What Is Crack Cocaine?

Crack cocaine, or crack, is a highly addictive substance created by “washing” powdered cocaine with liquefied baking soda compound or ammonia then heating it, which forms small rocks.

Because powdered cocaine cannot be smoked, crack was derived from the “freebase” rock created when mixed with liquid and dried by heating. The residue creates a rock-like substance that is ignitable and burns off. Faster acting than powdered cocaine, which is most frequently sniffed (snorted), crack hits the pleasure center of the brain instantly.

The Basics

What it is, what does it look like, how is it taken, what happens with abuse?

Crack cocaine (and cocaine) are schedule II narcotics by Federal classification, guidelines for which are found in The Controlled Substances Act, enacted by Congress in 1970. While cocaine is a derived product of the coca plant, found in areas of South America 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, it became a highly popular and widely abused drug in the early 1980s.

Effects of Crack Cocaine

What it does, the physical and mental effects while high, what happens in the brain, aftereffects of using crack cocaine

The immediate effect of smoking crack is a sudden rush or euphoria. This is created when intense levels of dopamine are released into the brain suddenly, followed within 5-10 minutes with a depletion of pleasure and depression. The intense high is so powerful that few can stop after taking the first hit, but are not able to reproduce the intense high initially experienced.

Crack Cocaine Dosage and Amounts Taken

How much crack is in a dose? What is a lethal amount or overdose?

There are no legal uses for crack cocaine, so most people will take a hit or two off of the glass pipe used for smoking crack. Because quality can vary, as can amounts tolerated in the bodies of users with long-term abuse of crack, some users will overdose early in their experimentation with crack, while others can regularly ingest large doses and not succumb to them.

Dangers and Long-Term Effects of Crack Cocaine Abuse

Risk of overdose, increased heart rates and high blood pressure, what are the long-term effects of use?

Smoking crack will result in several symptoms, which may include: hyper alertness, fidgeting, nervousness, anxiety, dry mouth, dilated pupils, itching and imaginary “bugs” under the skin, heart rate increase, blood pressure increase, loss of appetite and sleep, agitation, irritability and paranoia. Long-term effects will increase all symptoms, as well as can cause heart attack, stroke, panic attack, paranoia, psychotic symptoms, hallucinations, and liver and kidney damage. Smoking crack washed in ammonia can lead to serious mouth, throat and respiratory symptoms from inhaling toxic fumes, and may cause cancer.

Crack Cocaine Addiction and Tolerance

How addictive is it? Is addiction a myth? Do I have a problem? Signs and indications of crack abuse and dependency.

From the first hit, many believe that crack is the most fast-acting drug to form a dependency. Within minutes of the initial sensational high, crack addicts report needing to take another hit to fight off the depressed state that follows. Increased well-being and alertness are desirable for many and the withdrawal symptoms are uncomfortable, so many will chase that first high by using until a brain pattern has been established that is the first sign of addiction. Craving is established, then the other symptoms of abuse will become more apparent. Some of these are: loss of weight, insomnia, blisters on the mouth and around the mouth from smoking a hot glass pipe, and failure to maintain appearance, loss of job, etc.

Crack Overdose

What are the signs of an overdose? What to do if you spot symptoms of a crack cocaine overdose.

Crack overdose will most often manifest as a heart attack. If possible, administer CPR and contact emergency medical assistance right away. The user may turn blue or may go into seizures. Again, emergency medical assistance is the best means of helping the user to live.

If you or someone you are with show signs of a drug overdose, call emergency services immediately. The drug emergencies resource page has a list of US poison control centers and addiction resources that may be of help in an emergency. We also recommend that you consider seeking treatment once the emergency is over.

Mixing with Other Drugs

What are the effects of mixing crack cocaine with meth, alcohol, marijuana, heroin, tobacco and other drugs?

Smoking crack cocaine with meth or other stimulant drugs can incrementally increase their effects and have devastating outcomes. When combined with alcohol, marijuana or heroin, crack can offset the effects of the other substances, misleading the user into not knowing how much they have used, thus creating high probability for overdose on one or the other of the substances.

Drug Tests and Detox

What are the detection times? How long does crack stay in my system? Will I pass drug test?

Crack is detectable early with some tests and can be tested for up to 90 days with others. It remains easily detected with a urine screen for approximately 3-5 days. There are some conditions to this, however.

Legality, the Laws of Possession, Use, and Distribution

Is crack cocaine illegal? If I get caught with crack am I going to jail? How long are sentences? What is the difference between trafficking and possession? Are any crack cocaine charges felonies?

Laws surrounding crack cocaine were some of the most punitive in the US. Since being reformed in 2010, crack carries the same penalties for possession, trafficking, sales, and distribution that cover cocaine. While heavily penalized in the US, trafficking and/or distribution of crack cocaine in Canada and the UK can lead to life sentences.

Spiritual or Medicinal Use

Is crack used for purposes other than recreational, such as spiritual or medicinal?

While ancient South American indigenous peoples have used raw coca leaves, from which both cocaine and crack are derived, for many centuries, those ceremonies and rites are not widely known in other parts of the world. Nor do these ceremonies include the use of processed cocaine or crack.

In the Media

Crack cocaine in the news

When it began to become popular in the late 1970s and into the early 1980s, crack was consistently demonized in what are now recognized to be frequent occurrences in the realm of drug misuse and abuse. Laws were created that set crack apart as the most crime-contributing drug ever known. It was believed that crack was creating an epidemic of “crack babies,” children born to mothers who were addicted to crack. Films showed horrors of babies going through withdrawals from crack at birth and dying. These reports have since been evaluated and seen to have been the somewhat hysterical response or overactive bad press.

Since reformed laws were written in 2010, crack cocaine is seen more realistically. As a public menace, there is no doubt that it has created social and economic problems, along with all other drugs of abuse. However, babies born to mothers who are addicted to any substance can suffer from withdrawal. In fact, those born to mothers addicted to alcohol suffer the highest incidence of birth defects and disease.

Frequently Asked Questions

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A number of questions are commonly asked about crack cocaine, its effects, and its origins. From the ordinary and logical line of questions to the often bizarre, we present answers to questions such as Why smoke crack instead of using powder cocaine?

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