Crack cocaine is a very addictive stimulant that produces intense highs in users. The drug was popularized in the U.S. in the 1980s during what became known as the crack epidemic. Because it is not very difficult or expensive to manufacture and delivers almost an immediate high to users, the drug is still abused by many, despite its addictiveness and the negative health consequences.
So what is crack, and exactly how is it different from cocaine? Well, in many instances both crack and cocaine are grouped together, as cocaine is the key ingredient needed to produce crack.
Cocaine, and consequently crack, are both made from Erythroxylon coca Lam, more commonly known as the coca leaf. Therefore both drugs are considered to be a form of cocaine: The water-soluble hydrochloride salt, which is generally called cocaine or coke, and the water-insoluble cocaine base (or freebase) form. This is what is known as crack cocaine, or simply as crack. However, despite their similarities, the two drugs have distinct differences in how they are ingested, how long before the user feels the effects, the duration of the high, and certain impacts on the body during and after use.
Crack street names
Street names: Freebase; Rock; snow 24-7; Crank; Flake; Rock; Soda Cot; candy; Raw; Ready Rock; Red Caps; RIP (Rest in Peace); Roca; Rock Attack; Rocks of Hell; Rocky III; Rooster; Rox; Roxanne; Roz; Schoolcraft; Scotty; Scramble; Scruples; Seven-Up; Sherms; Sight Ball; Slab; Sleet; Smoke; Speed Boat; Square Time Bomb; Stone; Sugar Block; Takeover (crack cocaine mixed with fentanyl); Teeth; Tension; Tissue; Top Gun; Troop; Ultimate; Up; Uzi; Wave; White Ball; White Ghost; White Sugar; White Tornado; Wrecking Crew; Yahoo; Yale; Yimyom
How is crack made?
We know that it is a form of cocaine, but exactly what is crack made from? The rock form of the drug is produced by combining powder cocaine and water with baking soda or ammonia. First, the cocaine powder is dissolved in the liquids. The mixture is then boiled until a hardened substance forms. The hardened solid is removed from the mixture, dried and broken up into pieces. These rock-like pieces may be sold or consumed as crack.
Cocaine and crack are produced from the coca leaf, which is primarily grown in the Andean region of South America. The top producers of the coca plant are Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. Interestingly, the coca leaf has a long history of being chewed or drank as a tea by some indigienious populations in the region. However, the coca leaf itself goes through several changes before being converted into cocaine or later into crack cocaine.
How cocaine is made
Because hydrochloride salt (cocaine) is used to make crack, it is relevant to understand exactly how the white powder is made before being ingested or turned into crack.
This process involves around seven or more steps, which may vary depending who is doing the production. Here is one common way cocaine is produced: Turning the coca leaf into cocaine involves first soaking the dried leaves in gasoline, draining the gasoline and adding sodium bicarbonate or ammonia to the mixture.The mixture is then filtered and dried to form the cocaine base. The cocaine base is reprocessed by dissolving the substance in hot water and ethyl acetate, acetone, or ether. Finally, several steps are taken to remove the solvents, resulting in the white powder known as cocaine.
Harmful cutting agents in cocaine
If you or a loved one abuses cocaine or crack, you are likely consuming more than just the stimulant itself. The majority of the cocaine that reaches the U.S. is already cut with other substances to increase profits for sellers. Dangerous substances may be combined with the powder to “cut” the drug. Unfortunately, this can come at a cost to the consumer. Cutting agents like caffeine, talc, cornstarch or flour may be used. However, it may also be cut with psychoactives including procaine, amphetamine and even fentanyl. These mixtures can be toxic and even deadly to the unknowing user.
How crack affects the body and the brain
Both crack and cocaine are powerful stimulants. This means they work by speeding up the activities of the brain and spinal cord, resulting in an increased heart rate and feelings of alertness. Some people have little desire to eat or sleep when using the drug.
When using crack, a person may experience a number of sensations as their synapse overloads on dopamine. The powerful and intense rush brought on by smoking the freebase form of cocaine occurs almost immediately. However, as the effects of the drug quickly wear off, users may crash. While using crack one may experience:
- Intense euphoric feelings
- Sped up heart rate
- Dilated pupils
Effects of using crack
Despite the intense and euphoric feelings while on the drug, people also regularly experience a number of adverse symptoms during and following use. Some of these symptoms can be unpleasant, while others are downright dangerous. Short-term crack use can cause overdose and even death, while long-term crack cocaine abuse can have a number of negative mental and physical health consequences.
Why is crack so addictive?
Although both are forms of the same drug, crack is viewed by many as a much more dangerous and addictive drug than cocaine. So exactly what is crack doing to users that causes them to become dependent so quickly?
Crack’s high highs and low lows
In part, this has to do with the way in which the crack is ingested. Because it is smoked, crack produces an almost immediate high. Users report experiencing a sense of pleasure and euphoria within seconds of smoking the drug.
Unfortunately, the high feeling goes away shortly after smoking is discontinued. Approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Moreover, it is replaced by a crash and feelings of depression and despair. In order to come back up from this crash, users will repeat the process, smoking several times in a short period of time. Many even go on binges. The intense and short-lived effects of the drug are considered to be important factors in developing dependence.
Is cocaine as addictive as crack?
Powder cocaine is ingested (snorted) through the nasal passage. The drug must pass through the circulatory system before reaching the brain. This means it can take several minutes before users begin to feel cocaine’s effects. Additionally, the high lasts longer. This is because cocaine enters the brain more slowly than it does when it is smoked in freebase form. Therefore, users don’t experience an immediate crash and, thus, don’t need to consume more cocaine as immediately to feel better.
However, this does not mean that cocaine is not addictive. To the contrary, cocaine is quite addictive, and many find themselves developing a substance use disorder involving the snorted powder. While not all users of cocaine become addicted, those who do can find the compulsion very difficult to break.
Cravings and dependance
Crack and cocaine users can quickly build up a tolerance and become dependent on the drugs. In essence, the original dose of the drug no longer produces as strong a high as it once did. As a result, many find themselves taking more and more of the drug to achieve the same feeling. For these reasons, both crack and cocaine are considered to be extremely addictive.
How is crack taken?
Unlike cocaine powder which is usually snorted or very occasionally injected, crack is smoked using a crack pipe. Ingesting the drug this way delivers large hits of the stimulant to the lungs. This is why the high feeling develops so quickly and intensely in crack users.
Unfortunately, there are also physical consequences of ingesting the drug this way. Many users develop burns and blisters on the lips. This is known as crack lip, which may heighten the likelihood of other infections. For instance, hepatitis C and HIV has been shown to be higher in crack users in some areas, which may be a result of sharing pipes.
Exactly what is crack doing to your brain when you are high?
When smoked, crack is ingested into the lungs and then quickly moves into the bloodstream. Once the drug makes its way to the brain, it acts upon an area called the ventral tegmental area (VTA). This is the same part of the brain where dopamine, the “happy molecule”, stays.
When dopamine is released in the brain, one experiences feelings of pleasure and happiness. Enjoyable activities normally cause this process to occur, influencing and reinforcing the pleasurable effects on our brains. Under normal circumstances, dopamine is released by the neuron that it is binded to. It then moves into the synapse– a gap between neurons–, and is again reabsorbed back into the original neuron it was released from. Unfortunately, crack interferes with dopamine’s normal processes, preventing its reabsorption back into the neuron that released it. This causes a buildup of dopamine in the synapse.
In simple terms, the buildup of the happy molecule causes intense and longer-lasting feelings of pleasure and euphoria. When using crack, the rush produced by the dopamine overload lasts for about 15 or 20 minutes. However, the drug can also cause some of the brain’s other receptors to shut down. In the long run, these receptors may become less and less sensitive to the effects of crack, requiring increasing amounts to feel the high.
Long-term effects of crack on the brain
So we know how the powerful stimulant works, but exactly what is crack doing to your brain in the long run? Long-term abuse of crack and cocaine can actually make changes to a person’s brain. Repeated use can transform the brain’s reward pathway, becoming less sensitive to natural reinforcers. At the same time, other parts of the brain may become more sensitive; specifically, the pathways involved in stress. The heightened sensitivity in this area of the brain may result in increased stress, bad moods and displeasure.
Unfortunately, stress is a major factor in causing relapses. A study involving monkeys provides further evidence for the link between stress and use of the stimulant. When previously exposed to the drug, subordinate monkeys were more likely to seek out cocaine in response to stress. The subordinate monkeys actually preferred cocaine over food, demonstrating how the stimulant and stress interplay. This may help us understand a bit more about the reinforcing effects of stress and crack cocaine dependence.
Research also offers evidence regarding the long-term effects of cocaine addiction on other areas of the brain. Cocaine abuse has been shown to reduce functioning in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). This is an area of the brain associated with decision-making and model-based behavioral control. The diminished functioning in this area could help to explain why we see poor decision-making and an inability to adapt behaviors despite the negative consequences of drug use in many crack and cocaine addicts.
Signs and Symptoms of Crack Addiction
While anyone can become addicted to either crack or cocaine, there are some groups or individuals who may have a higher risk of developing a substance use disorder. Experts agree that a mix of environmental and genetic factors can impact the likelihood of addiction. If you believe a loved one may be abusing crack, there are a number of signs and symptoms to look for. These include:
- Changes to appearance: Dilated pupils, weight loss from a suppressed appetite, muscle twitches, lip burns, nosebleeds and unkempt appearance may be indications of crack addiction.
- Changes in behavior: Mood swings, paranoia, aggression, hallucinations and even psychosis may be signs of a problem. Additionally, addicts may be secretive about their comings and goings, who they hang out with, and their personal spaces– such as their room, car, backpack or purse, as there may be drugs or paraphernalia kept there.
- Problems with relationships: Fights, disagreements and ending relationships with friends, family and one’s regular social circle are all common occurrences when a person is trying to hide drug abuse. You may also find yourself frequently having to apologize for or minimize your loved one’s inappropriate behaviors.
- Inability to keep up with responsibilities: Problems keeping up with commitments at work, school and home can be an indication of addiction. This may include the inability to keep a job, excessive absences and being fired, suspended or expelled.
- Health issues: Hypertension, dental issues, unexplained problems with health and feeling sick (while crashing) are common symptoms of addiction.
- Financial issues: Requests for money without appropriate explanations, always being broke, and missing or stolen money and objects may be indications that your loved one is spending significant amounts to maintain his or her habit.
What is crack withdrawal and how does it feel?
Withdrawal is a series of symptoms that occur after discontinuing the use of a drug that one has become dependent upon. Certain brain and the body functions and processes may have been temporarily or permanently altered as a result of continuous drug use. In fact, after developing physical dependence, the body may now need the drug in order to function. Once drug use is stopped, many experience a number of symptoms as their bodies readjust and purge the drug. These symptoms can be quite uncomfortable, painful, and even dangerous when withdrawal from certain drugs is not monitored by a professional.
There are several physiological and mental symptoms that may accompany withdrawal from crack. Withdrawal experiences vary depending on factors like age, level of dependency, frequency of use and other comorbid physical or mental conditions. For instance, a person who uses crack multiple times a day may expect for symptoms to set in more quickly than a less regular user.
Crack withdrawal symptoms
Withdrawal from crack cocaine can be especially difficult for some. Unfortunately, during the process many experience intense lows and extreme cravings in contrast to the euphoric highs while using. Symptoms may be especially unpleasant during the first few days as the drug leaves the body. The severity of symptoms can range from moderate to extremely intense or even unbearable. After about a week, symptoms may lessen. However, cravings can last for months, becoming less intense as time passes.
Crack withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Extreme cravings
- Nausea and vomiting
- The shakes
- Extreme exhaustion
- Restlessness and difficulty sleeping
- Depression or anxiety
- Thoughts of suicide
- Issues concentrating
- Muscle pain
5 reasons to seek treatment for crack addiction
If you believe that you or a loved one has an issue with crack, cocaine, or any other substance, it is important to get help. Given how addictive and even deadly the drug can be, you should consider treatment provided by trained professionals. Contact treatment centers to learn more about the options available.
If your loved one is struggling, inform yourself about addiction and encourage them to seek help. Here are a few reasons why treatment may be the right choice for you or your loved one:
1. A change of environment
For many, getting clean on their own can be especially daunting when surrounded by people, places and routines associated with drug use. A lot of addicts’ social circles and relationships are built around drug use. Being fully or partially removed from this environment during treatment can be quite helpful. Inpatient and intensive outpatient programs can provide this separation, giving you or your loved one the space to get sober.
2. Therapy, counseling and evidence-based approaches
Addiction goes far beyond the compulsion to use drugs. It affects a person’s entire life. This includes one’s mental, emotional and physical health. Many addicts have other issues including depression, anxiety and eating disorders. Evidence-based treatment programs address the addiction as well as any underlying mental health, relationship, and family issues. A strong rehab program will provide a space for the addict to work their own issues out and repair relationships through therapy, family counseling, medicine management and other crucial support services.
3. Learning how to deal with emotions, stress and triggers
Getting clean from crack cocaine is not easy. Beyond withdrawal symptoms, many find it difficult to deal with the emotions and stress they once numbed by getting high. Treatment helps addicts learn new and more effective ways of dealing with their emotions, stress, and difficulties. Rather than suppressing their feelings, one must learn healthier ways to cope as well as how to respond to triggers that might cause a relapse. Treatment teaches addicts more effective and healthy responses to dealing with life’s challenges while providing life skills training.
4. Rehab provides a structured supportive environment
Going at it alone can be scary, overwhelming and intimidating for addicts seeking to get clean.The structure and support of a treatment program can be quite helpful as one navigates the new world of sobriety. There are many questions and issues that pop up during this time. Essentially, addicts have to relearn how to live their lives without the crutch of drugs. Rehab allows one to address these issues through a structured and supportive process led by professionals. This will not only allow you or the addict in your life to get sober, but also to rebuild a new life, understanding and responding to challenges as they come.
5. Repair relationships and creating a sober community
Because crack is so addictive, it is important that addicts have a strong support system invested in helping them stay clean. Unfortunately, many find this challenging, as getting high might have been an important part of their previous friendships and relationships. Moreover, they may have damaged relationships with loved ones as a result of their behavior while using crack. If you have a loved one who has a crack addiction, you likely have been affected in some way.
Through therapy and family counseling, rehab can help crack-dependent individuals repair these relationships. Additionally, if your loved one is an addict, treatment can help them develop a new community focused on remaining sober. This can be especially helpful, as sober communities offer a safe space to deal with the challenges of addiction while helping hold the addict accountable.