Crack cocaine is relatively easy to obtain, as well as easy to produce from cocaine in powder form. Crack is manufactured by processing cocaine hydrochloride (powdered cocaine) with ammonia or sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and water. It is then heated to remove the hydrochloride, producing a white or off-white rock that can be smoked.
Cocaine is listed as a Schedule I drug in the United Nations 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, making it illegal for non-state-sanctioned production, manufacture, export, import, distribution, trade, use, and possession. In the United States, cocaine is a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substances Act since it has high abuse potential, but is also used for legitimate medical purposes including local anesthesia in eye surgery, facial surgery, and other surgeries where vasoconstriction (constriction of blood vessels) is necessary to limit bleeding. Under the DEA listing of schedule, I drug, crack is not considered separate from cocaine since it is mostly the same drug compounded in a different form, despite having no legitimate medical use. Simply put, cocaine has a high potential for abuse, and that abuse may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.
Some street names for crack include:
- One out of four people has used cocaine in some form at least once in their lives.
- 3.3 percent of students who are in college and high school in the U.S. either have tried crack cocaine once or are active users of the drug.
- The U.S Drug Enforcement Administration made 3,921 arrests for crack cocaine during Fiscal Year 2004.
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that in 2007 there were 167,914 admissions to treatment centers due to crack cocaine addiction, and the average age of those admitted was 39.
- According to the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 8.4 million Americans aged 12 or older reported trying crack cocaine at least once during their lifetimes – that’s 3.4% of the population aged 12 or older.
- The same survey revealed that 150,000 young people ages 12 to 17, and more than one million people ages 18 to 25 had used crack cocaine at least once.
Crack cocaine use and associated risks
Crack cocaine became popular in the mid-1980s because it produces an almost immediate high and because it is relatively inexpensive to produce and buy.
Smoking crack vs. snorting powder cocaine
When an individual smokes crack, the cocaine vapor enters the lungs, where it is absorbed into the bloodstream as rapidly as via injection. The high obtained from smoking crack only lasts 5 to 10 minutes, but it is felt almost immediately and is very intense. Conversely, the high from snorting cocaine occurs more slowly, is less severe, but lasts significantly longer (average 15 to 30 minutes).
Physical effects of crack use
- High energy levels
- Hyper-sensitivity to light and sound
- Extreme weight loss
- Increased heart rate
- Increased temperature
Psychological effects of crack use
- Social ease and feeling talkative
- Poor judgment
Regardless of how cocaine is used, it can cause severe cardiovascular or cerebrovascular problems like heart attacks and strokes. Cocaine- and crack-related deaths are often a result of cardiac arrest or seizure followed by respiratory arrest.
Risks associated with crack use
- Severe depression and thoughts of suicide
- Severe cravings for more crack
- Heart attack
In addition to the risks related to powder-form cocaine use, crack users are at risk for respiratory problems (coughing, shortness of breath) lung trauma, and bleeding.
Crack cocaine smoking also can cause aggressive and paranoid behavior and can lead to criminal activity: One study surveyed prostitutes and found that “86.7 percent of women were not involved in prostitution in the year before starting crack use; fully one-third became involved in prostitution in the year after they began to use.”
Treatment for cocaine addiction
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that in 2007, cocaine accounted for roughly 13 percent of all admissions to drug abuse treatment programs; however, 72 percent of those who sought treatment for cocaine abuse were crack users.
- There is no FDA-approved medication to treat cocaine use.
- Behavioral treatment is available in outpatient and residential/inpatient settings.
- 12-Step community-based programs that specialize in recovery from cocaine and crack addiction (i.e., Cocaine Anonymous) exist to help individuals achieve and maintain sobriety.
There is no cure for crack addiction – only treatment, including counseling, therapy, and support. Treatment provides tools to abstain when faced with stressors, triggers, and the temptation. Learn more about cocaine addiction and treatment.
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