Cocaine is a highly addictive drug. In its pure form, it is a fine white powder and is one of the top five commonly abused drugs in the United States. In its “free-base form,” known as crack cocaine, it takes a rock-like shape that can be smoked for a more intense high. Although crack use is often more stigmatized in the media, the two forms of cocaine are nearly identical on a molecular level.
Cocaine is a byproduct of leaves of coca plants that grow mostly in South America. Throughout the last few centuries, native tribes across South America chewed coca leaves to give them a stimulating feeling. Once more people learned about coca plants, cocaine started being known as a “wonder drug.” Cocaine use was prevalent during Hollywood’s first golden age in the 1920s, and companies like Coca-Cola and other soft drink makers began using the coca leaves as a sort of ‘health tonic’ during the last century.
During the cocaine boom in the 1970s, crack was developed by mixing cocaine with a weak base to create a solid form of the drug so that cocaine dealers did not have to continue to drop their prices. At the peak of its use, between 1984 and 1990, the use of crack was so widespread that it became a “crack epidemic.”
While there is no pharmacological difference between cocaine and crack, the way that it is consumed can lead to a difference in how intense its effects are. Let’s take a look at cocaine and crack and how they affect the body.
Over a million Americans in the United States are addicted to cocaine, according to recent estimates. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimated that in 2014, there were about 1.5 million regular cocaine users aged 12 and up. The primary users of cocaine are mostly young adults, between 18-25 years old. In this group, according to the NIDA states, nearly 1.5 % of this 18-25 group said they’d used cocaine in the past month.
Colorado, where we’re located, was a top 10 state for cocaine usage among young adults based on data from 2014 and 2015 by National Surveys on Drug Use and Health.
Cocaine users generally line up the cocaine powder on glass (or mirror) surfaces and use a cut straw or rolled-up paper to use as a tube into their nostrils. Then, they snort the powder into their nasal passages.
When cocaine is snorted in this way, the drug goes into the person’s bloodstream through the linings of the person’s nasal interior. By snorting the powder frequently, cocaine users can develop different forms of nasal damage. This could include the well-known “cocaine nose drip” which is seen in the constant wiping of the nose by cocaine users. Other effects for the cocaine user include erosion of the nasal cavity, chronic bleeding, and a perforated septum. These problems can lead to a changed facial appearance and/or facial deformity for the user over time.
Crack is another form of cocaine. Users mix the cocaine powder with baking soda to change its composition into a solid. This solid is known as ‘rocks’ in addict circles. What makes it appealing to users is that it has a much lower melting temperature which allows users to smoke the drug, instead of snorting the cocaine. This is a perceived benefit to the user, as it brings about the high much more quickly, and smoked cocaine brings to the user much more intense drug effects.
One of the key differences in the use of cocaine and crack is that crack is a much more immediate, direct hit to the brain. Users inhale the fumes of the cooked liquid right into their lungs, and the ‘hit’ reaches their brains within eight seconds, much faster than the ingestion of cocaine, which can take about ten minutes to feel the effects.
Once crack and cocaine reach the brain, the effects of each drug are similar. Users tend to feel more alert, with increased feelings of energy and increased talkability. This is a result of increased dopamine in the bloodstream, which triggers these energetic feelings.
Addiction to cocaine can come swiftly. If you’re already a person with an addictive personality that uses drugs or alcohol fairly consistently, then a snort of cocaine on a weekly basis can turn into a full-blown addiction over time. Addiction to cocaine is a costly drug that can erode finances and income.
The physical effects of both crack and cocaine addiction can be devastating. Users lose their skin’s vitality, with cocaine snorters sometimes eroding their nasal passages. Many crack users will suffer from “crack lips” which is the result of burnt lips from the heat of the crack pipe.
Some of the more debilitating effects of crack cocaine usage include:
Becoming addicted to either form of cocaine is a serious dependency. If you or someone you love needs help with cocaine or crack addiction, reach out to our trained staff to learn more about how our individualized treatment programs can help you on your path to recovery.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.