MRI Scans Show The Horrific Effect Cocaine Abuse Can Have On Your Brain


In reading the effects that cocaine has on the mind and body it is easy to understand its appeal to many people. Feelings like euphoria, confidence, and awareness are what most people crave to feel. Yet the effects of cocaine can be much more profound than pounding hearts, loss of appetite, sweaty palms, and tested nerves.

MRI scans show how heavy cocaine abuse can lead to permanent physical changes to the brain by “eating away” at the white matter, leaving you with disabilities — and at worst, dead.

It’s a rare but severe side-effect of taking the drug, doctors have warned after they treated a man who was taken to hospital by his parents in Msida, Malta, The Sun reports.

The parents of the unnamed 45-year-old took him to an emergency department after he acted confused for two days, his doctors at Mater Dei Hospital, in the Maltese harbor town of Msida, wrote in BMJ Case Reports.

The man, who had a history of abusing tranquilizer drug benzodiazepine, had taken cocaine two to three days before he arrived at the hospital, his parents told medics. At the facility, he wouldn’t cooperate with doctors, was purposefully moving his limbs, and was unable to carry out simple tasks.

(A) MRI of head on admission, (B) after 5 days, (C) 2 weeks after admission, (D) 1 month after admission, (E) 3 months after admission and (F) 10 months after admission. BMJ case report 2019

Staff feared the man had contracted an infection affecting his central nervous system, and pumped him with antibiotics and antiviral drugs.

“The patient was not cooperative, unable to perform simple tasks and was not following commands,” Dr Ylenia Abdilla, the doctor who treated the man at Mater Dei Hospital in the Maltese city of Msida, explains in the case report. “He was moving all four limbs in purposeful movement.”

As time passed the patient’s condition deteriorated: he continued to act confusedly, and became withdrawn and uncommunicative. Eventually he became catatonic: where a person doesn’t move or communicate, but appears agitated, confused, and restless. The condition is commonly associated with schizophrenia. Doctors decided to send the man to an intensive care unit.

A month after he was admitted, the patient was able to follow an examiner with his eyes, slowly began moving his arms, and was able to follow orders once again.

After performing MRI scans, doctors surmised cocaine had caused a rare disorder called inflammatory leucoencephalopathy. His doctors ruled out any potential causes of his condition, including viruses.

“Prognosis is poor—the condition progresses rapidly and often leads to death” and can cause “significant disability,” the researchers wrote.

Three months after he arrived at the hospital, the man still hadn’t fully recovered, and was scoring low on cognitive tests. He was transferred to a rehabilitation facility. By the 4-month-mark he was able to walk on his own, and carry out most daily tasks. A year later after he first arrived at ER his cognition was back to normal.


Dr Abdilla said: “It may present in several different ways.

“These include an altered level of consciousness, confusion, impaired language, altered vision, fever or spasticity.

“Prognosis is poor — the condition progresses rapidly and often leads to death.

“Rarely it has been reported to result in complete recovery, as in our case.”

Doctors treated the man, giving him steroids, a plasma exchange and antibodies.

He was transferred to a rehab facility, where he showed signs of improving.

After four months, he was walking independently, and coping with most aspects of daily life.

The patient was treated for anxiety and managed to stay off drugs — meaning he was allowed home a month later.

One year after he was admitted to hospital, the man returned for a follow up.

He had not used drugs for a year, and while his brain scan still showed “persistent white matter changes”, neurological tests were normal.

Dr Abdilla’s team noted: “Apart from some complaints of low mood, he was fully independent and had returned to his previous functional status.”

According to The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre’s (NDARC) 2018 Drug Trends report, Australians are consuming record levels of cocaine.

Researchers found nearly 60 per cent of respondents (59 per cent) reported using cocaine in the past six months, up from 48 per cent during the last phase of interviews in 2017.

It’s the highest-ever recorded level since the annual Drug Trends reports began in 2003.