My patient is admitted with diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) and is testing positive for cocaine. Can cocaine cause DKA?

Cocaine use has been generally linked to DKA but whether it’s through its antagonizing effect on insulin action or more indirectly through its association with non-compliance with insulin, or both, is not totally clear.

A retrospective study found cocaine users to account for 14% of all DKA admissions.1 Cocaine users were also less likely than controls to have an intercurrent illness identified as a precipitant for DKA, and more likely to have missed taking insulin prior to admission. Another study also reported active cocaine use to be associated with DKA, but found its effect to be independent of non-compliance. 2

Yet another retrospective study limited to patients admitted with hyperglycemia, found no significant association between active cocaine use and development of hyperglycemic crisis.3

There are reasons to believe that cocaine may contribute to DKA. Cocaine has been proposed as a possible precipitant of DKA due to its ability to potentially enhance counterregulatory mechanisms designed to antagonize the effect of insulin by increasing catecholamine and cortisol levels. 1,3

So next time you have a patient with DKA, consider cocaine as a possible precipitant, particularly when the cause of DKA is unclear.

Liked this post? Download the app on your smart phone and sign up below to catch future pearls right into your inbox, all for free!

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


  1. Warner EA, Greene GS, Buchsbaum MS et al. Diabetic ketoacidosis associated with cocaine use. Arch Intern Med 1998; 158:1799-802.
  2. Nyenwe E, Loganathan R, Blum S, et al. Active use of cocaine: An independent risk factor for recurrent diabetic ketoacidosis in a city hospital. Endocr Pract 2007;13:22-29.
  3. Modzelewski KL, Rybin DV, Weinberg JM, et al. Active cocaine use does not increase the likelihood of hyperglycemic crisis. J Clin Transl Endocrinol 2017;9:1-7


Contributed in part by Quin L Sievers, Medical Student, Harvard Medical School

My patient is admitted with diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) and is testing positive for cocaine. Can cocaine cause DKA?

What role can hospital medicine physicians play in treating patients with opioid use disorder?

Opioid use disorder is a common comorbidity in hospitalized patients, but may pose a challenge to hospital-based providers who often care for patients with this chronic conditions only for a few days. Recent evidence suggests, however, that hospitalists can play an important role in helping these patients with their addiction problems.  A study that implemented screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment (SBIRT) in hospital settings concluded that illicit drug use decreased by 67.7% at 6 months in patients who underwent such intervention (1). Opioid substitution therapy may also be an option in hospitalized patients. A randomized-controlled trial of patients who underwent hospital-initiated buprenorphine/naloxone therapy followed by referral to primary care providers found a 41% increase in patient engagement with addiction treatment at 30 days in the intervention group compared to the group that received only referral for treatment (2).

1. Madras B, Compton W, Avula D, et al. Screening, brief interventions, referral to treatment (SBIRT) for illicit drug and alcohol use at multiple healthcare sites: comparison at intake and 6 months later. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2009;99:280-295.

2. D’Onofrio G, O’Connor P, Pantalon M, et al. Emergency department-initiated buprenorphine/naloxone treatment for opioid dependence: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA 2015;313:1636-44.


Contributed by Ethan Balgley, Harvard Medical Student

What role can hospital medicine physicians play in treating patients with opioid use disorder?

Does marijuana use lead to any adverse cardiovascular effects?

Although marijuana is often not considered to have serious cardiovascular effects, in animal studies THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, has been found to affect cardiovascular activity through a number of mechanisms, including inhibition of adrenal catecholamine secretion and modulation of cardiac vagal tone through inhibition of norepinephrine release from sympathetic neurons (1).

There have also been reports of temporal association between marijuana use and acute coronary syndrome, cardiac arrhythmias, cerebrovascular events, including TIA’s, strokes, and cerebral vasospasm, as well as peripheral vascular events, including arteritis, Raynaud’s phenomenon, and digital necrosis (2).

In a recent comprehensive case series, about 2.0 % of all cannabis-associated adverse events were reported cardiovascular in nature, with 25% resulting in death (2). However, it is often difficult to determine the relative contribution of marijuana and other concurrent conditions or substances (e.g. alcohol and tobacco) when cardiovascular complications occur. More research in this area is needed.


1. Szabo B, Nordheim U, Niederhoffer N. Effects of cannabinoids on sympathetic and parasympathetic neuroeffector transmission in the rabbit heart. J Pharmacol ExpTher 2001; 297:819-826.

2. Jouanjus E, Lapeyre-Mestre M, Micallef J, et al. Cannabis use: signal of increasing risk of serious cardiovascular disorders. J Am Heart Assoc 2014; 3:e000638.

Contributed by Pierre Ankomah, MD, Boston, MA

If you liked this post, sign up under MENU and get future pearls straight into your mailbox!

Does marijuana use lead to any adverse cardiovascular effects?