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Illegal drugs and your heart

Risks of death, endocarditis, blacking out and irregular heartbeats are just some effects illegal drugs / ‘legal highs’ such as ketamine, sniffing solvents and cannabis can have on your heart and body. Numerous drugs, such as cocaine, heroin and various forms of amphetamine, affect the nervous system, alter the user’s consciousness and can cause heart attacks, seizures and respiratory arrest. 

Cocaine is often described as the ‘perfect heart-attack drug’. This is due to it increasing blood pressure, stiffening the arteries and thickening the heart muscle wall, all of which can cause a heart attack. So called ‘legal highs’ can also cause these effects, and are also dangerous, despite not technically being classed as ‘illegal’. 

Effects from other drugs are listed below in alphabetical order: 

  • Amphetamines– Increases heart rate and blood pressure, could cause irregular heartbeats, heart attacks and strokes. Risk of death from pulmonary oedema (when fluid flows back into your lungs, causing an extreme shortness of breath). Also risk of endocarditis.
  • Cannabis – Increases heart rate and blood pressure, could cause irregular heartbeats, heart attacks and strokes and heart disease when mixed with tobacco and smoked
  • Cocaine - Increases heart rate and blood pressure, could cause irregular heartbeats, heart attacks and strokes. Also risk of endocarditis
  • Crystal meth - Increases heart rate and blood pressure, could cause irregular heartbeats, heart attacks and strokes
  • GHB – reduces heart rate and blood pressure, could stop your heart
  • Heroin – reduces heart rate and blood pressure, could stop your heart. Also risk of death from pulmonary oedema (when fluid flows back into your lungs, causing an extreme shortness of breath). Also risk of endocarditis
  • Ketamine - Increases heart rate and blood pressure, could cause irregular heartbeats, heart attacks and strokes
  • LSD – Increases heart rate and blood pressure, could cause irregular heartbeats, heart attacks and strokes
  • Mephedrone - Increases heart rate and blood pressure, could cause irregular heartbeats, heart attacks and strokes
  • Poppers – reduces heart rate and blood pressure, could stop your heart
  • Sniffing solvents – such as glue – irregular heartbeats (arrhythmia) and black outs
  • Steroids - these are ubiquitous in bodybuilding gyms and are very common in some sports (e.g. rugby). Steroids can cause potentially dangerous thickening of the heart muscle, they weaken the heart, can lead to heart rhythm abnormalities and can have a deleterious effect on coronary arteries 
  • Stimulant drinks - some stimulant drinks (although legal) can also have a high risk of starting up potentially dangerous fast heart rhythms. Excessive alcohol can also have a similar effect.

For alternative and ‘slang’ names for the above, visit http://www.talktofrank.com/drugs-a-z

If you feel you need to get help for a drug problem anonymously, visit http://www.talktofrank.com/get-help

If you’re a parent who’s worried about your child, visit http://www.talktofrank.com/worried-about-a-child

Last Updated: September 8, 2016