Crack vs. Cocaine

Written by Erica Weiman

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, help is available. Speak with a Recovery Advocate by calling (719) 602-0914 now.

Updated 07/12/2023

Crack vs. Cocaine

Cocaine is an illegal substance that is extremely addictive. It is a powerful stimulant that is classified as a Schedule II controlled substance and has medicinal use as a local anesthetic; however, it is not intended to be taken by the general public, and possession is illegal. There is very little chemical difference between cocaine and crack. In fact, crack is made by dissolving powdered cocaine in water and a base, usually baking soda. It is then heated until it becomes a rock-like crystal.

Are Crack and Cocaine the Same Thing?

Both crack and cocaine produce a potent stimulant and euphoric effect. The person may feel very energetic after using either one, but the effects of crack are more immediate and stronger than cocaine.

Cocaine and crack affect a chemical in the body called dopamine. They prevent the uptake of dopamine, allowing it to build up in the brain. Short-term effects of cocaine and crack include:

  • High energy
  • Feelings of happiness and euphoria
  • Mental alertness
  • Appetite suppressant
  • Dilated pupils
  • Irritability
  • Paranoia

Where Does Cocaine Come From?

Cocaine is a byproduct of the leaves of coca plants that grow in South America. Throughout the last few centuries, native tribes across South America chewed coca leaves or brewed them in tea to provide a mild stimulating feeling. Natives to this area consider the plant sacred and use it for pain, fatigue and altitude sickness.  The coca plant in its natural form is generally considered safe by these natives, but coca leaves are illegal in the United States. In order for cocaine to be produced, the coca plant must go through a sequence of chemical reactions, and then the cocaine can be extracted.

Interestingly, cocaine was included in the soft drink Coca-Cola, which is how the name originated. At the time Coca-Cola was created, cocaine was legal and the drink was advertised to cure headaches and fatigue. By 1929, when the negative effects of cocaine were better understood, it was removed from the Coca-Cola recipe.

What Does Cocaine Look Like?

The coca plant grows about eight feet in height. It has straight branches with green opaque leaves that are thin and have curved lines that extend from the center line of the leaf.

Cocaine itself is a white powdery substance that has a crystal-like texture. It is generally sold in small plastic baggies. Its physical appearance gives way to many of the street names associated with this drug.

Cocaine Slang

Some street names for cocaine include:

  • Snow
  • Flake
  • Coke
  • Blow
  • Soda cot

What Is Crack Cocaine?

Crack is cocaine that has been processed to produce a more solid rock-like substance. After the cocaine is mixed with water and baking soda and then heated, the solid form is removed from the liquid, dried and broken into smaller pieces.

Unlike cocaine, this formulation is usually smoked through a pipe. Smoking this form provides a quicker and more intense high.

What Does Crack Cocaine Look Like?

Crack is available as a small rock-like substance. Crack “rocks” may differ in size and shape and have a white to off-white color. It may have a hard and sharp texture. Like cocaine, this drug is usually sold in small plastic baggies.

Crack may be described as white or tan pellets or rocks. The way it looks influences the street names of this drug.

Crack Slang

Some street names for crack include:

  • Rock
  • Base
  • Smack
  • Badrock
  • Snow coke

Difference Between Crack and Cocaine

Cocaine is extracted from coca leaves, and crack must be processed further to be produced. The main difference between crack and cocaine is the way they are ingested. These different modes of ingestion lead to different onset and intensity of effects.

Methods of Use

Cocaine is typically snorted through the nose or rubbed onto the gums. Some people inject this substance into the bloodstream. Crack, which is derived from cocaine, is usually smoked.  Cocaine, when snorted, enters a person’s bloodstream through the linings of the nasal interior. Although the effects of cocaine are felt fairly quickly, crack has a faster onset of action because its vapors are inhaled directly into the lungs.

However, cocaine may be injected directly into the bloodstream, producing an immediate effect. Some people mix cocaine and heroin and inject the mixture. This dangerous combination is known as speedball.

Side Effects

Cocaine and crack are associated with various side effects, some of which are life-threatening. These adverse effects include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Dilated pupils
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Inclined to violent actions

Because of the route of administration, side effects unique to cocaine include runny nose, loss of smell, nosebleeds and difficulty swallowing. Smoking crack is associated with respiratory side effects like cough, asthma, respiratory distress and increased risk of respiratory infections.

Overdose Risk

The risk of overdose when using cocaine and crack is high and can occur after only one use. Many individuals who use these drugs may combine them with alcohol or heroin, which dramatically increases the risk of overdose.

Cocaine, including crack, is one of the deadliest drugs available and was responsible for 21.2% of overdose drug deaths in 2021. Crack is more likely to cause an overdose because larger quantities are generally consumed when inhaling the vapors.  Symptoms of cocaine overdose include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased body temperature
  • Hallucinations
  • Extreme agitation
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Heart attack
  • Seizures
  • Stroke

If an overdose of cocaine is suspected, 911 should be contacted immediately. There is no antidote available for cocaine overdose; however, emergency healthcare workers attempt to prevent death by reestablishing blood flow to the heart and oxygen to the brain. If the person is having a seizure, medication can be administered to stop or control the seizure.

Additives and Cutting Agents

In order to make more money from selling drugs, dealers often mix or “cut” cocaine and crack with other substances. Some of these ingredients may be relatively harmless, like cornstarch or flour, but dangerous substances like amphetamines or fentanyl are sometimes used.

Fentanyl is a deadly substance that only requires small amounts to be fatal. Amphetamines, which are also stimulants, provide an added effect when mixed with cocaine and crack. This increases the likelihood of dangerous outcomes like heart attack, stroke and cardiac arrest. Ephedrine and caffeine are also stimulants that are cut with cocaine, and both of these can also contribute to these life-threatening consequences.

Onset of Action and Half-Life

Although they both have a relatively fast onset of action, the effects of crack are felt much more quickly. The high from crack may be felt as soon as eight seconds after inhalation and lasts approximately 15 minutes.

Cocaine takes about three to five minutes to kick in and the high lasts about 15 to 30 minutes.

Abuse and Addiction Rates

Cocaine and crack are both highly addictive. Because they increase the levels of dopamine in the brain, which causes euphoric effects, higher and more frequent doses of the drugs are required to produce the same results as someone continues using the drug. Here are a few statistics regarding cocaine and crack addiction:


The street value of crack and cocaine are slightly different. Cocaine is sold as a powder in grams, and price can range from $50 to $90 for one gram, depending on purity.

Crack is sold in rock form and can cost between $10 and $20 per rock. The cost of a vial of crack can range between $20 to $50. These prices may depend on location and can fluctuate.

Criminal Penalties for Possession, Distribution & Trafficking

Penalties for possession of crack or cocaine vary from state to state and are usually left to judicial discretion. In Colorado, the sale of cocaine can lead to a maximum of 32 years in prison and a $1 million fine. Depending on the amount of drug a person has, possession charges could lead to one year in prison and fines up to $500,000.

On a federal level, there was a historically disproportionate punishment between crack and cocaine — The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 required the same mandatory prison sentence for higher amounts of cocaine than crack. For example, a mandatory 10-year prison sentence was given for 50 grams of crack, but the same same prison time was involved with 5000 grams of cocaine. In an attempt to correct this disparity, The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 increased the amount of crack to 280 grams for the 10-year prison sentence. This law also removed the 5-year mandatory minimum prison time for simple possession of crack. The First Step Act of 2018 allowed the previous law to be retroactive.

Is Crack More Addictive Than Cocaine?

Although both drugs are highly addictive, crack has a higher risk for abuse because of its quicker onset and shorter duration of action. This requires more of the drug to produce the same effect, therefore making it more addictive. When a person inhales the vapors from crack, that individual is receiving a larger dose and a more intense effect than a person who is snorting cocaine.

In The United States in 2006, crack cocaine was the main drug of abuse in 178,475 admissions for treatment, and it accounted for 71% of all primary cocaine admissions for treatment that year.

Cocaine and Crack Addiction

Cocaine and crack can cause addiction after a single use, due to the release of dopamine. As more dopamine is released, causing a strong sense of euphoria, the person becomes less sensitive to normal dopamine levels.

People report trying to achieve the same pleasurable high they did from their first time using cocaine or crack, but they are not able to. This leads them to take higher doses, increasing their tolerance and therefore their risk of overdose. It is also common for people who use cocaine to binge, meaning they continuously take the drug at high doses over the course of many hours or days.

Signs of Abuse

Signs and symptoms associated with cocaine and crack abuse include:

  • Severe mood swings
  • Extreme anger
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Stealing
  • Decrease in personal hygiene and appearance
  • Absence from work or school

Withdrawal Symptoms & Timeline

The most significant concern with withdrawal from cocaine and crack is depression and suicidal thoughts. Withdrawal from stimulants does not usually involve physical symptoms.

Aside from severe depression, crack and cocaine withdrawal symptoms include the inability to sleep, slowed thinking, paranoia, increased appetite and fatigue. These symptoms can occur even if cocaine or crack are still present in the blood. Symptoms begin within 24 hours of the last use and can last 3–5 days.

Detox is the process of the drug being removed from the body. When it comes to crack and cocaine, medications are usually not administered during this process. It is critical, however, that a person dealing with withdrawal from these drugs is monitored under the care of licensed medical professionals to watch for signs of suicidal tendencies, seizures and cardiac issues, and to ensure the individual is sufficiently hydrated.

Addiction Treatment Options

The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake is an accredited facility, comprised of skilled and experienced healthcare professionals who can assist you on your path to recovery, including detox. Once detox is complete, in consultation with our staff, you may be a candidate for inpatient treatment, partial hospitalization, or outpatient treatment. Inpatient and partial hospitalization involve living onsite.

Whether you are receiving inpatient care or not, you will receive individual and group therapy. Treatment for related depression or anxiety disorders are also available. There are many amenities at our facility, including:

  • Heated swimming pool
  • Fully equipped exercise gym
  • Basketball court
  • Sand volleyball court
  • Yoga therapy
  • Walking trails
  • Mountain views


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