The effects of recreational drugs on the heart

As the month of love ends, it’s a good time to think about the effects that recreational drugs have on the heart.

We tend to focus more often on the immediate effects of recreational drug use and the risks that those who are impaired by drugs pose in their different places of work. It isn’t very often that awareness is raised of the longer-term effects.

Cocaine use can constrict blood vessels, which can cause immediate chest pain and even heart attacks soon after the cocaine has been used. Regular use can have more long-term effects. Research¹ has shown that even in individuals who consider themselves ‘social’ cocaine users (at least once a month for the last year) long term effects on their hearts were seen.

The long-term effects of cocaine on the heart are stiffening of the arteries, thicker heart muscle walls and an irregular heart rhythm. All three of these effects are associated with significant risk of heart attack and/or strokes.

Where employers are actively raising awareness to the immediate health and safety risks associated with drug and alcohol use to their employees, the long-term effects should also be communicated to promote ongoing employee wellbeing.

Peter Akrill
Senior Toxicologist

¹ http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0089710

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