Dangerous Drugs That Can Cause Lesions

Alexandra LaFollette
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July 26, 2021

A lesion refers to an abnormal change on a body tissue organ caused by an injury or disease. Lesions could be a result of using recreational drugs or some specific FDA-approved drugs.

Drug abuse affects most body organs, and unfortunately, the damage done may remain hidden for several years. For example, alcohol strains the liver, heroin damages the kidneys, and cocaine stresses the heart.

The skin is the largest body organ. Abusing alcohol or drugs for a long period can cause skin lesions. Skin lesions can either be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous), basically skin cancer. They can manifest as sores, a variety of infections, and even rotting of the skin.

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Four factors contribute to lesions. They include:

  • The drug itself
  • Method of drug delivery, e.g., drugs delivered intravenously.
  • Impurities that find their way into drugs while they are sold in the street. The contaminants may cause contact dermatitis where one is allergic to the impurities.
  • Unhealthy habits, e.g., not maintaining personal hygiene, poor diet, and lack of sleep, among others.

Here is how different addictive substances affect the skin.

Heroin

The effect of heroin on the skin is more noticeable in users who prefer injecting the drug with needles, instead of snorting or smoking. Heroin users repeatedly penetrate their skin while seeking veins. This may lead to venous sclerosis, which refers to scarring of the veins. Venous sclerosis can result in skin infections, cellulitis, and abscesses.

Users who inject themselves with heroin through skin risk contracting necrotizing skin lesions due to skin popping. Skin popping allows bacteria to penetrate the skin and also leads to tissue trauma.

Most heroin users also complain about dry, itchy skin. Additionally, some users end up having an itchy hives-like rash.

Cocaine

Cocaine can directly affect the skin, and it can also affect internal organs, which in turn cause skin damage.

Here are some effects that cocaine has on the skin:

  • Chronic skin ulcers
  • Blackening of the palms
  • Fibrous tissue formation in the skin
  • Death of skin cells (necrosis)
  • Pustulosis (where parts of the skin are filled with pus)
  • Bullous erythema multiforme.
  • Buerger’s disease causes veins to turn red and swell. This could also interfere with one’s blood pressure.

You should also know that a variety of substances are used to cut cocaine. Some of the substances can cause rotting of the skin and ulcerating skin lesions. Additionally, cocaine could cause a heart attack since its users have an increased heart rate.

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Alcohol

Most people are unaware of the fact that alcohol abuse can have noticeable effects on their skin. The most common effect of alcohol on the skin is spider angioma. Spider angioma manifests as red lacy patches on the neck, torso, hands, and face.

Alcohol abuse also causes Caput medusa, a skin condition that causes the addict’s veins to swell and distend. The veins usually appear across the abdomen. Alcohol abuse also causes Porphyria Cutanea Tarda (PCT), a condition that causes scars on areas of the skin one exposes to the sun. Most people battling alcohol addiction have scars on their faces, hands, and feet.

Dermatologists also associate several dermatological conditions with alcohol abuse, including seborrheic dermatitis, rosacea, and eczema.

Methamphetamine

Most people who abuse methamphetamine (meth) end up having skin sores because they constantly pick their skin. Meth users pick at their skin because they, on several occasions, get the sensation of insects crawling even when they are not there. As a result, they easily develop sores. Some meth users also end up having dry skin.

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Meth users who inject themselves with the drug are also at risk of contracting skin infections.  Research has shown that 11% of drug users that use injections report skin infections every few months.

Marijuana

Research has shown that marijuana can negatively affect your skin. The smoke from marijuana contains hydrocarbons. When the hydrocarbons come into contact with your skin, they interfere with your skin’s collagen production.

Note that collagen protects your skin against inflammation and air pollution. If your skin does not produce enough collagen, your skin will age prematurely and become wrinkled since it loses its elasticity. Cannabis-induced arteritis, which is a direct result of marijuana use, also has effects on the skin.

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Desomorphine

The street name of desomorphine is "krokodil" because it turns the skin green and scaly. Eventually, the skin sloughs off.

Krokodil is a cheap form of heroin. It has been dubbed the deadliest drug globally because it rots the skin from the inside out. Consequently, it causes abscesses and gangrene.

How to deal with side effects of drugs and skin lesions

If you want to minimize the impact of drug abuse on your skin, the first thing you need to do is stop abusing drugs. Note that the more you abuse drugs, the more adverse effects they will have on your skin. Most people with addictions end up having very unhealthy skin.

If you are struggling with an addiction or substance use disorder, you should consider seeking medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment to beat the addiction. There are several treatment approaches to consider, so you should choose one that suits you best. If you have a supportive family, your family members will support you throughout your recovery journey, especially when dealing with withdrawal symptoms.

You may also have to undergo behavioral therapies to deal with unhealthy behaviors that destruct your skin or body organs in general.

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Various drugs affect the skin differently. However, once you deal with your drug use and addiction, some effects will fade naturally. If you want to speed up the process, you can consult a dermatologist. The dermatologist will prescribe medications and, in some cases, ask you to follow a consistent skincare regimen.

If you are in the United States and need drug information, especially when it comes to drug addiction, you can contact the American Society of Addiction Medicine or the National Institute on Drug Abuse for more information.

Conclusion

If you want to maintain healthy skin, do not abuse drugs. You should specifically stay away from drugs that contain fillers or compounds as they tend to have adverse effects on the skin. In addition, moisturize, wear sunscreen, and maintain good hygiene to keep your skin healthy.

 

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