“Crack cocaine” is the term for the crystal form of cocaine. Like cocaine, crack is highly addictive but is also the most potent form of cocaine. As the free base form of cocaine, crack is smoked and is known for its intense high. During the mid-1980s, crack abuse reached epidemic levels in many major U.S. cities, but its use is still widespread today. An addiction to this substance can form rapidly. Short-term adverse effects may involve increased heart rate, paranoia, and even death. The long-term adverse effects of crack abuse may include stroke, respiratory failure, and even death. Read on for more in-depth information about this dangerous illicit drug
What Is Crack Cocaine?
Crack is a crystal form of cocaine and, like cocaine, is listed as a Schedule II substance under the Controlled Substances Act. As the rock crystal form of cocaine, it is smoked rather than snorted, ultimately releasing a more intense high. Crack is notoriously cheaper on the street than cocaine, which has led to its widespread abuse throughout the country. A freebase form of cocaine, crack is created by “processing the drug with ammonia or sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and water, then heating it to remove the hydrochloride to produce a smokable substance,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The drug got its name from the cracking sound it makes when smoked.
How Is Crack Related / Derived from Cocaine?
Crack is the water-insoluble form of cocaine that is mixed water and baking powder or ammonia. Like the powder form of the drug, crack is extremely addictive– but even more so because smoking the drug allows it to reach the brain quicker. Both cocaine and crack produce euphoric highs by producing an enormous spike in the brain’s levels of dopamine. If used repeatedly, both forms of the drug can alter the brain’s chemistry and cause a powerful addiction to occur.
Identifying Crack Cocaine
Crack cocaine, or “crack rock” as it is sometimes called, is sold on the street in solid blocks. These blocks may vary in color from white to pale rose. In most cases, it appears mineral-like and has an off-white tint. Purer forms may resemble hard, brittle plastic. Sometimes crack is “cut” with other substances, adding to its potency and increased potential for adverse health effects. On the street, crack may also be referred to as “rocks,” “candy,” “kryptonite,” or “sleet.”
How Do People Use Crack?
Crack is used by heating and then smoking the drug. When heated and smoked it makes a telltale popping sound. Typically, the drug is vaporized in a glass pipe. Users heat the “rocks” with a lighter or torch, so they can then inhale it through the pipe. They may also use a pop can or foil to heat this drug. Crack cocaine can also be injected– a highly dangerous method of using the drug.
What Are the Effects of Crack?
As a powerful central nervous system stimulant, crack causes copious amounts of dopamine to be released in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is associated with feelings of pleasure. Hence, crack is said to produce feelings of euphoria. After inhaling crack, users usually experience its high almost immediately. This high may last anywhere from five to 15 minutes. It’s commonplace for users to experience intense cravings for this drug as soon as the high diminishes.
Short-Term Effects of Crack
In the short term, crack use leads to short-term effects that can include:
- Increased rate of breathing
- Dilated pupils
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Decreased appetite
- Anxiety or paranoia
- Aggressive behavior
Sudden death is also a risk that is associated with short-term crack use. It’s also important to remember that crack is a street drug; users can’t know if the drug has been combined with other additives that could impact the drug’s intensity and cause its use to be even riskier.
Long-Term Effects of Crack
People who use crack cocaine for a long period of time are at increased risk for serious health problems that may include:
- Paranoid or aggressive behavior
- Severe depression
- Mood disturbances
- Heart Attack
- Respiratory Failure
- Damage to Reproduction System
People who habitually use crack may also be at increased risk for engaging in high-risk behaviors like needle sharing or having unprotected sex. Additionally, of course, long-term crack use is associated with substance addiction. This addiction can be powerful; addiction sufferers who do not use the drug in a certain period of time may suffer intense withdrawal symptoms like strong cravings, depression– even psychosis. Withdrawal symptoms can produce serious health concerns. Other health concerns include overdose, which can lead to death.
Is Treatment for Crack Cocaine Addiction Different than for Cocaine?
Treatment for crack addiction or cocaine addiction is the same but, in either case, is personalized to address the individual user’s particular mental and physical needs. Both forms of the drug are highly addictive, so many people do require inpatient rehab stays or highly structured day treatment programs in order to achieve addiction management. While healthcare providers can provide medications to assist with withdrawal symptoms, there is no drug substitute that can safely replace cocaine. This may be one of the reasons why relapse rates concerning both crack and cocaine can be so high.
What Is Unique about Crack?
Unlike cocaine, which tends to be expensive to purchase, crack is notoriously cheap. Crack is also associated with various telltale paraphernalia, which is required in order to heat and inhale the crack vapors. This paraphernalia may include items such as:
- Burned spoons
- Aluminum spoons
- Tin foil
- Pipes with burn marks
History of Crack Cocaine
Cocaine is made from the leaves of the coca plant, which is native to various regions in South America. Native peoples of South America have used the coca plant for thousands of years; they would chew the leaves to release their stimulative effects. In this way, cocaine is one of the oldest, longest used natural stimulants in the world. Some historians believe that Incans would chew the leaves in order to counter some of the effects of living at higher altitudes where the mountainous air was thinner. When Spanish conquistadors entered South America, they learned about the power of the leaves. They gave them to native workers in their silver mines because the leaves made them easier to control.
In 1859, a German chemist isolated cocaine from the leaves of the coca plant. A few decades later, the medical community began to treat patients with the drug. Manufacturers like Coca Cola also included cocaine in their early formulas because of its apparent medicinal qualities. However, by the early years of the 20th century, cocaine’s negative effects were impossible to ignore. By 1922, the U.S. banned the drug.
While cocaine use continued in subsequent decades, the crack form was not developed until the 1970s. Drug dealers soon realized that crack was easy and cheap to produce. By 1980, the drug began to show up in Los Angeles, Houston, and cities in the Caribbean. Crack use reached epidemic proportions in many major U.S. cities between 1985 and 1990.
Crack and Other Substances
One of the dangers of using crack is that it is often combined with other substances, and users may or may not know this when purchasing the drug. Mixing crack with other dangerous substances can increase the risk of death. Alcohol is often combined with crack as a way to ease the crack comedown. Alcohol is also highly addictive; moreover, the effects of the alcohol may be more intense in a crack user who may not have eaten or slept in days.
Some individuals may also use crack in association with drugs like methamphetamine. This is a particularly deadly combination as both drugs are stimulants. Too much of either or both at the same time can lead to seizures, brain damage, or heart attack. Combining crack with heroin–known on the street as “speedballing”–has also proven to carry an increased risk for death.
How Is Crack Cocaine So Addictive?
Crack can be 75-100% pure cocaine. This purity combined with the act of smoking the drug is what makes it so incredibly addictive. Some people can become addicted after a few uses– even a single-use. Crack addiction is associated with powerful cravings. Without treatment, it’s unlikely that a crack addict will be able to stop using this drug. In fact, even with treatment, its cravings can last for years. The key to managing a crack addiction is to enter a high-quality addiction treatment center that offers ongoing support and aftercare programs.