Crack cocaine is a variation of powder cocaine that is cooked into a rock that can be smoked. It became increasingly well known around 1984 in Los Angeles. Its purpose was to lure in those who could not afford cocaine by giving them a cheap alternative. Crack cocaine, in some instances, would have a purity level of around 80 percent at half the cost, and those who could not afford the extraordinary prices of cocaine sought out crack as an alternative.
This period in United States history in the 1980s had seen a recession. This meant that those seeking a quick high couldn’t buy a lot, but the strength of crack and low prices meant getting a few rocks for a fraction of the cost of powder cocaine. This meant that poor inner-city communities with low incomes could also purchase this drug, and it immediately became popular.
It began running rampant in poor African-American communities, and individuals who began using it found that the short but intense 15-minute high was incredibly addictive. A specialized police task force was implemented to deal with the problem, which led to a spike in possession arrests. Unfortunately, the root of addiction cannot be dealt with by arresting individuals with a drug problem, as research has shown, and until those areas are addressed, this is a problem that will continue to fester.
Crack cocaine is considered one of the most addictive drugs available with deadly consequences. In 2014 alone, 913,000 people met the criteria to be classified as having a cocaine use disorder, and 5,000 of those people died as a result of cocaine overdose.
Crack cocaine, more commonly known as crack, is a freebase form of cocaine. In chemistry, this refers to its basic form rather than its salt form; in this case, it is powder. The reason it is preferred over powder is its lower melting point, which makes it easier to smoke. When consuming the drug in this fashion, it results in a quicker and more intense high than insufflating cocaine powder. While smoking crack is much more intense than its counterpart, it is a very short-lived sensation that leaves users in a deep depression when the drug runs out. The user will go to very extensive lengths to obtain the drug and continue smoking. This is what made it so appealing to drug dealers because there is a steady flow of individuals seeking more.
While crack shares the same properties as powder with a slight change in its structure, it is thought to be more addictive. This isn’t because of any changes in the chemistry, but because of how it is being administered in the body. When someone snorts cocaine, it can take 15 to 45 minutes to take full effect and feel the euphoria associated with the high. This lasts around 30 minutes to an hour. Crack, however, can take effect within seconds creating a strong euphoria instantly. While effects of the drug can last up to an hour, the euphoria is short-lived. The intensity, as mentioned before, leaves the user needing another hit, and to avoid the after-effects, the person will do anything to get more.
Crack cocaine is known for its quick but intense effects, and those abusing the drug can spend hours trapped in a crack binge repeatedly smoking high doses. Crack increases the production of dopamine which, in turn, causes euphoria. While everyone is different, the brain requires time to replenish its dopamine levels. Each hit the user takes produces a less intense high because of the lack of dopamine, and this causes the person to take heavier doses to try to achieve the same effects. The longer the binge means that they will start experiencing the uncomfortable effects such as restlessness, irritability, and paranoia.
Since crack is a stimulant, users can go as long as three days without sleeping. This, as a result, can cause hallucinations, psychosis, and exhaustion.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) released a Drugs of Abuse resource guide in 2017, which states that a user will seek more of the drug than anything else.
“During heavy use, all other interests become secondary to recreating the initial euphoric rush,” the agency writes.
In most cases, the only reason a binge will end is when the user runs out of the drug, or out of sheer exhaustion.
The process of smoking crack means that the chemical is absorbed into the bloodstream through the lungs, and it slips past the blood-brain barrier (a membrane known to filter out substances in the blood going to the brain) quickly. Cocaine is a fat-soluble drug meaning it is allowed through the barrier.
In our brains, crack reshapes the typical dopamine process. Typically, in a healthy brain, nerve cells release dopamine when the body experiences pleasures, such as food or sex. Dopamine is released through the synapse, which is the space between nerve cells that pass messages from one to the other. Upon completion of the signal passing, the leftover dopamine is reabsorbed into the presynaptic neuron that initially released it.
Unfortunately, cocaine inhibits and stops the reuptake process. This means dopamine is unable to be reabsorbed, and the neurotransmitter will stay in the synapse, continuing the feeling of intense euphoria. When snorting powder cocaine, this generally occurs within 10 to 15 minutes, but when crack cocaine is smoked, it can happen in 10 to 15 seconds. This is why some users prefer crack over powder.
With repeated use of crack like any drug, your brain will create less dopamine, causing the tolerance to build.
With a higher tolerance, the drugs will have less of an effect. With all that, the limbic system, also known as the reward center will acclimate with the dopamine rush provided by cocaine.
While all drugs are dangerous, crack cocaine poses some pretty significant health effects. Putting any foreign substance in your lungs can cause damage, but crack is especially harsh on your lungs when smoked. In more severe cases, those who inject crack intravenously put themselves at risk for developing deadly diseases such as HIV and hepatitis. Its stimulating properties put a great deal of additional stress on the heart, and that can create problems such as high blood pressure with repeated use. Cocaine and crack cocaine have the potential to damage major organs such as:
Infarction or death of tissue in the heart that can result in blocked arteries or a heart attack
Crack cocaine smoke can cause bleeding of the lungs, difficulty breathing, and other lung diseases.
Crack elevates the risk of stroke, sleep problems, and lethargy
Overdose is a real possibility with crack cocaine due to the user’s urge to chase the initial high experience. Crack can cause psychological problems as well including psychosis, an inability to distinguish between reality and fantasy.
If you or a loved one has used crack cocaine and wonder if there is a potential for addiction to the drug, several outward signs happen that can help you identify whether a substance use disorder is present. These signs can include:
Experiencing withdrawal symptoms upon cessation of the drug can also happen. If you have not taken a hit in a while and start experiencing irritability, depression, anxiety, fatigue, or strong drug cravings, these are strong indicators of a crack addiction. In higher doses, you could experience psychosis as a result of withdrawal.
While there is no single cure for addiction, cutting-edge technology and research have led to high success rates of recovery. Treating addiction has never netted such positive results, and the continued research of medical professionals that strive to make a difference in your life is the reason for these advances.”
Treatment will not resolve cravings, and some recovering crack users could experience cravings for the rest of their lives, but what treatment offers is coping mechanisms that allow you to manage your addiction and abstain from further harmful behaviors.
The National Institute on Drug Addiction states that addiction has relapse rates similar to other chronic diseases, but it can be treated with specific therapies designed with the person in mind. Customized treatment plans allow the client to receive what they require most; therapies that will delve into the root of the problem.
Cognitive behavioral therapies are the most common effective treatments for addiction, but upon entering treatment, medical staff will recommend what will be most the effective approach for your needs based on an initial assessment.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Treatment and Recovery. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). What are the long-term effects of cocaine use? Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/cocaine/what-are-long-term-effects-cocaine-use
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). What is the scope of cocaine use in the United States. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/cocaine/what-scope-cocaine-use-in-united-states
Chandler, R. K., Fletcher, B. W., & Volkow, N. D. (2009, January 14). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2681083/