Yes. Cocaine has two main forms, and one of them is smokable. The smokable form is “cocaine base” and has a low melting point that allows it to be smoked.
Cocaine base is commonly known as “crack,” or “rock.”
Cocaine hydrochloride is the chemical name of the form that cannot be smoked. Cocaine hydrochloride can be snorted or dissolved into a liquid for injection, but its boiling point is too high for smoking. Street names for cocaine hydrochloride are “blow,” “snow,” “nose candy,” or “yayo.”
Despite common myths, cocaine base (crack) and cocaine hydrochloride (coke) is the same drug. Once in the body, both impact the brain and body the same. That said, the route of delivery makes a difference.
Cocaine base is more addictive than cocaine hydrochloride, and there are two reasons for this:
- Cocaine base reaches the brain faster than cocaine hydrochloride — a few seconds compared to between one and five minutes. Cocaine base peaks in three minutes, where it takes cocaine hydrochloride fourteen minutes to do the same.
- More of cocaine base is absorbed with each dose — about 70%. Only about 20-60% is absorbed from snorting cocaine hydrochloride.
So the differences between “blow” and “crack” are only how long each takes to start working. This time difference appears to be critical to the development of addiction. These differences help explain why studies show smoking cocaine base as more addictive than cocaine hydrochloride.
How Do People Smoke Cocaine?
To smoke cocaine, it must be in the correct form. Cocaine base (i.e., freebase cocaine) vaporizes at about 80 °C (176 °F).
In contrast, cocaine hydrochloride must be heated to 180 °C (356 °F) to vaporize. At these temperatures, the heat will break down and destroy cocaine.
Cocaine base is usually smoked in pipes made of metal or glass. Naphthalene (cigarette) lighters are used to smoke crack. Butane torch lighters are not needed.
Effects of Smoking Cocaine
Smoking cocaine will cause effects similar to snorting or injecting it. In addition to the effects of the drug itself, smoking cocaine will cause extra damage to the lungs, sinus, and oral tissue.
The heightened addiction potential of cocaine base versus cocaine hydrochloride can also increase harm in indirect ways. Addiction causes negative impacts on health, finances, relationships, and occupation. Since smokable cocaine has a higher chance of addiction, these effects are more like than if someone uses cocaine hydrochloride.
Effects on a person’s body may include:
- Physical Effects of Smoking Cocaine
Constricted (tightened) blood vessels
Dilated (larger than normal) pupils
Fast or irregular Heartbeat
Higher body temperature
Higher Risk of Infection
Tremors and muscle twitching
Effects of the mental state of a person may include:
- Psychological Effects of Smoking Cocaine
Euphoria (extreme happiness or pleasure)
Hypersensitivity to light, sound, and touch
Effects on how someone behaves around others and in social settings can include:
- Behavioral Effects of Smoking Cocaine
Paranoia, irrational distrust of others
Dangers Of Smoking Cocaine
Smoking cocaine base has some unique dangers that do not happen when one snorts the drug. The risk of cocaine addiction is higher when smoked, but it also has unique side effects.
One of the processes to make cocaine base involves using ether as a solvent. Sometimes ether is left in the mixture and can cause burns when people try to smoke it. Ether is very volatile and flammable.
Also, pipes used to smoke cocaine tend to be small and harder to hold, leading to burns on the fingers and hand. Since cocaine is a numbing agent, a person may continue burning themselves without feeling it until later.
All forms of cocaine increase the risk of a stroke, which is permanent brain damage from a clot. Cocaine increases blood pressure, which makes clots more likely to form. It also narrows blood vessels (constriction), making a clot more likely to get stuck and prevent blood flow, leading to a stroke.
Cocaine, whether smoked, snorted, or injected, significantly increases the risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.
Those who smoke cocaine have an increased incidence of cough, asthma, and infection.
Since a higher ratio of cocaine is absorbed when smoked, the risk of overdose may be higher. Symptoms of overdose can include seizure, stroke, abnormally high body temperature, and heart attack.
Dealers often add bulking agents to increase the perceived weight and quantity of cocaine. Smokable cocaine has many of the same additives as cocaine hydrochloride, including atropine, benzocaine, caffeine, diltiazem, lignocaine, and levamisole.
Dealers choose their additives based on how similar it looks to cocaine and how cheap it is, not how healthy it is. Additives are unpredictable and often cause serious adverse events.
If you or someone you know is smoking cocaine, the risk of addiction is very high. The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health can offer support for those struggling with substance use problems. Please call for more information.
Ciccarone, Daniel. “Stimulant Abuse: Pharmacology, Cocaine, Methamphetamine, Treatment, Attempts at Pharmacotherapy.” 2011. Accessed October 1, 2019.
EMCDDA. “Cocaine / Crack Profile.” Europa.Eu, 2010. Accessed 1 Oct. 2019.
MethOIDE. “Cocaine Overview.” 2019. Accessed October 1, 2019.
MethOIDE. “Cocaine Pharmacology.” 2019. Accessed October 1, 2019.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Snorting vs Smoking Cocaine: Different Addictive Liabilities.” Drugabuse.Gov, 2019. Accessed October 1, 2019.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Cocaine.” Drugabuse.Gov, 2019. Accessed October 1, 2019.
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