Horrifying MRI Scans Show Brain of Cocaine User Who Entered Catatonic State After Taking Drug

A man who regularly took cocaine suffered brain damage that left him hospitalized for months, confused and unable to move.

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.

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

MRI brain scan cocain drug illegal effects
MRI scans showing the brain of a man who had Cocaine-induced toxic leucoencephalopathy. BMJ Case Reports 2019.

As time passed the patient's condition deteriorated: he continued to act confusedly, and became withdrawn and uncommunicative.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.

cocaine. coke, drug, illicit drug, stock, getty,
A stock image of cocaine. An MRI scan has revealed the damage the drug can do to the brain. Getty

"Rarely it has been reported to result in complete recovery, as in our case," his doctors wrote.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse describes cocaine as a "powerfully addictive stimulant".

Made from the leaves of the coca plant native to South America, the substance has legitimate medical uses, such as as an anesthetic. The street drug can be cut with other similarly white powders such as cornstarch, talcum powder or flour.