Rheumatic manifestations of cocaine use

Curr Opin Rheumatol. 2013 Jan;25(1):50-5. doi: 10.1097/BOR.0b013e32835b4449.


Purpose of review: Cocaine use is associated with several rheumatic syndromes. This review summarizes these clinical manifestations and highlights recent developments linked to levamisole-adulterated cocaine.

Recent findings: Cocaine use has been linked to several distinctive syndromes that can be difficult to distinguish from idiopathic rheumatic diseases. These disorders can range in severity from purely cosmetic damage to organ and/or life-threatening disease that includes sinonasal destruction and vasculitis. Many of these illnesses are associated with antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibodies (cytoplasmic, perinuclear and atypical perinuclear patterns). With the recent introduction of levamisole as a cocaine adulterant, a newly reported syndrome has emerged that is associated with neutropenia, retiform purpura with cutaneous necrosis and autoantibodies consisting of high-titre perinuclear antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibodies (p-ANCAs) with specificities for 'atypical' antigens.

Summary: Cocaine use is associated with clinical syndromes that closely mimic other primary rheumatic diseases. Given the high prevalence of cocaine use and its adulteration with levamisole, clinicians should be familiar with these rheumatic manifestations in order to avoid misdiagnosis and unnecessary treatment with potentially toxic therapies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Neutrophil Cytoplasmic Antibody-Associated Vasculitis / chemically induced
  • Anti-Neutrophil Cytoplasmic Antibody-Associated Vasculitis / diagnosis
  • Antibodies, Antineutrophil Cytoplasmic / analysis
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / complications*
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / diagnosis
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Drug Contamination
  • Humans
  • Levamisole / toxicity
  • Rheumatic Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Rheumatic Diseases / diagnosis
  • Vasculitis / chemically induced
  • Vasculitis / diagnosis


  • Antibodies, Antineutrophil Cytoplasmic
  • Levamisole