Emphysema from Crack Cocaine?

Medical Author: Benjamin Wedro, MD, FAAEM
Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

Amy Winehouse has emphysema.
Amy Winehouse doesn't have emphysema.
Amy Winehouse may get emphysema one day.

Pick a story and you may be right. The story goes that the 24 year-old collapsed at home and was admitted to the hospital. Her father reported that she had developed emphysema from her cigarette smoking and crack cocaine use. A few hours later he and her publicist said that perhaps the emphysema diagnosis wasn't quite right, instead suggesting that there was a possibility of future emphysema if Amy didn't change her lifestyle.

OK, so what is there to learn from this story?

Is it that a rock star was smoking cigarettes? No news here. But it is true that smoking cigarettes will lead to COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), either emphysema or chronic bronchitis. No other consumer product can be purchased routinely that can kill its users with cancer, heart attack, and lung disease.

It can't be that cocaine is bad. We know that cocaine is a nasty actor that changes brain chemistry by stimulating dopamine and adrenaline release. The highs that it generates make it very addictive. The problem is that with any addictive drug, more of the drug is needed to get that initial high. Crack is the solid from of cocaine that is smoked. It is more concentrated, produces more intense highs, and greater lows.