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December 26, 2016

By Susan  Callahan, Contributing Columnist

In the annals of medical history, few things are more
predictable than that, over the long run, drug abuse will
take its toll on your health.  

So, it should come as no surprise ---but it is nevertheless
somehow shocking --- to learn that more and more people
are dying of drug-related heart failure, at younger ages.  
Yesterday, the world lost another if its beloved pop stars,
George Michael, to what his publicist described as "heart
failure", at the tender age of 53.  Earlier this year, the pop
legend Prince, died of an overdose of drugs which many
sources report led to cardiac arrest, at the age of 57. Both
were gone too soon.

According to the National Institutes of Health, use of illegal
drugs is fast increasing among people over the age of 50.
Between 2009 and 2012, those using illicit drugs over the
age of 50 grew from 900,000 people to 3 million.

In terms of drug-related hospitalizations, there are three
main culprits --- cocaine, heroin and marijuana. What do
these are the other most commonly used drugs such as
methamphetamine and ecstasy do to your heart?

Which of these drugs is responsible for heart failure
deaths? How does drug use damage your heart?

Cocaine Stiffens Your Arteries

Here is a hypothetical. A 43 year-old man, Tom, complains
to his doctor that, from time to time, he experiences chest
pain. Being a good, proactive doctor, the physician orders
a battery of tests, including an angiogram which shows
blood flow to the large arteries.  The tests come back "all

What the man neglects to tell his doctor is that, when he
was younger and still occasionally sometimes, he uses
cocaine. Just recreational use, he assures himself, "I am
not a drug addict."

But about a year after he makes his first complaint to his
doctor, Tom dies.  Cocaine had damages the small vessels
of his heart, a problem which standard angiogram tests
can not detect.

Damage to these small vessels can make your heart work

Cocaine stiffens your arteries, according to a 2012 study
from Sydney Medical School in Australia.  Those who use
cocaine on average once a month can experience up to
35% more thickening in the major arteries of the heart.

As a result, your blood pressure increases and your heart
must work harder. Eventually, the workload can become
too much to bear, and you have a heart attack or your
heart muscle becomes damaged and fails.

Heroin Damages the Valves of Your Heart

Heroin causes particular damage to the valves of your
heart. Heart valves regulate the flow of blood to your
heart, opening and closing in a carefully orchestrated
system to either allow or shut off flow of blood to each of
the chambers of your heart. If your heart valves are
damaged, blood flow  to a particular chamber can be
insufficient to support your life functions, leading to organ
damage and death.

Heroin preys on your heart valves. Heroin addicts suffer
from inflammation of the heart valves and infections of the
heart valves at a much higher rate than the general
population. Bacteria introduced by injecting heroin can
lead to bacterial infections of the heart valves and of the
lining of your heart.

Endocarditis occurs when the inner lining of your heart
called the "endocardium" becomes inflamed. Heroin users
suffer disproportionately from endocarditis, according to
the Centers fro Disease Control. Between 2009 and 2012,
heroin use increased by 74% in the US.

If antibiotics do not return your valve function to normal,
valve replacement surgery may be necessary, at an
average hospitalization cost of $165,000, according to a
report from Northwestern University.

Methamphetamine use attacks the nervous system
supplying the heart, causing rapid heart rate
(tachycardia), hypertension and enlarged hearts.

Meth increases a neurocompound called catecholamine, to  
levels which disrupt the normal rhythms of your heart,
according to a 2005 report from the National Drug and
Alcohol Research Centre of Australia.

The resulting "cardiotoxicity" can produce chest pain,
sudden heart attack, acute aortic dissection --- which is
what it sounds like, your arteries breaking and tearing
apart --- and also death.

Ecstasy Damages Your Heart's Pumping Mechanisms

Ecstasy, whose technical name is
"3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine" often abbrievated
as   MDMA,  reduces the ability of your heart to pump.  

Ecstasy also makes you hyperactive. The two effects, more
hyperactivity making demands on your heart while also
reducing your heart's ability to meet those demands,
creates a collision course of disaster, according to the
National Institute on Drug Abuse, a part of the National
Institutes of Health.

It's as if you whip a horse to run faster while at the same
time weighing down its legs with weights.

Marijuana Raises Your Heart Rate by 100%

Marijuana raises your heart rate by up to 100%, doctors
at the Cleveland Clinic warn.

The increase in heart rate occurs mostly immediately after
you finish smoking but your heart can remain at an
elevated level for hours afterward indulging.

Marijuana also causes sometimes wild fluctuations in your
blood pressure.

We don't yet know how marijuana precisely affects yuour
body. But the Cleveland Clinic has an ominous observation.

The active ingredient in marijuana is
"tetrahydrocannabinol". There are receptors for this
chemical throughout your body, which means that
marijuana can potentially affect every single organ and
system in your body.  What those effects are, only future
scientific studies will tell.


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Certain drugs significantly weaken your
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