Crack cocaine was once leading media attention as the No. 1 culprit in a national drug crisis. During the 1980s and 1990s, crack and cocaine were words often heard in media reports discussing an epidemic in the United States.
Today, opioids have taken center stage in the national drug problem, but cocaine continues to be a problem in the U.S. But the influx of crack and cocaine use in the late 20th century has shaped much of our cultural perception of the drug. Cocaine is known as the rich man’s drug, mostly because of its high price tag. But it’s also portrayed in movies as being used by high powered businessmen or by rich crime bosses.
Conversely, crack is portrayed as more volatile, used by people from lower-income households who are run ragged by the drug.
So crack must be worse than cocaine, right?
Actually, crack and cocaine are the same drug, the same chemical substance with the same psychoactive effects. They both cause intense stimulation, the feeling of being highly alert, and a sense of empowerment. However, despite the fact that they are the same substance, they are two distinct things. The major difference is the method you use to introduce the drug into your body. Cocaine is insufflated, also known as snorting. Crack is usually smoked. Both can cause serious consequences like chemical dependence and addiction. Cocaine can ruin a person’s health, finances, and social life just as easily as crack can.
However, there is a grain of truth to the portrayal of a crack user.
Cocaine is a psychoactive stimulant that is derived from the coca plant native to South America. They were used for medical applications as a topical numbing agent and as a mild anesthetic. However, it has since been replaced by other alternatives, and today it’s mostly used as a recreational drug. Isolated cocaine takes the form of salt crystals that are sold in powder form. However, in powdered salt form, cocaine doesn’t easily burn. If you rolled it in paper and tried to smoke it, you’d smoke pure, unadulterated paper and that’s about it.
For that reason, powder cocaine is snorted. Crack is made by mixing powder cocaine with water and another substance like sodium bicarbonate. The mix is boiled and then broken into small pieces. The result is cocaine in its freebase form, also known as crack. Crack can be burned and then smoked more easily than in its powder form. Though they are the same drug in different forms, the method by which a drug is introduced to your system plays a big role in the way it affects your body.
One of the main reasons smoking crack is a different experience compared to snorting it is because of something called bioavailability. Bioavailability is the amount of a substance that makes its way into your bloodstream by different methods of administration. If a drug is injected, it will be 100 percent bioavailable.
Different drugs can make their way through your skin, nose, and mouth to your bloodstream with different levels of efficiency. Insufflating cocaine has about 20 to 60 percent bioavailability, which means it absorbs a maximum of 60 percent of the drug through your nasal passages into your bloodstream.
Smoking crack, on the other hand, offers 70 percent bioavailability, meaning more makes it into your blood. Snorting it also causes vasoconstriction. It narrows the blood vessels in your nasal passages, lowering the bioavailability of a second hit.
Since smoking crack sends more of the drug into your bloodstream, you can usually achieve a more intense high. Plus, the fact that this administration method doesn’t weaken a second, third, or fourth hit, it’s more likely for crack users to binge for long periods. A cocaine high can start within minutes and be over within 10 to 90 minutes. Crack can enter your bloodstream more quickly, which means it can be processed faster. The euphoric high is produced quickly, and then it dissipates quickly. A crack comedown can cause feelings of depression, anxiety, fatigue, apathy, and mental fatigue.
The quick, intense high followed by the uncomfortable comedown encourages a phenomenon called compulsive redosing, in which the users have an intense craving to use again right after they come down. A crack binge can last for days with the powerful stimulant keeping the user awake the entire time. Cocaine blocks a process called dopamine reuptake, which prevents excessive dopamine from being removed from your system and recycled. A buildup of dopamine is what causes cocaines euphoric effects. However, your body can only produce so much dopamine at once.
After a while, the effects won’t be as intense. A powder cocaine binge is also possible, but the bioavailability and vasoconstriction barriers make it less likely. Someone who has gone through a crack binge that lasts for several days may experience what drug users call “tweaking,” which is an extremely uncomfortable period that is a combination of a cocaine comedown and exhaustion due to lack of sleep. This may explain the “run ragged” look the media gives to crack users.
Tweaking can cause extreme irritability, paranoia, exhaustion, unstable behavior, twitching, muscle contractions, hypersomnia, and a condition called stimulant psychosis, which is when a stimulant user experiences temporary psychotic symptoms that are similar to schizophrenia.
Cocaine can be extremely addictive, which can lead to medical, psychological, social, financial and legal problems. Addiction can quickly take over a person’s life, threaten their health, and strain their personal relationships. Cocaine addiction can also impact your finances. The drug is expensive, and people with serious addictions can spend hundreds of dollars every day to maintain it. However, even though addiction is a chronic disease, it can be treated with the right professionals and services.
Addiction treatment involves evidence-based care that’s tailored to your individual needs. When you enter an addiction treatment program, you will go through a process of intake and assessment that’s designed pinpoint your specific needs in treatment. If you have a high-level medical needs, you may be sent to a medical detox program or an inpatient program.
If you can live on your own, you may go through an intensive outpatient treatment program (IOP). Addiction services can include treatment from board-approved medical professionals, therapists and clinical professionals, and a variety of psychotherapy options.
Addiction treatment will also address more than just your substance abuse issue. It will also address any medical, psychological, social, financial, and legal issues you might have, whether or not they’re directly related to addiction.
If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance use disorder that involves cocaine, there is help available that can lead to freedom from active addiction. To learn more about addiction treatment and the options that may be available to you, speak to an addiction specialist at Ocean Breeze Recovery. Call 855-960-5341 and someone will be available to talk to you at any time, day or night. The first steps on the road to recovery may be just a phone call away.
American Society of Addiction Medicine. (n.d.). What is the ASAM Criteria? Retrieved from https://www.asam.org/resources/the-asam-criteria/about
Bramness, J. G. (2012, December 5). Amphetamine-induced psychosis – a separate diagnostic entity or primary psychosis triggered in the vulnerable? Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4990880/
The University of Arizona. (n.d.). Cocaine Overview: Pharmacology. Retrieved from https://methoide.fcm.arizona.edu/infocenter/index.cfm?stid=170