Crack Cocaine Basics

Crack cocaine is a schedule II narcotic by federal classification, guidelines for which are found in The Controlled Substances Act, enacted by Congress in 1970. While cocaine is a derived from the South American coca plant and processed by reducing it to a white powdered substance, crack is produced from the powder by “washing” with either ammonia or a dissolved fluid product made from baking soda. Because these are common household items, crack can be produced and sold cheaply and created simply; as a result, it became a highly popular and widely abused drug in the 1980s.

Street Names for Crack

Crack cocaine has many nicknames, including:
  • crack
  • rock
  • work
  • cookies
  • hard rock
  • gravel
  • jelly beans
  • rock candy
  • crunch & munch
  • crumbs


Crack cocaine is produced in small, hard pellets that look like whitish or yellowish rocks, sometimes with crystalline specks or a sheen to them from the powdered cocaine. When pure, it will have a gummy texture but becomes brittle and hard as it mixes with the substance used to manufacture crack, either ammonia or liquefied baking soda.

Side Effects

When a crack high hits the brain, intense surges of pleasure are felt due to a powerful dose of dopamine which is delivered to the brain's pleasure center. And because the delivery is instantaneous and intensely euphoric, there is a high propensity for immediate crack addiction. The brain registers the pleasure and within minutes, there is a sudden depletion that follows the hit of dopamine after 5-10 minutes, and after the “hit” and leaves the user feeling depressed. This creates a desire for more crack to restimulate the user. Signs of crack use include, but are not limited to:
  • blisters or burns on the lips from smoking a crack pipe (the glass becomes hot with extended use)
  • agitation and hyperactivity
  • talkative, chatty speech patterns
  • dilated pupils
  • unnatural animation
  • increased spurts of energy and activity
  • racing heart beat and pulse
  • loss of appetite
  • insomnia
  • jaw clenching and broken teeth
Heart problems and an anorexic appearance are common in crack users, as are dark circles under the eyes. Addicts may develop breathing problems from inhaling the ammonia in crack, as lung, throat and mouth problems, even cancer, can result from inhaling the toxic smoke. Crack smokers become withdrawn and suspicious, frequently paranoid, and can develop psychosis. Audio and visual hallucinations are common. Most of these symptoms will decrease after the user stops smoking it; however, there are cases where permanent brain damage and psychotic symptoms lingered long after use stopped. Residual damage to the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys of crack smokers that does not repair with cessation can result. Suicide risk is high for those in early stages of withdrawal after long term use.


Crack withdrawal symptoms include irritability, extreme depression, paranoia, loss of pleasure in life or anything that once brought feelings of joy and pleasure, headaches, and anxiety. Depending on history of use, these symptoms may take long periods to balance out. Chemical imbalance of the brain will remain for long periods if use is extensive. There will be severe depletion of dopamine and serotonin levels, making life seem dull and uninteresting, even boring and hopeless. This makes users vulnerable to relapse, due to the craving for normal brain activity that can only be established with long-term abstinence or a return to use. After months of abstinence, brain activity should become more balanced and sleep patterns will be re-established, allowing the former user to enjoy life on a safer footing once more. However, a recognized factor with both cocaine and crack cocaine use and abuse is the phenomenon called “euphoric recall,” which is strongest for these crack addicts. When seeing a movie showing cocaine or crack use, or talking to old using friends about their use, or being exposed to any reminders of their use of crack/cocaine, former addicts may feel strongly compelled to use again. Such images trigger the euphoric memory of an addict's first high, and the craving to re-experience that feeling is why crack is so hard to quit for so many.
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