December 19, 2005

Cocaine’s heart-damaging effects likely immediate

By Anne Harding

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - California researchers have
found no link between cocaine use and hardening of the arteries
in a study of more than 3,000 adults. The findings suggest that
the drug's heart-damaging effects likely occur immediately
after use, and do not result from any long-term effects, Dr.
Mark Pletcher of the University of California at San Francisco,
the study's lead author, told Reuters Health.

Cocaine use is known to boost heart rate and blood
pressure, and has been firmly linked to heart attacks and
sudden death, Pletcher and his colleagues write in the American
Heart Journal.

But it's not clear whether using the drug regularly may
cause additional harm to the heart and blood vessels, they add.
"It has been shown to trigger heart attacks in the short term
but there's been a lot of speculation about how it may also
cause atherosclerosis when used chronically," the researcher
said in an interview.

To investigate, Pletcher and his team looked at whether
there was any connection between arterial calcium deposits as
measured by a scanning technique called computed tomography and
reported drug use among 3,038 patients participating in the
Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study. Such
calcium deposits are a well-established marker for
atherosclerosis, the stiffening of the arteries that increases
the risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.

Study participants ranged in age from 35 to 45. Fifty-five
percent were female, and 45 percent were black. Thirty-five
percent reported having used cocaine in the past.

While cocaine use was linked to coronary calcification on
the first analysis of the information, after the researchers
adjusted for smoking, male sex, and alcohol use and other
factors associated with both cocaine use and atherosclerosis,
there was no significant link.

The researchers conclude: "It is likely that previously
observed associations between cocaine use and coronary heart
disease are explained by the well-documented acute effects of

SOURCE: American Heart Journal, November 2005.