Cocaine and Heart Attacks

<i> From Times staff and wire reports</i>

The mystery of how cocaine triggers heart attacks may have been partly solved by scientists who found that the drug can induce spasms in dog and rabbit arteries.

“There’s now overwhelming evidence cocaine may cause spasm of vascular smooth muscle, the principal component of the normal artery,” said Dr. Jeffrey Isner, a cardiovascular medicine professor at Boston’s Tufts University.

Studies presented last week at the American College of Cardiology’s annual meeting in Anaheim indicated that cocaine can kill by narrowing arteries and that it also impairs the heart’s electrical system.

Smoked crack cocaine is more dangerous because it is absorbed into blood more quickly, but inhaled powder cocaine “is clearly enough to achieve blood levels that can cause these cardiac complications,” Isner said.


Dr. Robert Kloner, heart research director at Hospital of the Good Samaritan in Los Angeles, said his study found that high dosages of cocaine given rapidly cause narrowing of coronary arteries and depression of the function of the heart.

“Recreational doses also have been shown to have effects,” he said. “You don’t need to be on a binge to have a heart attack.”