pump blood. Coronary artery disease is also known as coronary heart disease or ischemic heart disease and may have a genetic component for some patients.


Also known as high blood pressure, it is a condition that forces the heart to work harder than usual to keep blood circulation going at an acceptable rate. Many cases are age-related and approximately a third of all adults over the age of 20 are affected by hypertension. If left untreated for a long time, hypertension may lead to the development of arrhythmia, valvular disease, and cardiomyopathy.


This is a term that collectively refers to the negative effects of oxygen starvation on tissues. It may occur in the nervous system, the gastrointestinal system and any other organ system or vascularized tissue. This condition may be a result of conditions that obstruct the vascular system such as coronary artery disease. And may be associated with hypertension. A person with a history of Ischemia has a lower chance of surviving a heart attack if it happens.

Peripheral Artery Disease

This condition is very similar to coronary artery disease. It occurs when an artery that is located away from the heart (like in an extremity) is obstructed. This can possibly lead to ischemia and death of the affected tissues and is associated with atherosclerosis. It can be detected by blueness in the extremities


This is another heart condition whereby the abnormal formation of blood clots results in the formation of large clots within blood vessels. Clotting happens when the body tries to prevent excessive bloodloss. A common form of this is Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) whereby a large clot is formed in or migrates to a vein in the extremities. This condition is addressed by the breaking up of the clot or its removal through surgery.

Cardiovascular risk

The risk of cardiovascular disease seems to be higher in some individuals than others. This may be dictated by a number of factors such as genetics and most notable, the abuse of drugs ad alcohol. The abuse of illicit drugs may result n the worsening of any pre-existing cardiovascular conditions or even the onset of the disease.
The role of drugs in cardiovascular conditions will be discussed in great detail below.

Illegal Drug abuse and addiction

Illegal drug abuse affects people of all ages, ranging from adults to unborn children and infants born to mothers who regularly use drugs. These drugs are typically sold for recreational use even though they are not legally approved. They are very dangerous, with many of them causing major health problems including cardiovascular disease. These problems may sometimes lead to the death of the individual, a worsening of any pre-existing heart conditions or a significant change in heart rate.


Opium can be traced back as far back as 3400 B.C, where it was referred to as the “Joy Plant” by the Sumerians. It is derived from the opium poppy just like heroin. However, opium is an opiate in its most crude form. It is gotten from the sap of the opium poppy seed, a milky fluid. When this is exposed to air, it turns hard and dark brown or black. Opium can be smoked in this form or even taken orally. Very much like heroin, opium users experience an immediate relief from pain or anxiety and an increased feeling of relaxation after taking it. The effects of this drug usually last about 3-4 hours and prolonged use can lead to tolerance.

Over time, opium use may lead to side effects such as mental deterioration, heightened anxiety, coordination impairment, weight loss, impaired vision, nausea, and constipation. It may also lead to long-term damage of the kidneys, heart, lungs, and liver. When a user overdoses on the drug, circulatory collapse, coma, convulsions, and death may occur due to respiratory failure. Opium use changes the heart rate of a user. Initially, it may reduce the heart rate when taken in smaller doses but an overdose can quickly increase it, leading to cardiac failure.


Heroin is also an opiate and is related to morphine, only it is two to four times stronger. It may be snorted, injected or smoked in its various forms. Short-term effects of heroin use include feeling relaxed and in a euphoric state, which is what attracts many people to use it. Short-term side effects include skin infections, muscle weakness, dry mouth, decreased mental state (moving between conscious and unconscious states), slowing of cardiac function and rate of respiration and scarring along veins due to frequent repeat injections. Long-term effects of taking the drug include a high risk of kidney disease or failure, decreased liver function, collapsed veins, abscesses, addiction, contraction of blood-bourne pathogens such as HIV and Hepatitis B and C. The drug also impacts the body’s immune system, making users more susceptible to diseases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis. Chronic users of the drug also run the risk of developing pulmonary empyema and edema.

Heroin users are prone to endocarditis, an infection of the valves and inner lining of the heart. Attempts to stopping the use of heroin often lead to diarrhea, vomiting, muscle and bone pain. The risk of death due to overdose is fairly high, especially following the resurgent popularity in the popularity of the drug n the US and worldwide in general.


Cocaine comes from the cocoa plant, where it derives its name. It is an appetite suppressant and a powerful stimulant that is used by snorting through the nose, injecting into the bloodstream or rubbing into the gums. It may also be processed, turning it into a crystallized rock which is then heated and smoked. This is commonly referred to as crack. Cocaine users look for a variety of effects when using the drug including increased energy and alertness, euphoria and delusions of supremacy. When these effects wear off, the user is left with feelings anxiety, restlessness, paranoia, high body temperatures, pulse rate, and blood pressure as well as shortness of breath. Prolonged use often leads to addiction and dry mouth, damaging teeth.
Other serious effects of taking the drug include autoimmune diseases like lupus, kidney failure, higher risk of contracting blood-bourne diseases, severe bowel decay, strokes, and malnourishment.

In terms of cardiovascular complications, cocaine use causes the stiffening of heat muscle walls and arteries. When the drug is consumed in high doses, it can simply cause a heart attack. In some cases, it causes an irregular heart rhythm which may be fatal. Cocaine specifically is known to be very damaging to the heart because it carries the risk of heart attacks I smaller heart vessels and interferes with cardiac drugs used by doctors to treat heart attacks such as beta blockers.


Simply known as meth, it is a form of stimulant and aphrodisiac that chemically relates to medications that are used to treat conditions such as obesity and attention deficit disorder. It is typically used by snorting, injecting, smoking or swallowing. The desired effects of using methamphetamine include euphoria, mood uplifting, concentration increase, personal energy, alertness, stamina, and increased sexual desire and function. The harmful side effects of using the drug include psychosis, hyperactivity, twitchiness, high or low blood pressure, constipation, diarrhea, and rapid or irregular heart rates. Long-term effects include an increased chance of contracting Parkinson’s disease, brain damage and damage to teeth due to excessive dry mouth.

Use of methamphetamine can also lead to congestive heart failure, damage to blood vessels and heart muscles via inflammation and arrhythmia. This illegal drug does not only reduce blood flow to vital organs and the heart itself but also speeds up the body’s heart rate, putting undue stress on the heart and further increasing the risk of stroke and heart failure. It is often produced illegally in “meth labs” using over-the-counter cough and cold medication that include pseudo ephedrine, ephedrine, and phenylpropanolamine. To combat the rise of methamphetamine use in the US (since it’s the number one drug problem in several states in the US), the Combat Methamphetamine Act of 2005 was implemented to regulate the purchase of these over-the-counter drugs. This limits the quantity of a cough and cold medication that one can purchase in a single day and also requires identification when purchasing to keep a log of purchases made.


Rohypnol is commonly known as the “date-rape drug”. It is usually ingested in the form of small white tablets known as roofies. These are odorless and colorless and can easily be slipped into a drink without a person’s knowledge for the purpose of sexual assault, thus its street name. The effect of this drug can be felt even within a couple of minutes and can last up to 8 hours with the victim having little to no recollection of the events. It is also used as a sedative and to reduce anxiety. Its side effects include difficulty breathing, headache, vomiting, memory loss, nausea, mood swings and slurred speech, A person who has ingested the drug will appear as though they are very drunk and will often lose consciousness within two hours. In combination with depressants, it can severely slow down the heart rate resulting in potential heart failure. It may even cause coma or death in extreme cases. For those who use it recreationally, long-term effects include psychological and physical dependence. Withdrawal symptoms while detoxing include confusion, possible seizures, headaches and hallucinations.


Lysergic acid diethylamide is a powerful drug obtained from ergot. When used, it alters how people perceive reality. The drug is often taken as a capsule or tablet and is classified as a hallucinogen. Sometimes, it may be used in liquid form and placed in small amounts on items such as stamps, gelatin sheets or small squares of paper. In terms of the effect on the cardiovascular system, using LSD causes an increase in both the user’s heart rate and blood pressure and in very high doses, heart failure may occur resulting in death. Other side effects include appetite loss, dry mouth, elevated body temperatures, sweating, dramatic mood swings, and dilated pupils. The long-term effects of using the drug include vivid flashbacks when off the drug and usually occur in times of potential paranoia, high stress and memory problems.


This is a psychoactive and empathogenic drug that is usually used to produce an altered emotional state. It is usually consumed as a capsule or tablet although some users swallow it in liquid form or snort the powder. Users of this drug look for effects such as euphoria, extroverted behavior, a reduced sense of anxiety, intimacy, a positive mood and hallucinations. However, the drug comes with undesired effects such as paranoia, depression, anxiety, irritability, insomnia, excessive grinding of teeth and fatigue. When the drug is taken with alcohol and very little water, this can lead to excessive body temperatures, known as hyperthermia.

Cardiovascular effects include increased heart rate, heart palpitations, inflammation of the heart wall and excessively low or high blood pressure which could potentially lead to heart failure. Other effects include pulmonary hypertension, strokes, physical heart damage, liver, and kidney damage as well as severe heart attacks. Ecstasy may also be sold as “Molly” which may consist of other drugs increase the risk of potential death.

Synthetic Cathinones (Bath Salts)

This is the newest drug to hit the streets. Despite what their name implies, they are not a bathing product. This is a dangerous, man-made psychoactive substance that is chemically related to cathinone. Cathinone is a stimulant found in khat, a plant indigenous to East Africa and Southern Arabia. The most common substance that is found in bath salts methylenedioxypyrovalerone, in the form of white or brown crystal-like powder, It is usually used by snorting, injection into the bloodstream, smoking or orally ingesting it. Synthetic cathinones can have side effects such as lowered inhibition, anxiety, excessive sweating, confusion, nausea, nosebleeds, muscle tension, and depression. More severe side effects which are quite common include paranoia, excited delirium, seizures, shock, and even extreme violence.

Cardiovascular effects include higher heart rate and blood pressure, low blood pressure, arrhythmia, chest pain, myocardial infarction or cardiac arrest. Long-term effects include the breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue, brain swelling, kidney failure, and liver failure.