Cocaine-Induced Headaches: Causes And Treatment

Severe headaches (cephalalgia) are a side effect of cocaine use. While every person who uses cocaine is likely to experience them at some point, certain people may be more susceptible to chronic cluster headaches.

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Dr. Manish Mishra, MBBS

Medically Reviewed By: Manish Mishra, MBBS


Cocaine-induced headaches are a common side effect of cocaine use.

Many people who smoke or inject cocaine experience headaches immediately following cocaine use. Others may have a delayed effect that can cause headaches 30 to 90 minutes after use.

Why Cocaine Can Cause Headaches

There are several possible explanations for the headaches caused by cocaine.

Currently, neuroscience’s best explanation is that they are linked to the impairment of the dopaminergic and serotonergic systems.

This impairment happens as a result of the effect this illicit drug has on your central nervous system.

Stimulates The Sympathetic Nervous System

Cocaine does a lot of things to your body. The primary effects of cocaine are found in the brain.

When cocaine first hits your bloodstream, it immediately starts by stimulating the sympathetic nervous system.

Reduces Reuptake Of Neurotransmitters

The stimulus of the sympathetic nerve system decreases the reuptake of several important neurotransmitters.

Rather than being removed from active duty, epinephrine, norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin are allowed to stay active.

By preventing the natural cycle, cocaine creates unnatural levels of these neurotransmitters in your brain.

Narrows The Blood Vessels

Each neurotransmitter has its own range of effects. For example, dopamine is largely responsible for the pleasurable feelings associated with cocaine use, but that isn’t the only effect.

The failure to reuptake norepinephrine actually causes vasoconstriction. Essentially, your veins get smaller.

When this change is paired with the neurological imbalances caused by cocaine, you’re very likely to get a migraine.

How The Method Of Cocaine Abuse Affects Development Of Headaches

The speed of the headache appears to match the speed of the high. People who smoke freebase, smoke crack cocaine, or inject cocaine are much more likely to experience an immediate headache.

If you’re snorting cocaine, you may not feel the headache until a half-hour or an hour later.

In some rare cases, cocaine-induced headaches can crop up a long time after use. This phenomenon is usually observed in people who abuse cocaine chronically.

Risk Factors For Developing Cocaine-Induced Headaches

Cocaine-induced headaches are one of the most common adverse side effects of cocaine use. Practically everyone who uses cocaine will experience them from time to time.

With that said, some factors may make you more susceptible to this unpleasant side effect.

Age And Gender

Middle-aged adults and women are the most likely to experience cocaine-induced headaches.

They are also more prone to Reversible Cerebral Vasoconstriction Syndrome (RCVS), which may be responsible for the prevalence of cocaine headaches among people who fit these demographics.

People With A History Of Cocaine Use

Cocaine-induced headaches may also be a more regular occurrence if you have an established history of cocaine dependence.

In studies, 60% of people who suffer chronic, cocaine-induced headaches did not report having headaches at all prior to substance abuse.

For people with chronic cocaine use issues, severe headaches can be a sign of cocaine withdrawal. Years later, a history of chronic cocaine use may continue to cause headaches in some cases.

People With High Risk Of Stroke

If you have high blood pressure or any other cardiovascular conditions that increase your risk of stroke, you are also likely to experience headaches when you use cocaine.

Your blood vessels are already working harder, so vasoconstriction and increased heart rate can have an amplifying effect.

Cocaine is always dangerous, but it is especially dangerous for people with existing cardiovascular or mental health conditions.

Treatment For Cocaine-Induced Headaches

To receive treatment for a severe cocaine-induced headache, you will need to seek professional medical advice. Do not attempt self-medication.

Once you have arrived, your healthcare provider will need an accurate medical history, including any recent alcohol or drug use in order to treat you effectively.

Depending on your individual case, a medication like doxepin or amlodipine may be administered to provide relief.

Treatment Programs For Cocaine Addiction

The best treatment for cocaine-induced headaches is quitting cocaine entirely.

There is a possibility that you may continue to struggle with migraines if you have been abusing cocaine for a long time, but that can be managed.

Treatment programs exist to help you get clean and stay that way. In order to support you, inpatient and outpatient services are often available.

Find Substance Use Disorder Treatment At Bedrock Recovery Center

Bedrock Recovery Center is a full service treatment center for people just like you.

Cocaine addiction is a disease, and you need professional help to get better. Call us today to learn more about what we can do to help you build a new life, drug-free.

  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse
  2. U.S. National Library of Medicine,norepinephrine%2C%20serotonin%2C%20and%20dopamine.

Written by Bedrock Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Bedrock Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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