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What Is Freebasing Cocaine?

Written by Rob Alston

& Medically Reviewed by Dr. Conor Sheehy, PharmD, BCPS, CACP

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Last Updated - 12/29/2022

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Updated 12/29/2022

People start smoking cocaine because it gives them an immediate rush and feelings of pleasure. This quickness makes the drug very addictive.

Freebasing cocaine is the process of creating a form of cocaine that can be smoked rather than snorted or injected. Cocaine freebase is more commonly called “crack.”

Cocaine comes in two main forms: cocaine hydrochloride and cocaine base (or freebase).

When someone thinks of “coke,” “blow,” or “yayo,” they are thinking of cocaine hydrochloride. Cocaine hydrochloride (HCl) is the water-soluble form of cocaine that can absorb into the sinus cavities and dissolve into water for injection. Cocaine HCl cannot be smoked because it vaporizes at a temperature that will also destroy the drug. The boiling point of cocaine HCl is 180 °C (356 °F).

Freebase cocaine has a much lower boiling point at 80 °C (176 °F). Cocaine freebase can be easily heated into smoke by using a glass or metal pipe and a normal cigarette lighter. Once converted to cocaine base, it can no longer dissolve in water and cannot be snorted through the nostrils.

Why Freebase Cocaine Is Abused

When someone knows how to freebase cocaine, they are converting cocaine HCl to cocaine freebase. They are not changing the drug, but merely the route of ingestion. Cocaine freebase has all the same desired effects of cocaine HCl but works more quickly.

Snorting cocaine HCl produces desired effects in about one to five minutes — taking about fourteen minutes to peak on average.

In comparison, people smoke cocaine freebase because it works in a few seconds, peaking in about three minutes.

Effects of Freebase Cocaine

Both forms of cocaine cause the same impacts on the body and mind. However, cocaine freebase will cause extra damage to respiratory tissue. A person can expect higher rates of lung infections, asthma, and coughing.

Research has shown that cocaine freebase is more addictive than cocaine HCl. The difference in addictive potential seems to be related to how quickly freebase works. The almost immediate rush greatly increases the risk of addiction.

Physical Effects

Freebase causes physical changes that can be measured or seen by others. The most common side effects are faster heartbeat and dilated pupils. As the dose increases, other physical effects include:

  • Asthma Constricted (tightened) blood vessels
  • Coughing Dilated (larger than normal) pupils
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Higher body temperature
  • Higher risk of infection
  • Nausea
  • Tremors and muscle twitching

Psychological Effects

Psychological effects are those that impact how a person feels when they use the drug. Freebase can make thoughts more rapid and increase the sensitivity of the senses. Other effects include:

  • Euphoria (extreme happiness or pleasure)
  • Extreme energy
  • Hypersensitivity to light, sound, and touch
  • Irritability
  • Mental alertness

Behavioral Effects

Freebase won’t change someone’s behavior at first, but over time other people may notice changes in personality like:

  • Addiction
  • Paranoia, irrational distrust of others
  • Restlessness

Dangers of Freebase Cocaine

All cocaine is harmful to health, regardless of whether the form is cocaine HCl or cocaine freebase. However, freebase has unique dangers like increased addiction and damage to the lungs.

Since freebase is smoked, the risk of burns and physical harms is high. Sometimes chemicals like ether are left in the process of creating cocaine freebase and they can combust and cause burns when someone smokes the drug.

Cocaine Addiction

Despite being the same drug, smoking freebase is more addictive than snorting cocaine HCl. Smoking delivers the drug to brain cells faster than snorting, and the addictive potential is extremely high. Cocaine addiction leads to problems with work or school, as well as finances and interpersonal relationships.

Cocaine Overdose

Smoking freebase may also increase the risk of overdose because more of the drug is absorbed into the body with each dose. About 20-60% of cocaine HCl is absorbed per dose, whereas an alarming 70% of freebase is absorbed.

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Other Health Problems

Freebase increases the risk of asthma and other lung problems. Freebase also damages the defense system of lung cells that stop infections. Therefore, the risk of infection is increased.

If you or someone you know is smoking cocaine, please call The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health. Cocaine is addictive no matter the form, but freebase is extremely potent and addictive. Call Contact us to learn about treatment options and start the journey to recovery.

View Sources

Ciccarone, Daniel. “Stimulant Abuse: Pharmacology, Cocaine, Methamphetamine, Treatment, Attempts at Pharmacotherapy.”  2011. Accessed October 4, 2019.

MethOIDE. “Cocaine Overview.” 2019. Accessed October 4, 2019.

MethOIDE. “Cocaine Pharmacology.” 2019. Accessed October 4, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Snorting vs Smoking Cocaine: Different Addictive Liabilities.” Drugabuse.Gov, 2019. Accessed October 4, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Cocaine.” Drugabuse.Gov, 2019. Accessed October 4, 2019.

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