How does nicotine affect cocaine toxicity?

Updated: Sep 01, 2018
  • Author: Lynn Barkley Burnett, MD, EdD, LLB(c); Chief Editor: Sage W Wiener, MD  more...
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Answer

Nicotine is the second drug most commonly combined with cocaine. Many of the physiologic effects of nicotine are identical to those of cocaine. Nicotine produces a hypertensive and tachycardic response that is mediated by stimulation of the sympathetic ganglia and the adrenergic medulla. This response is coupled with the discharge of catecholamines from sympathetic nerve endings.

Cigarette smoking also causes arterial endothelial desquamation and ultrastructural changes, a reduction of endothelial-cell prostacyclin production, increased serum fibrinogen levels, activation of platelets with enhancement of adhesiveness and aggregability, diminished coronary flow reserve, and an alpha-adrenergically mediated increase in coronary artery tone in patients with coronary atherosclerosis.

Most patients with cocaine-induced myocardial infarction (MI) also smoke cigarettes, a finding which suggests that simultaneous use of cocaine and tobacco may enhance coronary vasoconstriction. Of patients with cocaine-induced MI, 38% had normal coronary arteries; 77% of this group (average age, 32 y) had an anterior-wall MI. More than two thirds were moderate-to-heavy cigarette smokers (>1-2 packs daily). The average number of additional coronary risk factors, however, was less than 1.


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