Although cocaine is often associated with use during the 1970s and 1980s, it is one of the oldest known drugs. Despite cocaine’s popularity, starting in the late 1970s its price plummeted. To keep making profits, drug dealers came up with a new way to process and sell the drug. The result was an enormously popular form of the drug that could be smoked, unlike regular powdered cocaine, called crack.
What Is Crack?
Crack cocaine, also known as crack coke, freebase crack and base crack is a potent type of cocaine. Crack is formed when cocaine goes through extra processing with baking soda or ammonia. Normal cocaine has a molecule of hydrochloride, or HCl, attached to it. By processing cocaine with these chemicals, the HCl is removed from the cocaine.
This process turns the cocaine into crack, a stronger form that resembles a rock. The crack cocaine rocks can then be heated and smoked. This type of cocaine got the name crack because of the cracking sound the crack rock drug makes when heated before it’s smoked.
Methods of Use
Crack cocaine can be used in different ways: smoking, snorting and injecting the drug. Taking the drug in different ways can lead to different kinds of highs and even different risks. However, the most common way people use crack is by smoking it.
Methods of Use
- Smoking Crack Cocaine
Most crack users smoke crack. The chemicals in regular cocaine break down when heated. However, due to the extra processing, crack acts differently when it’s heated. Crack will melt at a lower temperature than normal cocaine. So, unlike powdered cocaine, you can smoke crack. When crack is heated, smoked and inhaled, it reaches the brain faster than if it is snorted or injected. A high from smoking crack can start almost right away and last for about 15 minutes.
- Snorting Crack
While most powdered cocaine is snorted, only about 20% of crack users snort the drug. Although you can snort crack, one of the reasons that snorting cocaine is not as popular as smoking it is that getting high from snorting it takes longer than smoking it. In addition, snorting crack leads to a less intense high than smoking it.
- Injecting Crack
Although you can inject crack, people who want to get high from crack are more likely to smoke it. However, some crack users will dissolve and inject the drug, especially if they are using it with other types of illicit substances. For example, crack injections with opioids like heroin is known as speedballing or powerballing. The opioid of choice and the crack are often injected at the same time, even in the same syringe. In theory, the mixture leads to a more potent high and prevents a crash when the crack wears off. However, in practice, speedballing is very dangerous and has led to the deaths of many people who have accidentally used too much heroin.
What is Crack Cut With
Powdered cocaine and crack are both cut with many of the same adulterants. Overall, though, crack is purer than powdered cocaine. Crack is often 75% to 100% pure. However, any added impurities can be dangerous. Sometimes the additives are toxic substances, like insecticides. Other times, they are potentially lethal drugs in their own right, like fentanyl. Often, drugs are cut with other substances either to bulk them up with cheaper products that look like cocaine or to enhance the high. Common adulterants for crack and powdered cocaine include:
- Benzocaine, an anesthetic
- Boric acid, an inexpensive bug killer
- Caffeine, an inexpensive stimulant
- Creatine, a health supplement
- Diltiazem, a blood pressure drug
- Dimethyl terephthalate, a plastic additive
- Fentanyl, an inexpensive and potent opioid
- Hydroxyzine, an antihistamine
- Lidocaine, an anesthetic
- Procaine, an anesthetic
- Sugars, inexpensive food additives
What Does Crack Look Like?
While most cocaine comes as a white powder, crack cocaine looks like small chunky rocks. The color of crack rocks can range from yellow to a yellowish-white. Crack rocks look like small pieces of rock that weigh no more than a few tenths of a gram each.
What does Crack Paraphernalia Look Like?
Crack cocaine paraphernalia includes items to heat and smoke the drug. These items are often common objects that can be found around the house. Items that can be used to heat the drug include:
- Burned spoons
- Empty old lightbulbs
- Tinfoil or cans
- Pipes, often with burn marks. Some crack pipes look like regular pipes, while others are just the pipe stem.
Other household items that can be used to use the drug are:
- Small mirrors
- Short rolled-up items like straws or rolled-up dollar bills
- Razor blades
Street Names for Crack
Many crack cocaine slang names exist. These crack cocaine street names may vary depending on the area. These street names include:
- Ball, or 8 ball of crack
- Crunch & munch
- Devil drug
- Electric kool-aid
- Fat bags
- French fries
- Hard ball
- Hard rock
- Ice cube
- Jelly beans
- Prime time
- Rock, or Rocks
- Snow coke
Crack Side Effects
Most side effects of crack are similar to those of powdered cocaine. However, because crack is usually smoked, it can have additional breathing-related side effects.
The physical effects of crack cocaine are similar to those of powdered cocaine. Side effects can include:
- Narrow blood vessels
- High body temperature
- Enlarged pupils
- Muscle twitches
- Fast heart rate
- High blood pressure
- Heart attack
- Cardiac arrest
Breathing-related crack cocaine physical effects are more common with crack than powdered cocaine. Side effects of smoking crack include:
- Feeling short of breath
- Lung bleeding
- Damage to the lungs
Crack cocaine use is known to cause mood changes in many people. Some of these changes can be mild, such as agitation or restlessness, while some can be severe, like psychosis. Severe crack cocaine mental effects are common. More than 80% of people have symptoms of paranoia after using the drug. Doctors think this happens because crack causes an increase in brain chemicals like:
Psychiatric effects of crack cocaine and powdered cocaine are very similar. These include:
- Being extremely happy
- Having excess energy
- Being much more alert than normal
- Being irritable
- Being paranoid
Effects on Unborn Baby
When a woman is pregnant, the substances she takes are often shared with the baby she carries. For this reason, smoking crack while pregnant can cause major health problems for both the pregnant mother and baby. Effects of smoking crack while pregnant include:
- High blood pressure in the mother
- Heart attack or stroke in the mother
- The detachment of the placenta
- Miscarriage or stillbirth of the baby
- Early birth
- Abnormally low birth weight
One of crack’s major side effects is that it causes blood vessels to narrow. Since a baby relies on its mother’s blood vessels to provide oxygen and nutrients, blood vessel problems can be dangerous. What happens if you smoke crack while pregnant is that babies may not get enough nutrients. If the baby survives, they may still have a lifelong impact from cocaine use. Babies born to mothers on cocaine are more likely to have birth defects or brain problems than other babies.
How Long Does Crack Stay in Your System?
- Your metabolism
- How much of the drug you use
- How often you use the drug
In addition, estimates of how long crack will show up in your body depends on what is being tested. Because crack cocaine stays in your urine for days, urine tests are among the most common. Conversely, because crack cocaine stays in your blood for only a short period, crack cocaine blood tests are less common. How long crack cocaine stays in your system varies from person to person, but some general guidelines are:
- Blood: six hours
- Urine: two to three days
- Sweat: two to three days
- Hair: up to 10 months
- Breastmilk: until expressed. The unique chemistry of cocaine, including crack, means that it does not leave breast milk on its own. Instead, it stays trapped in breast milk until it is expressed. Because of this aspect, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends not breastfeeding while using crack.
Even inhaling secondhand crack smoke, may result in small amounts of cocaine being trapped in a person’s body. Studies have shown these amounts are small and are not enough to show up on most urine tests. However, crack will often show up on hair tests even if you were only exposed secondhand.
Is Crack Addictive?
Crack cocaine is an addictive substance. Because crack is more potent than powdered cocaine, research shows it may be even more addictive. In addition, because a high from crack does not last very long, people need to repeatedly smoke it in order to maintain a high. This pattern of use increases the risk of addiction and overdose. Signs of crack addiction include:
- Signs of Crack Addiction
Eating less than normal
Being tired and sad
Having poor hygiene
Having a cough from smoking crack or other drugs
Nosebleeds or sniffing from snorting crack or other drugs
Track marks from injecting crack cocaine or other drugs
Feeling very happy
Having a lot of energy
Being a lot more alert than usual
Negative and aggressive mood
The risk of overdose also increasing with crack addiction and can lead to detrimental health effects including heart attack, brain damage and organ failure. Things to look for in the event of a crack overdose are clammy skin, vomiting, violent behavior, scratching the skin and coma.
Unpleasant withdrawal symptoms such as restlessness, low mood and scary dreams often cause people to continue using the drug to avoid crack withdrawal. Even with the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms of crack it’s important to seek help when symptoms of crack addiction begin to settle in.
If you or a loved one struggle with crack addiction, contact The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health to speak with a representative about how treatment can help. Take the first step toward a healthier future by calling today.
U.S. Department of Justice National Drug Intelligence Center. “Crack Cocaine Fast Facts.” Accessed July 13, 2019.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Drugs of Abuse Home Use Test.” September 27, 2019. Accessed July 13, 2019.
Cone, EJ; et al. “Passive Inhalation of Cocaine.” Journal of Analytical Toxicology, October 1995. Accessed July 13, 2019.
Huestis, MA; et al.”Cocaine and Metabolites Urinary Excretion after Controlled Smoked Administration.” Journal of Analytical Toxicology, October 2007. Accessed July 13, 2019.
Henderson, GL; Harkey, MR; Jones, R. “Hair Analysis for Drugs of Abuse.” September 1993. Accessed July 13, 2019.
Drug Enforcement Agency. “How to Identify Drug Paraphernalia.” June 28, 2017. Accessed July 13, 2019.
D’Apolito, K. “Breastfeeding and Substance Abuse.” Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology, March 2013. Accessed July 13, 2019.
American Academy of Pediatrics. “Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk.” March 2012. Accessed July 13, 2019.
Drug Enforcement Agency. “Drugs of Abuse.” June 16, 2017. Accessed July 13, 2019.
Bellum, S. “Let’s Talk: First Impressions.” National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens, February 4, 2010. Accessed July 13, 2019.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “The Neurobiology of Drug Addiction.” January 2007. Accessed July 13, 2019.
Kiluk, BD; Babuscio, TA; Nich, C; Carroll, KM. “Smokers Versus Snorters: Do Treatment Outcomes Differ According to Route of Cocaine Administration?” Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, December 2013. Accessed July 13, 2019.
University of Arizona. “Cocaine Overview: Chemistry.” Accessed July 13, 2019.
BBC News. “Full List of Impurities Found in Cocaine.” Accessed July 13, 2019.
Foundation for a Drug-Free World. “What is Crack Cocaine?” Accessed July 13, 2019.
Foundation for a Drug-Free World. “Crack Cocaine: a Short History.” Accessed July 13, 2019.
Center for Substance Abuse Research. “Crack Cocaine.” October 29, 2013. Accessed July 13, 2019.
Morton, WA. “Cocaine and Psychiatric Symptoms.” The Primary Care Companion, August 1999. Accessed July 13, 2019.
Cain, MA; Bornick, P; Whiteman, V. “The Maternal, Fetal, and Neonatal Effects of Cocaine Exposure in Pregnancy.” Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology, March 2013. Accessed July 13, 2019.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village 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.