In the UK, cocaine remains a very popular substance – both for regular users and weekend revellers.

According to the latest data, in 2021, powder cocaine accounted for 19,209 treatment entrants.

For more information on cocaine statistics in the UK, see more here.

However, according to a survey, people that used cocaine reported that they were unaware of exactly how cocaine affected them.

Cocaine high, or as it is more medically known, cocaine intoxication, is a by-product of cocaine consumption. When a person takes cocaine, a series of cognitive and physiological changes occur.

People might experience extreme pleasure, feel more confident, or experience anxiety and paranoia. Cocaine will likely increase people’s heart rates and produce full-body stimulation.

However, although there are many similarities in what people will experience, cocaine high can vary; this might be based on the person and/or the strength of the cocaine. Therefore, to fully understand a cocaine high, it is worth understanding the varied responses people have when using it.

This article will discuss cocaine high, exploring how it changes people’s minds and bodies, and the long-term effects of cocaine use.

How Do People Take Cocaine?


There are several primary ways that people consume cocaine, such as intranasally (snorting), intravenously (injecting), inhalation, or by deglutition (swallowing).

Intranasal consumption is done through the nose, where cocaine enters the bloodstream via the nasal tissue.

People that use cocaine commonly consume it orally. In many cases, this is done by rubbing cocaine into the gums.

When people take cocaine intravenously, they usually dissolve cocaine in water and inject it into a vein. This method increases the speed at which cocaine reaches the brain and increases its effects.

Finally, people that inhale cocaine usually use some form of pipe, igniting the cocaine and inhaling its fumes. (1)

How Long Does Cocaine High Last?

The duration of a cocaine high will depend upon how much the person has taken and how much tolerance a person has.

Other considerations might include a person’s age, gender, and size. The method of consumption will often determine how quickly a person feels the effects of cocaine.

Smoking and injecting are two of the quickest ways to feel a cocaine high. This is because it enters the bloodstream and reaches the brain more quickly.

People that snort or inject cocaine will feel its effect almost immediately. When people snort cocaine, its effects can take anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes to occur.

In most cases, the cocaine high usually lasts between 20 to 30 minutes. Smoking cocaine can reduce this and make its effects last for only 10 minutes.

However, this can be longer or shorter depending upon the purity of the cocaine and the person’s tolerance.

Signs of reduced cocaine high can vary but usually include such things as cravings, withdrawal symptoms, paranoia, and anxiety.

Cocaine usually stays in a person’s urine for 2 to 3 days, a person’s blood for 2 days, a person’s saliva for 2 days, and a person’s hair for up to 3 months. (2)

How Does Cocaine Work? Psychological Effects of a Cocaine High

woman looking away

When cocaine enters the bloodstream – whether from injecting, smoking, or snorting – it goes straight to the brain.

Unlike other substances, cocaine can produce an immediate psychological response.

Cocaine high, simply put, is a build-up of dopamine – a chemical in the brain responsible, in part, for motivation and feelings of pleasure.

Cocaine affects neurotransmitters by preventing dopamine regulation; this, in turn, leads to a dopamine build-up and feelings of pleasure, loss of control, and compulsive behaviours.

In addition, cocaine affects the limbic system (the part of the brain involved in behaviours and emotional responses) in various ways.

In particular, when the nucleus accumbens (NAc) is stimulated by dopamine, NAc cells produce feelings of pleasure. Euphoria is one of the main consequences of taking cocaine. Euphoria can best be described as feelings of intense pleasure.

Cocaine also drastically increases people’s self-confidence.

This helps people feel more sociable, removes shyness, and gives people the energy to go out. Cocaine makes people more talkative as well, which helps them in social situations.

In many cases, people have reported using cocaine as a form of self-medication to cure anxiety. However, this is a false confidence and cocaine can lead to people feeling more anxiety in the long term.

Further, when people take cocaine, instead of feeling euphoric and happy, it can make people aggressive, paranoid, and hyperactive. (3)

Physical Effects of a Cocaine High

When people consume cocaine, it also has a range of effects on the body.

This includes:

  • High blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Increased body temperature
  • Dilated pupils

These physiological changes can lead to some short-term problems. 

Construction in blood vessels can lead to stomach pain, a lack of appetite, constipation, nausea and vomiting.

The rapid increase in heart rate also increases the person’s chance of having a heart attack. (4)

Long-term Risks of Cocaine Use

A man turning away. The sky behind him is grey

In addition to the aforementioned risks of using cocaine, other risks include:

  • Cocaine Dependency
  • Damage to the nasal cartilage
  • Damage to the brain and cognitive functions
  • Damage to the body – heart, digestive system, kidneys, and liver, for example
  • Depression 
  • Anxiety 
  • Paranoia
  • Financial problems
  • Negative social consequences
  • Weight loss

These are but a few examples of the risks people take hewn consuming cocaine regularly – the list of potential negative consequences is very long.

When people use cocaine regularly, they tend to build a tolerance quickly. This can lead to many negative health consequences – both mentally and physically.

For example, regularly snorting cocaine can damage the mucous membranes in the nose.

Over time, this damages the soft tissue and cartilage in the nose, leading to a perforated septum and a collapse in the nasal structure.

Other nasal issues might occur, such as the person experiencing a loss of smell, regular nose bleeds, and problems swallowing.

Regular cocaine use also damages the heart. People are at increased risk of blood clots. In turn, this could lead to heart attacks, strokes, or thrombosis.

Studies have found that cocaine constricts blood vessels. This can lead to a lack of oxygen in the brain increasing the chances of an aneurysm, seizure, or stroke.

Long-term use also damages people’s cognitive functions, negatively affecting inhibitions, attention span, decision-making, and other important motor skills.

In addition to health issues, regular cocaine use also leads to social consequences. 

Cocaine is an expensive drug, often ranging from £50 to £100 per gram. It is not uncommon for people to struggle financially when a cocaine dependency has occurred.

Cocaine also changes people’s behaviour and personality. Long-term users often become more irrational, paranoid, and aggressive. This can negatively impact employment, socialising, and relationships. (5)

Withdrawal from Cocaine High

Prolonged use of cocaine will lead to cocaine dependency; this means that both the body and brain need the substance to function properly.

If a dependency has occurred, when the person stops using cocaine, they will experience withdrawal (intense cravings).

Without the substance, the brain and body will begin to remove harmful toxins.

This can lead to unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. For example, as mentioned, cocaine creates dopamine in the brain.

As a result, over time, the brain will stop producing dopamine naturally. When a person then stops using cocaine, the brain will take time to recover.

For a period, the brain will not produce dopamine leading the person to experience symptoms such as depression.

Cocaine withdrawal symptoms tend to be mostly psychological, including:

  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Irritation
  • Fluctuating mood swings
  • Depression
  • Restlessness

However, there can be some physical withdrawal symptoms, such as:

  • Headaches
  • Sweats
  • Insomnia
  • Stomach cramps
  • Fatigue

Unlike other substances, cocaine withdrawal can occur very fast – in some cases, as quickly as 30 minutes after the person stops using.

The duration of cocaine withdrawal will vary from person to person. This will depend upon the person’s age and how long they have been using for.

However, on average, cocaine withdrawal lasts between 7 to 10 days, with symptoms beginning to reduce after 2 to 3 days. (6)

Getting Help for Cocaine Dependency

The UK is home to many drug and alcohol services, many of which can be accessed for free.

For cocaine addiction, examples include Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and SMART Recovery.

For more information about drug services in the UK, see here.

Such organisations will be able to provide services such as:

  • Advice and information on cocaine
  • Help to access treatment
  • Detox support
  • Outpatient programs
  • Counselling and therapy
  • Aftercare

In addition, it is always advised that people speak with their GP or other key workers. 

They will be able to assess individual needs and help people access the right treatment.

For example, the NHS offer free outpatient treatment. This does not require people to stay overnight at a facility and can be worked around people’s other engagements.

Usually, people will attend weekly appointments (12 to 14 hours per week) at a local clinic or doctor’s surgery.

Funding for residential treatment is available through the NHS but requires an application to the person’s local council.

Again, a GP will be best suited to help people with this process.

Finally, the UK is home to many private rehab facilities. It should be noted, however, that these can be expensive. The latest data suggest that, on average, private rehab in the UK costs between £300 to £500 per day.


(1) Mitchell, Marci R., Virginia G. Weiss, B. Sofia Beas, Drake Morgan, Jennifer L. Bizon, and Barry Setlow. “Adolescent risk taking, cocaine self-administration, and striatal dopamine signaling.” Neuropsychopharmacology 39, no. 4 (2014): 955-962.

(2) Wee, Sunmee, Sheila E. Specio, and George F. Koob. “Effects of dose and session duration on cocaine self-administration in rats.” Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics 320, no. 3 (2007): 1134-1143.

(3) Potvin, Stéphane, Katherine Stavro, Élie Rizkallah, and Julie Pelletier. “Cocaine and cognition: a systematic quantitative review.” Journal of addiction medicine 8, no. 5 (2014): 368-376.

(4) Frazer, Kirsten M., Qwynten Richards, and Diana R. Keith. “The long-term effects of cocaine use on cognitive functioning: A systematic critical review.” Behavioural brain research 348 (2018): 241-262.

(5) Spronk, Desirée B., Janelle HP van Wel, Johannes G. Ramaekers, and Robbert J. Verkes. “Characterizing the cognitive effects of cocaine: a comprehensive review.” Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 37, no. 8 (2013): 1838-1859.

(6) Kelley, Brendan J., Kenneth R. Yeager, Tom H. Pepper, and David Q. Beversdorf. “Cognitive impairment in acute cocaine withdrawal.” Cognitive and behavioral neurology: official journal of the Society for Behavioral and Cognitive Neurology 18, no. 2 (2005): 108.