Education Article /  Effects of Illegal Drugs on the Heart

Effects of Illegal Drugs on the Heart

Posted by National CPR Association |

Jun 06, 2018

Abuse and addiction to illegal drugs are serious problems that affect many people, including infants born to mothers who use them. Most of these people use illegal drugs for recreational purposes and may or may not be aware that they can cause serious health problems. One of the possible effects of drug abuse is heart dysfunction, even in those who have no previous history of heart disease. A common side effect is arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat. Changes in blood pressure, heart attacks and stroke can occur when these drugs are taken in high doses. For those who already have a heart problem, illegal drug use may lead to worsening of their condition, and can even lead to heart failure and death.


Opium is a dry latex derived from a poppy plant called Papaver somniferum. It is a crude form of an opiate (narcotic) drug that is used illegally. It is also the source of other opiate drugs such as morphine and codeine, which are also used medicinally to manage acute and chronic pain. Opium is a highly addictive substance that can be smoked or ingested to relieve pain or anxiety. Its side effects include nausea, constipation, constricted pupils, and impaired coordination.  Opium can slow down the heart rate, as well as breathing.


Heroin is an opium-based drug related to morphine. It is a rapidly acting drug that is one of the most commonly abused. It can be injected, smoked, or snorted. Its short-term effects include relaxation and euphoria, but it can also cause drying of the mouth, slow breathing, and weak muscles. Long-term effects include decreased liver function, kidney disease, a weakened immune system, and addiction. Heroin users are also prone to endocarditis (infection of the inner lining and valves of the heart), overdose and death. When one stops using it, vomiting, diarrhea, and muscle pain may be experienced.


Cocaine is a powerful stimulant that comes from the coca plant. It produces instantaneous effects, including euphoria, delusions of grandeur, increased alertness and increased energy. However, restlessness, paranoia and anxiety set in as its effects start to wear off. High body temperature, shortness of breath, increased pulse rate and elevated blood pressure are also experienced. In some cases, an irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmia) or a heart attack can occur. Long-term use of cocaine may lead to addiction and other health problems, including dehydration, damaged teeth, kidney failure, autoimmune disease, and stroke.


Methamphetamine (also called meth) is a stimulant drug with aphrodisiac effects. It causes euphoria and increases alertness, stamina, mood and concentration. Harmful side effects include excessively low or high blood pressure, irregular heart rates, diarrhea /constipation, psychosis, depression, irritability, restlessness, and suicidal thoughts. It increases one’s risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, as well as brain damage. It can also cause arrhythmia, congestive heart failure, inflammation and damage to the heart muscles and blood vessels, and stroke.


Rohypnol is a powerful depressant used as a “date-rape” drug. These odorless, colorless, and tasteless white tablets are also called “club drugs,” which can easily be slipped into one’s drink for illicit purposes. Victims often have little recollection of events. It can also be used to reduce anxiety and to induce sleep. Side effects include headache, nausea, vomiting, mood swings, memory loss, and difficulty breathing. When depressants are combined with other drugs the heart can be affected, causing it to slow down dangerously. Rohypnol abuse may lead to coma or death.


LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide) is a powerful hallucinogenic drug that alters one’s perception of reality. It is usually taken as a pill, but its liquid form may be used on gelatin sheets, stamps, or small pieces of paper which can be licked. LSD affects the heart, increasing the user’s heart rate and blood pressure. High doses can lead to heart failure resulting in death. Other side effects include mood swings, loss of appetite, sweating, dry mouth, increased body temperature, and dilated pupils.


This club drug is often ingested as a pill, although some snort, smoke, or insert it into their rectum. Pills sold as Ecstasy may contain adulterants such as ketamine, ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, caffeine, and other over-the-counter drugs.

Ecstasy (XTC) is the street name for MDMA (3,4- methylenedioxy – N – methyl amphetamine), a psychoactive or empathogenic drug that produces altered emotional states. These include euphoria, decreased anxiety, hallucinations, positive moods, extroverted behavior, and intimacy. Negative effects consist of paranoia, depression, fatigue, irritability, anxiety, loss of appetite, excessive grinding of the teeth, and insomnia. Increased body temperature can result from lack of hydration and concomitant use of alcohol. It can also cause heart palpitations, inflammation of the heart, excessive fluctuations in blood pressure, heart damage, heart attacks, pulmonary hypertension, and stroke.