Crack Cocaine: Effects, Risks & Addiction Treatment

Crack is the riskiest form of cocaine because it is the most potent form of the drug. A person can become addicted to crack cocaine after just one use. Learn more about the risk factors, symptoms of addiction, and treatment options.
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What Is Crack Cocaine?

Crack is the freebase form of cocaine, which is an extremely addictive central nervous system (CNS) stimulant. Cocaine is a white crystal powder that is generally snorted or dissolved and injected. Crack, on the other hand, resembles tan or white pellets and is usually smoked. It may be mixed with another substance and converted into a “rock” form.

Common substances crack cocaine is cut with include:

  • Ammonia or baking soda
  • Anesthetics, such as benzocaine, lidocaine, and procaine
  • Antihistamines
  • Plastic additives
  • Inexpensive stimulants, such as caffeine
  • Fentanyl, which is a cheap and potent opioid
  • Inexpensive food additives
  • Creatine (health supplement)
  • Boric acid (bug killer)

Since the mid-1980s, crack cocaine has been a highly abused drug. This is because it is inexpensive and relatively easy to produce, which makes it accessible and affordable.

When heated and smoked, coke makes a crackling sound, which is where the name originates from. After inhaling the mixture, users tend to get high almost immediately (10 seconds or less). The high is intense, but it only lasts about five to 15 minutes.

Other common street names for crack include:

  • Coke
  • Snow
  • Rock
  • Blow
  • Candy or rock candy
  • Base
  • Ball
  • Rocks
  • Nuggets
  • Grit
  • Hail
  • Dice
  • Sleet
  • Chemical
  • Tornado

How Addictive Is Crack Cocaine?

Crack is the riskiest form of cocaine because it is the most potent form of the drug. In fact, an individual can become addicted to crack cocaine after just one use.


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Since smoking crack reaches the brain faster than snorting cocaine, crack addiction (stimulant use disorder) can form almost instantly. After inhaling the substance, an excessive amount of dopamine (a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure) is released in the brain. As a result, the psychological effects of crack can be extremely reinforcing, resulting in drug addiction.

After trying crack cocaine once, most users develop an uncontrollable and intense craving for the drug. These cravings are due to immediate chemical changes in the brain’s reward system.

Graphic of woman going through withdrawal.

Side Effects & Risks of Crack

After about 15 minutes, the “rush” from crack wears off. So, many users begin to crave more of the drug almost immediately, which is how an addiction quickly forms.

Other short-term side effects and risk factors associated with crack abuse include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Extreme levels of euphoria (happiness)
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Hyper-stimulation (excessive stimulation)
  • Increased breathing
  • Uncontrollable drug cravings
  • Dilated pupils
  • Reduced appetite
  • Anxiety, paranoia, and/or depression
  • Death from an overdose

Common risk factors associated with long-term crack abuse include:

  • Psychosis
  • Delirium
  • Chronic depression
  • Mood disorders
  • Extreme paranoia, irritability, and aggression
  • Heart attack
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Brain seizures
  • Coughing and shortness of breath
  • Lung trauma and bleeding
  • Respiratory failure
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Infertility and damage to reproductive organs
  • Drug dependence and high tolerance (even after one use)
  • Death (from health complications or an overdose)
Two pills mixing equals dangerous

Dangerous Drug Combinations

Combining crack with other drugs, such as marijuana, is prevalent among users. However, doing so can result in serious health complications or deadly consequences, such as an overdose.

Chronic: Marijuana and Crack Cocaine

Chronic is when a person laces crack or cocaine with marijuana (weed), a psychoactive drug that triggers the release of dopamine in the brain. Weed produces a “high” that results in a feeling of relaxation and heightened sensory perception. Marijuana can be considered a depressant, hallucinogen, or stimulant, depending on the dose and strain.

Some users mix these drugs to intensify the euphoric effects. Other people mix them to experience the opposite effects of each drug (marijuana typically acts as a depressant, while crack cocaine is a stimulant). Although, combining crack and marijuana can result in health complications, such as increased heart rate and blood pressure, or an overdose.

There are also slang terms used to describe cocaine when it is combined with other illicit substances, including:

  • Cocaine with PCP (Space, Whack)
  • Cocaine paste with marijuana (Bazooka)
  • Cocaine mixed with heroin (Belushi, Bombita, or Speedball)
  • Crack cocaine mixed with fentanyl (Dirty Fentanyl or Takeover)
Graphic of head filled with pills

Symptoms of Abuse & Addiction

Symptoms of crack addiction can be psychological and physical. When the initial high wears off, users typically feel paranoid, anxious, and agitated, which results in a strong desire to use the drug again. Common signs of crack abuse and addiction include:

  • Uncontrollable, persistent cravings for the drug
  • Participating in risky sexual behaviors, violence, and breaking the law
  • Financial problems or stealing money to obtain more crack
  • Neglecting relationships, work, and other important aspects of life due to drug use
  • Ignoring the consequences and potential risk factors (overdosing and death)
  • Aggression, hostility, and severe mood swings
  • Hypertension
  • Getting less sleep than normal
  • Twitching muscles
  • Weight loss
  • Frequent nosebleeds

If a person develops withdrawal symptoms after stopping use, physical drug dependency has formed. This means the brain relies on the drug to function. Withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Severe depression
  • Increased anxiety
  • Becoming easily agitated and irritable
  • Intense cravings to obtain more crack

In 2016, almost 2 million people over 12 years of age used cocaine within the past month. Of those, about 354,000 people were crack users.

National Survey on Drug Use and Health
Two hands with a heart between them

Addiction Treatment Options

Since crack is highly addictive, most people go through multiple treatment stages to overcome their addiction (stimulant use disorder). More specifically, depending on needs and the severity of the addiction, an individual may undergo:

Detoxification

The first step in overcoming addiction may include detoxification. In most cases, detoxing from crack cocaine is performed at a professional treatment center rather than at home. Doing so allows doctors and medical professionals to monitor the individual in case severe withdrawal symptoms occur.

During the detox phase, many people experience anxiety, depression, hostility, and extreme mood swings. Withdrawal varies from person to person, depending on their drug tolerance levels and how long they used crack. If patients overcoming crack addiction aren’t monitored, they are more likely to participate in self-harm or try to commit suicide.

Structured Addiction Treatment

After detoxification is complete, most patients are sent to a residential treatment center or another type of comprehensive treatment. Residential treatment centers are inpatient facilities that offer 30-day, 60-day, or 90-day treatment programs. In some cases, the program can last up to a year.

Inpatient residential treatment is generally the best option because it provides 24-hour-a-day care in a non-hospital setting. During treatment, an individual participates in individual therapy, group therapy, and other psychological aspects of recovery.

Ongoing Aftercare

After inpatient treatment, ongoing aftercare may be recommended to ensure patients correctly transition back into normal life. Sober living facilities or halfway homes are common transition options. These facilities look like regular apartments but involve following house rules, curfews, and taking drug tests regularly.

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Resources

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Cocaine.” NIDA, www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/cocaine.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What Is Marijuana?” NIDA, www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/what-marijuana.

“Understanding Cocaine and Crack.” Understanding Cocaine and Crack - Health Encyclopedia - University of Rochester Medical Center, www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=1&contentid=2600.

“Crack Cocaine Fast Facts.” The United States Department of Justice, https://www.justice.gov/archive/ndic/pubs3/3978/3978p.pdf

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Updated on: June 29, 2020
Author
Alyssa Hill
About
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Medically Reviewed: March 10, 2020
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Annamarie Coy,
BA, CADACII/ICADC, ICPR, MATS
About
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