People who use cocaine socially have higher blood pressure and stiffer arteries, putting them at increased long-term risk of heart attacks and strokes, a study has found.
Cocaine is known to pose immediate heart risks, but University of Sydney researchers say their study is the first in Australia to analyse the drug’s chronic effects in people who consider themselves to be ''social'' users.
The study, published in the journal PLOS One used magnetic resonance imaging to assess the cardiac and vascular structure and function of 20 regular cocaine users, compared with 20 people who had never used the drug.
The regular cocaine users had taken the drug at least monthly over the past year, with two-thirds having used it weekly. Most snorted the drug (80 per cent), while the rest smoked (15 per cent) or injected it (five per cent).
Researchers recruited cocaine users for the study through word of mouth, depending mostly on ''professional and social networks in an affluent area of Sydney''.
Scans showed cocaine users had stiffer arteries and greater left ventricular mass compared with non-users. They also had higher blood pressure, putting them at increased risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and strokes.
The association between regular cocaine use and increased heart risks persisted even when researchers took into account age, gender, smoking and alcohol use.
The study's senior author, University of Sydney cardiologist Gemma Figtree, said the results highlighted the dangers of social cocaine use.
''We have seen a number of young adults suffering heart attacks after cocaine use, with irreversible damage to their heart muscle and substantial impact on their quality of life thereafter,'' Professor Figtree said.
''While some people who use cocaine recreationally may not think they are doing their body a lot of harm, our results show this is not the case, and that cocaine is dangerous for your health even when taken socially.''
The 2010 Australian National Drug Strategy Household Survey showed 7.8 per cent of Australians aged 18 and over had used cocaine.
Users were mostly men aged 20-39 who lived in major cities and belonged to the highest social and economic groups.
The study coincides with the release of an Australian Crime Commission report on illicit drug use, which showed there were a record 2003 detections of cocaine at Australian borders in 2012-13, although the overall weight of seizures (400 kilograms) was down on the previous year.
A total of 1282 people were arrested nationally for cocaine-related offences, most of them in NSW (694 arrests), followed by Victoria (235) and Queensland (213).
The report noted that the price of a gram of cocaine ranged from $250 to $1000 across Australia in 2012-13.
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