Fleetwood Mac frontwoman Stevie Nicks recently revealed that she gave up cocaine in the 1980s because a doctor told her if she didn't, she could have a brain hemorrhage. Is that possible? What else could the drug do to your body? We asked addiction medicine expert David Sack, MD, CEO of Promises Treatment Centers based in Malibu, California, to give it to us straight.
It can cause brain bleeds
Yep, the drug is associated with cerebral hemorrhages, according to a large study published in Stroke: Journal of the American Medical Association. The reason: Cocaine sends your blood pressure and heart rate skyrocketing, which can lead to brain aneurysms. "And don't count on casual use to protect you," says Dr. Sack. "Even a first-time user can fall victim." Need even more reason NOT to experiment? Patients with cocaine-associated hemorrhages are nearly three times more likely to die than those whose bleed wasn't related to use of the drug, Dr. Sack says.
It could stop your heart
Just like that. Regular use is also linked to a whole host of not-fun cardiac events: heart attack, stroke, and a dangerous tear in the wall of the heart's major artery (a condition known as aortic dissection).
It may cause long-term neurologic damage
One study from the St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital found that adults who abuse cocaine might increase their risk of developing the neurological disorder Parkinson's Disease (PD), and pregnant women who use the drug up their baby's chances of one day developing PD. Other studies haven't confirmed the link, but it's another possible risk of using the drug, Dr. Sack says.
It could make your nose collapse
It isn't just urban legend, says Dr. Sack: Snorting the stuff can perforate your septum—Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood reportedly suffered this weird drug side effect—and even cause the nose to flatten out.
And the longer the habit, the more havoc the drug wreaks on body and mind, notes the doctor. "High doses and long-term use of cocaine can cause the person to become erratic or violent and can spark panic attacks, insomnia, and paranoia," he says.