• Classification: Stimulant
  • CSA Schedule: Schedule II
  • Trade or Other Names: Crack
  • Medical Uses: No medical uses
  • Physical Dependence: Possible
  • Psychological Dependence: High
  • Tolerance: Yes
  • Duration (hours): 5–15 minutes
  • Usual Method: Smoked
  • Possible Effects: Alertness, euphoria, increased pulse rate, insomnia, loss of appetite
  • Effects of Overdose: Agitation, hallucinations, convulsions, possible death
  • Withdrawal Syndrome: Apathy, long periods of sleep, irritability, depression, disorientation

Source: U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration

About Crack Cocaine

Crack cocaine is a cooked mixture of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), water and cocaine. When cooked properly, this substance becomes hard with the consistency of a rock. Its name (crack cocaine) is associated with the sound that it makes when the mixture is smoked.

It is no longer a secret that cocaine is a powerful central nervous system (CNS) stimulant. Central nervous system stimulants are substances that can enhance mood, increase alertness, and relieve fatigue.

Cocaine is just one of the substances present in the coca leaf. The primary source of cocaine imported into the U.S. is South America, but the coca plant also grows in the Far East in Ceylon, Java, and India. The plant is cultivated in South America on the eastern slopes of the Andes in Peru, and Bolivia.

There are several varieties of coca plants. The most commonly used substance is Erythroxylon coca var. coca (ECVC). ECVC is the variety that has been used for the manufacture of illicit cocaine. While cultivated in many countries of South America, Peru and Bolivia are the world’s leading producers of the coca plant.

The method of isolating cocaine from the coca leaf does not require a high degree of technical expertise or experience. It requires no formal education or expensive scientific equipment or chemicals. In many regions, the methodology to produce this substance is passed from one generation to the next.

The drug cocaine comes from the leaves of the coca plant. It is known that people in South America have chewed coca leaves for thousands of years. In the 19th century the coca plant made its way to other parts of the world. In the first half of 19th century, the first coca tinctures (medical mixtures) were invented and generally used as a pain reliever during throat surgeries. Not long after the first half of 19th century, a pharmaceutical drug maker (Merck & Co.) started to produce cocaine on a large scale. The product was sold by this company was used as a pain reliever, cough suppressant and as a treatment for morphine addiction. Cocaine started to gain more and more popularity. There was a period when there were produced even wines that contained cocaine. These wines were widely accepted and they could be sold legally. In the late 1890’s, physicians started to use cocaine as a local anesthetic. There were many influential people, including the world-famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, praised the drug and encouraged its use. As demand for cocaine increased, the pharmaceutical companies invented new ways to purify the drug. Cocaine was even included in the popular soft drink: Coca-Cola. Introduced in 1886, nowadays Coca Cola (Coke) no longer contains cocaine. The ingredient was removed from the soft drink in the early 1900s after reports began to appear of drug abuse, health problems, and even deaths related to cocaine. By 1914, the dangers of cocaine had become obvious, and it was banned in the United States. In the 1970s, cocaine reappeared in a new form called “freebase cocaine”, “crack cocaine,” or, simply, “crack.” [1]

As we mentioned before, crack cocaine represents a mixture of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), water and cocaine. This cocaine derived substance is usually smoked. Smoking stimulants produces a sudden sensation known as a “rush” or a “flash.” The effects of smoking this substance on the body can have an immediate impact upon the user and it may last only several minutes. Abuse is often associated with a pattern of binge use, that is, consuming large doses of stimulants sporadically. Heavy users might abuse this substance every few hours, continuing until they have depleted their drug supply or reached a point of delirium, psychosis, and physical exhaustion. During this period of heavy use, all other interests become secondary to re-creating the initial euphoric rush.

Tolerance can develop rapidly, and both physical dependence and psychological dependence occur. Abrupt cessation, even after a weekend binge, is commonly followed by depression, anxiety, drug craving, and extreme fatigue (“crash”).

Origins of Crack Cocaine Use

While the use of cocaine dates back thousand years, crack cocaine has a much more recent history of use. Crack cocaine was developed during the mid-1970s and its abuse among population peaked in the mid-1980’s.
According to the U.S. D.E.A. (Drug Enforcement Agency), by the late 1970’s a huge amount of cocaine powder was brought into the United States. As this amount kept growing year by year, the prices of cocaine powder dropped very much (80%). As they faced dropping prices, the drug dealers had to find a solution to maintain the cocaine business profitable. They somehow found a method to convert the powder to “crack”, a solid form of cocaine that could be smoked. This solid form of cocaine could be broken into small chunks, “rocks”. The main advantage of this product was that it could be sold in smaller quantities to people, in exchange of a bigger profit. This substance was cheap, simple to produce, easy to use, and highly profitable for dealers.
Crack cocaine became popular among young men and women during the 1980s. The drug was relatively cheap, five to ten dollars a “rock,” although users hooked on crack report spending between $100 and $200 a day on the substance. Crack cocaine was generally sold on the street in small glass vials or tiny plastic bags. During this period there appeared several versions that contained combinations of freebase residue, concentrated caffeine, or different amphetamines.
There was reported that the peak of crack cocaine abuse was during the “crack epidemic”. This period lasted from 1984 to 1990 and it was characterized by a widespread of the drug across American cities. The “crack epidemic” dramatically increased the number of Americans addicted to cocaine.
By the end of 1987, crack cocaine was reported to be available in all but four states in the United States. Since then, the use and abuse of this substance spread throughout North and South America, Europe and the rest of the world.(2)

How Crack Cocaine is Administered

Crack is generally sold on the street in small glass vials or tiny plastic bags. Currently, there are developed different versions of crack that may contain any combination of freebase residue, concentrated caffeine, or different amphetamines. Although cocaine hydrochloride cannot easily be smoked (the melting and vaporization point is very high), freeing the alkaloid from the hydrochloride attachment (freebase) will produce purified crystals of cocaine base that readily vaporize. Cocaine cooked in a mixture of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and water becomes hard when heat-dried and is called crack. The soap like substance is then cut into bars or chips (sometimes called quarter rocks) and smoked. This freebase cocaine can be crushed and smoked in a special glass pipe or sprinkled on a tobacco or marijuana product. The term crack refers to the crackling sound heard when the mixture is smoked (heated), presumably from the sodium bicarbonate.

Former crack users, states that crack is typically smoked in a glass pipe about five inches long and a quarter inch in diameter with a metal screen at the top to hold a small clump of the substance. When lit, the substance melts and clings to the screen; some of it oozes down inside the stem where it dries and forms a hard residue that can later be scraped off and smoked. The majority claim that this is the most satisfying way to smoke crack is to insert the stem into a glass bowl the size of an espresso cup. Through a second pipe inserted into the side of the bowl, the smoker pulls the smoke after it collects in quantity in the bowl. Because crack is inhaled directly into the lungs, bypassing much of the circulatory system en route to the brain, it takes about five seconds to take effect, even faster than intravenous ingestion.

The vapors first produce a powerful rush. The rush lasts for few seconds, and then it is replaced by a euphoric excitation that lasts for several minutes. A five to twenty minute period of less pleasurable hyperexcitability follows. It is claimed that after smoking crack repeatedly, the user develops an intense craving for more. Although it can take months or even years for a nasal cocaine user to progress from recreational to compulsive use, this can happen within days to weeks with crack.

Effects of Crack Cocaine Use

Short Term Use Effects:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased body temperature
  • Increased rate of breathing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dilated pupils
  • “Cocaine bugs” – illusions of bugs under the skin
  • Euphoria
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis
  • Panic attacks
  • Convulsions
  • Seizures
  • Nausea

Chronic Use Effects:

  • Malnutrition
  • Auditory hallucinations
  • Tactile hallucinations
  • Chest pain
  • Respiratory failure
  • Heart attacks
  • Strokes
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Liver, kidney and lung damage
  • Irritability
  • Frequently mood changes
  • Delirium
  • Psychosis
  • Disorientation
  • Depression
  • Addiction

[1] L. Warburton, Amphetamines and Other Stimulants, Chelsea House, 2008; pages 36-37

[2] http://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/crackcocaine/a-short-history.html