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Article Summary

Crack and Cocaine: What You Need to Know

Cocaine is a powerful addictive drug that could induce addiction from the first use. It is difficult to predict or control the extent to which you will continue to use the drug once you try it. Cocaine is usually taken through sniffing, snorting or injecting. Crack is the street name that is given to cocaine that has been processed for smoking purposes. While cocaine goes through a volatile processing method using ether, crack is processed using sodium bicarbonate or ammonia and water. It is heated to eliminate the hydrochloride. "Crack" is derived from the crackling sound it produces when smoked.

Major differences between crack and cocaine

As mentioned, crack is a derivative of cocaine and while cocaine has been in existence for a long time, crack is relatively newer. Cocaine often comes in the form of a white powder while crack is distributed as white crystal rocks, chunks or chips. Because of its affordability, crack has become more popular over the years. While the effects from smoking crack last for a shorter time, it is typically a purer substance and is even considered more dangerous and addictive.


It is important to note that crack and cocaine have similar euphoric effects; they include increased energy and mental clarity. These effects are more intense when the drug is absorbed fast. The effects of crack and cocaine are short-lived and are soon followed by what is known as a "coke crash" which includes depression, irritability and fatigue. When snorted, the high could last up to half a hour, while that from smoking crack could last 10 minutes. To prolong the high, users have to administer the drug again, which is why it is often abused repeatedly within a relatively short period at increasingly higher doses.

The negative, short-term effects of crack and cocaine include dilated pupils, constricting of the blood vessels, increased heart rate, temperature and blood pressure, insomnia, loss of appetite, restlessness, anxiety and irritability. High doses of the drug or prolonged abuse can trigger paranoia; crack is particularly associated with aggressive paranoid behavior.

Different methods of taking the drug produce diverse adverse effects. For instance, prolonged snorting could lead to ulcerations in the nasal mucous membrane, loss of smelling ability, nosebleeds, a chronically runny nose and hoarseness. Injecting cocaine can trigger serious allergic reactions and increase the possibility of contracting HIV/AIDS and other blood-related diseases. Crack and cocaine abusers might also experience severe paranoia in which they are unable to distinguish between what is real and what is not; they often experience auditory hallucinations.

Addiction and tolerance

Cocaine causes long-term alterations in the brain system, which ultimately leads to addiction. It creates chemical changes within the part of the brain that controls happiness, and triggers intense cravings for the drug. These effects are known to remain even after the individual stops using it. In addition, with repeated use, cocaine users develop tolerance to the desired effects; they do not achieve the same level of pleasure they did during their first exposure. As a result, some users increase their dose in an attempt to intensify the euphoric effect, but this also increases the risk of adverse physiological and psychological effects.

It is also worth noting that although tolerance may occur, users might also develop greater sensitivity to the drug's pain-killing and seizure-inducing effects even without increasing their dose. This may explain cocaine deaths that occur after what would be considered a low dose. In addiction crack and cocaine abusers are at risk of acute cardiovascular emergencies including stroke or heart attack, and it could also lead to sudden death. Death from cocaine is often caused by seizure or cardiac arrest accompanied by respiratory arrest.


Recovery from cocaine addiction often begins with detoxification. Withdrawal symptoms could begin within a few hours and could last up to 7 days and include muscle tremors, severe headache and extreme hunger. Once detoxification is complete, the addict should enter a counseling program that is meant to help him or her understand the effects of crack or cocaine use, confront issues that may lead to its abuse and learn how to abstain from it.

Behavioral interventions including cognitive behavioral therapy have been found to be helpful in decreasing continued cocaine abuse and preventing relapse. However, treatment needs to be adjusted to the individual's needs so the outcome is optimized; this usually includes a combination of social support and other services.

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