Cocaine — sometimes called coke — is a stimulant drug made from the South American coca plant. Crack is cocaine that has been processed into a rock-like form with baking soda or ammonia. Both are powerful stimulants that are highly addictive. Because the two drugs are so similar, many people get confused about the differences between crack vs. cocaine. These differences lie mainly in the ways people prepare and use the two drugs.
Cocaine first became a part of American culture in the 1880s, when a pharmacist created the original form of Coca-Cola, a mixture of cocaine and syrup. In the early 20th century it was used in tonics and other preparations to treat different ailments and subsequently became a popular recreational drug. Despite a ban in 1914, Americans continued to misuse cocaine. Today, cocaine is classified as a Schedule II drug, meaning it has a high potential for abuse and dependence, but it does continue to have some medicinal use as a local anesthetic.
Crack, on the other hand, has only been around since the 1970s. It became extremely popular in the 1980s, particularly in urban areas. Not only is it stronger and more addictive than pure cocaine, but it’s also less expensive to acquire. This lower cost has led to increased access to and more widespread usage of crack, particularly in lower-income communities.
Is Crack and Cocaine the Same Thing?
Crack and cocaine are similar pharmacologically because crack is derived from cocaine. Both are stimulant drugs. Cocaine is a white powder derived from the coca plant’s dried leaves. Crack cocaine is made by heating cocaine powder mixed with other substances, which is then broken down into smaller crystallized pieces or rocks. When someone uses either crack or cocaine, since they are stimulants, they both speed up the functions of the central nervous system, creating a euphoric rush.
Crack Rock vs. Cocaine Powder
Crack cocaine is a drug made by cooking cocaine powder with water and ammonia or baking soda. Then, it’s broken into small chunks or rocks. Crack cocaine can then be smoked, and its name comes from the crackling it makes when heated and smoked. Both crack and cocaine are highly addictive and create a fast and intense stimulant-driven high; however, addiction occurs more quickly when the drug is smoked as crack compared to when it is snorted as coke.
One of the biggest differences you’ll notice when comparing crack cocaine vs.powder cocaine is the appearance. Pure cocaine comes in a fine white powder form. Crack is white or off-white (tan), but the big difference between crack and cocaine is that crack comes in rock form rather than powder. The rocks form when the cocaine powder is added to a mixture of water, ammonia, or baking soda and then boiled. Crack rocks or pellets come in different shapes and sizes.
When you purchase cocaine or crack from the street, it’s not pure. Many dealers add small amounts of other white powders, like cornstarch or talcum powder, to make more money.
Length of Effects
When crack cocaine is smoked, the onset of effect is quicker, but the high does not last as long. The high an individual receives when smoking crack is almost immediate and lasts for five to ten minutes. This short duration of action can lead to people engaging in cycles of binging to maintain the high. The onset of action for cocaine is a little bit longer, but the effects last longer, approximately 15 to 30 minutes.
Effects on the Brain and Body
The effects of cocaine on the brain stem from the drug’s ability to increase dopamine in brain circuits. Dopamine is a natural chemical messenger that provides euphoric feelings, and cocaine prevents dopamine from being recycled, so large amounts build up in the brain. The use of cocaine or its free-base form, crack cocaine, can produce both long and short-term effects.
Short-term effects include:
Effects from long-term use include:
- Tears and ulcerations in the gastrointestinal tract
- Weight loss and malnourishment
- Chest pain
- Increased risk of stroke
- Increased risk of adverse cardiovascular events
- Bleeding in the brain
- Parkinson’s disease
- Memory loss
- Psychosis including hallucinations
- Loss of smell, nosebleeds, difficulty swallowing, inflamed nasal passages (with snorting)
- Lung damage (with smoking)
Most people who use cocaine do so by snorting it through their nasal passages or inhaling it from smoking. Less often, someone might take cocaine by:
- Putting the powder into a cigarette or joint and smoking it
- Rubbing the powder on the gums or inside the mouth
- Injecting it into the veins after dissolving cocaine in water
- Oral ingestion
How Addictive Are Cocaine and Crack Cocaine?
Cocaine and crack cocaine are very addicting. Because the high from these drugs do not last long, those who use them need even more to get high and quickly build up a tolerance as time passes.This is especially true with crack, which provides a quicker high, so it tends to be even more habit-forming As a person begins using more of the drug, they are at greater risk for developing severe psychological problems, including addiction.
Dangers of Mixing Crack & Cocaine
If someone were to mix crack and cocaine, since they both affect the brain and body in almost the same ways, it would put them at an increased risk for an overdose. A cocaine overdose can lead to:
- Severe hypertension
- Acute coronary syndrome
- Tachycardia (heart rate over 100 beats per minute)
- Acute heart failure
- Kidney and liver damage
- Life-threatening heart arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythms)
- Delirium and psychosis
Signs of Crack and Cocaine Addiction
Addiction, also called a substance use disorder, is a complex condition. The condition is characterized by compulsive use of the substance even when there are negative consequences associated with its use. Someone who has a substance use disorder has problems functioning in their daily life. If a person is addicted to crack or cocaine, they may have distorted behaviors and thinking. Addiction to cocaine can alter the brain and affect areas of the brain that control:
- Motor control (movement)
- Behavioral control
Signs of addiction can include:
- Changes in sleeping or eating patterns
- Sudden mood swings
- Angry outbursts
- Extreme irritability
- Periods of unusual agitation or hyperactivity
- Lack of motivation
- Bloodshot eyes
- Sudden weight loss
- Deterioration in physical appearance
- Impaired coordination
- Sudden changes in friends or activities
- Continuing to use crack or cocaine even though it causes relationship problems
- Declining performance at school or work
- Sudden changes in attitude or personality
- Using crack or cocaine in dangerous situations, like while driving
- Legal or financial problems
Legal Differences in Crack vs. Cocaine
While crack and cocaine are both banned for recreational use in the United States, they don’t always have the same legal impact. In the past, sentencing for crack vs. cocaine was often controversial because people who used crack almost always received harsher sentences than those who used cocaine. However, there is insufficient evidence to support the idea that crack is substantially more dangerous than cocaine and therefore deserves an extreme disparity in penalty. The 2010 Fair Sentencing Act helped reduce the discrepancy between cocaine vs. crack laws. Today, federal drug penalties regarding crack vs. cocaine depend on numerous factors, such as:
- How much of the drug the person had in their possession at the time of the arrest
- Whether it’s a first or second offense or the person has other previous offenses of a different nature
- If the drug contributed to the death or serious injury to others
Crack and Cocaine Addiction Treatment in Florida
The sooner a person struggling with a crack or cocaine addiction is ready to stop, the better. Both crack addiction treatment and cocaine addiction treatment are best handled through programs in inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation facilities. Professionals can help the person with addiction get through the often painful and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and begin therapy for both the body and mind. Treatment programs for crack and cocaine addiction might include:
- Medical detox: This is many people’s first part of addiction treatment. They receive care for cocaine or crack withdrawal symptoms in a safe and supportive environment. There is 24-hour support from a clinical team.
- Inpatient rehab: Also known as residential treatment, this high level of care offers a supportive environment where a person receives behavioral treatments and therapies, medication-assisted treatment if needed, and psychiatric care for co-occurring mental health disorders.
- Partial hospitalization programming: PHPs are something a person might participate in after completing a residential rehab program. There’s a high level of accountability and structure, but someone in a PHP can also take on more independence as they explore their life in recovery.
- Intensive outpatient programming: IOPs are a way for someone to take more steps toward independence but in a supported way. An IOP includes a connection to counseling and medical care providers, and these programs prepare someone to transition back to their daily life in recovery.
- Outpatient rehab: If a person has a less severe addiction or is mentally and physically stable with a substance-free home environment, they might participate in an outpatient treatment program. Outpatient rehab offers more flexibility than other levels of care.
- Teletherapy: Online and teletherapy treatment options are available for people who are struggling with substance misuse and co-occurring mental health disorders. PHP and IOP levels of care and outpatient treatment qualify for online substance abuse treatment at our facility.
- Aftercare: The recovery journey is lifelong, supported by careful, individualized aftercare planning, including connections to local resources and plans for follow-up appointments.
If you or a loved one is living with a crack or cocaine addiction, call The Recovery Village at Baptist Health to learn more about treatment options.
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Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health 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.